In May 2012, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) published a report called The Improved Food Inspection Model: The Case for Change which outlined the agency's current approach to food inspection, the context for a new food inspection approach, and the proposed components of an improved food inspection model.
The report explains that when CFIA was first established in 1997, it brought together food inspection programs from different federal departments with diverse inspection approaches. As a result, CFIA currently administers eight, separate food inspection programs including:
- fish and seafood
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- imported and manufactured food
- processed products (including honey)
Without a standardized food safety inspection model, CFIA has struggled to provide consistent oversight of all regulated food. According to the CFIA report:
Having eight food programs has resulted in the development and use of different risk management frameworks, inspection methods, and compliance verification and enforcement approaches. This challenges the CFIA to manage risks consistently across different types of establishments and different foods. It creates situations in which foods of similar risks may be inspected at different frequencies or in different ways. The eight food programs also result in industry having to meet multiple and different requirements that are challenging to address.
The challenge of maintaining eight different inspection programs coupled with changing methods of global food production, processing and distribution has necessitated the development of an improved and standardized food inspection model.
Earlier this month, CFIA drafted a proposal for a single food inspection model based on risk and prevention of non-compliance that would replace the eight food inspection programs the agency currently operates. The new model has five key components:
- Licensing/registration – A licensing and registration requirement for regulated parties that import or export food or that manufacture or process food for trade between provinces;
- CFIA oversight – Varying levels of CFIA oversight that would be based on the level of risk;
- Inspection – A systems approach to inspection that would assess the preventative control plans and procedures of regulated parties to ensure that food is prepared safely and complies with regulations;
- Compliance and enforcement – One common compliance and enforcement strategy for food; and
- System performance – Mechanisms to evaluate the CFIA’s inspection program for consistency, effectiveness and performance.
CFIA is hopeful that an updated food inspection system will benefit the food industry in a number of ways. For instance:
Inspection modernization will improve market access and give Canadian companies the flexibility to design controls that demonstrate their operations and products comply with all relevant federal standards. It will also create a more level playing field for businesses by streamlining the inspection process into a single system and eliminating the need for businesses to address multiple requirements.
In addition, the new model is also intended to increase transparency thus providing consumers with greater confidence in the safety and wholesomeness of their food.
The CFIA is seeking comments from the public including consumers and industry stakeholders until October 31, 2012 on the proposed draft model and intends to organize extensive outreach activities with CFIA inspectors, consumer associations, industry, and federal, provincial and territorial government counterparts in the fall.
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is expected to introduce legislation today to strengthen U.S. food safety. Newsday.com is reporting that Sen. Schumer’s bill will call for a director of food safety oversight who would be a senior-level director at the Department of Commerce. The proposed director would focus exclusively on food safety.