In an effort to improve transparency and accountability in the food system, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) launched a new policy on March 16 to post quarterly information on its website regarding the agency’s compliance and enforcement activities. 

Previously, CFIA published information on its website on prosecution bulletins only when a conviction was obtained against a company for violating food safety acts and regulations; however, information on its enforcement activities was not provided.

On Wednesday, Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced that the CFIA reports will now include information on food imports that have been refused entry into Canada; federally registered food establishments whose licenses have been suspended, cancelled or reinstated; and notices of violations with warning and penalties, including identifying repeat offenders of animal transport regulations.

Guy Gravelle, a senior media relations officer at CFIA, called the new policy part of an “ongoing transparency initiative.” 

Currently, CFIA is posting information on certain notices of violations with warning and penalties and identifying the company name of repeat offenders of animal transport regulations. However, this new increased public disclosure is only the first phase. 

Eventually, CFIA hopes to publish the names of all company violators and continue to expand the enforcement-related information provided to the public. For example, CFIA is considering publishing some details of inspection activities at food plants before the agency is forced to suspend or revoke the company’s license. 

In introducing this new policy, CFIA plans to make a concerted effort to work with the food industry in order to improve food safety. Just as the names of violators will be publicly released, those companies that come back into compliance will also be recognized. The agency stated that it will make note of the change and will publish the reinstatement date. 

This shift comes as a response by the Canadian government to the 2008 listeriosis outbreak traced back to deli meats produced by Maple Leaf Foods. The outbreak, which resulted 57 confirmed cases of listeriosis and 23 deaths, spurred the Canadian government to take action to improve food safety.

Gravelle explained that “there is a demonstrated public need for this type of disclosure.” Accordingly, Gravelle stated that the Canadian government is committed “to providing consumers with information on enforcement action being taken to protect the safety of their food supply, and the animal and plant resource base upon which safe food depends.”

“Making this information public is a fair, balanced and measured approach to protecting the safety of Canada’s food supply and the resources upon which it depends. And, ultimately, it promotes public confidence in the federal government’s enforcement actions,” added Gravelle.

So far, CFIA has posted enforcement activities that have occurred between April 1 and Dec. 31, 2010. Among the many violators listed on CFIA’s website are a shipment of milk powder from the United Arab Emirates that was prohibited from entering the country on Dec. 31, 2010; 20 notices of violation of animal transport regulations, carrying $52,000 in total penalties, by Nadeau Poultry Farm, topping a list of “repeat violators” between April and December 2010, and the cancellation of the CFIA license of goose processor Northern Goose in October 2010, citing “failure to adhere” to the federal Meat Inspection Regulations.

Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union, Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which represents federal food inspectors and lab technicians, applauded the efforts made by CFIA to improve food safety, traceability, and accountability through the new disclosure policy, calling it “a step in the right direction.”

In addition, Christopher Kyte, head of the Food Processors of Canada, also acknowledged CFIA’s progress. “We have a big problem with no accountability of companies shipping into Canada and the products are seized and they’ll find another route and ship them back in. This way, we can keep our eyes open for people who don’t abide by the law,” Kyte remarked.

During his announcement, Ritz expressed, “Food safety is a top priority of the government of Canada and we are listening to Canadians.” He continued, “We know consumers want more information and we are delivering that transparency around what we are doing to protect Canadian families. This will give our inspectors another tool in the toolbox to shine the light of transparency on repeat offenders and companies that try and import unsafe food.”