What We Heard Report – The Proposed Safe Food for Canadians Regulations Consultation

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Introduction

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is a global leader in regulating food, animal and plant health and safety. The existing control system has served us well, but it was developed decades before the creation of the CFIA, when most Canadian food originated in Canada, food technology was less evolved, and supply chains were simple. As risks to food, animal health and plants have changed considerably and continue to change rapidly, the Agency must continue to adapt and be more efficient and responsive while supporting Canada's ability to compete in the global market. These changes position the Agency as a nimble, responsive regulator.

The Agency is focusing on five key strategic priorities with specific actions under a new framework – Responding to Today, Building for the Future. Creating a modern regulatory toolkit that supports enforcement, compliance and accountability while enabling opportunities for industry to innovate is one of the Agency's priorities.

In January 2017, the proposed Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (the proposed Regulations) were pre-published in the Canada Gazette, Part I for a 90-day public comment period. The consultation was an opportunity for all Canadians to have their say on new modern food regulations.

This proposal aimed to strengthen Canada's international reputation as a leader in food safety by establishing consistent, prevention-focused requirements for all foods that are imported or prepared for export or interprovincial trade. The proposed Regulations consolidated 14 sets of existing commodity-based regulations into a single set of outcome-based requirements. Additional background information can be found on the CFIA's Safe Food page.

This report is a summary of the feedback received from stakeholders during the consultation period. All comments received were reviewed and considered by the CFIA to help inform the development of final regulations. While submissions included a wide range of specific comments, this report summarizes feedback into five common themes – technical, small businesses, organic products, implementation, and trade and competitiveness.

Summary of the Five Themes

Technical: clarification of definitions, alignment of requirements, incorporation by reference, animal welfare, and application of licensing (e.g., storage, transportation, foodservice)

Small business: definition, threshold level for exemption, and cost of licensing and preventive control plans

Organic products: perceived duplication with existing regulatory requirements, inclusion of aquatic plants, and exemption from mandatory certification

Implementation: transition timelines, access to CFIA guidance documents and technical expertise, and on-going engagement

Trade and competitiveness: domestic and international trade, and foreign systems recognition

Extensive consultations

Since 2013, the CFIA has been consulting extensively to help shape the proposed regulations. The CFIA has participated in over 300 external stakeholder events and reached thousands of individuals through face-to-face sessions, webinars, and two major food safety forums. Discussion documents were released in 2013, 2014, and 2015 and included initial drafts of regulatory text. The 2015 consultation specifically targeted micro and small businesses to better understand their unique needs and to explore options for reducing costs that would be imposed by the proposed regulations.

Most recently, the public was invited to provide feedback on the proposed regulations. Over the course of the 90-day consultation period, the CFIA hosted a number of events across various channels to help inform stakeholders about the proposed regulations.

Overall, stakeholders are supportive of the proposed direction, which is seen as being consistent with global approaches to food safety and a boost to the competitiveness of Canadian businesses.

Written submissions

The 1717 written submissions received were submitted by various stakeholders including:

  • consumers
  • small businesses
  • national and international companies
  • importers and exporters
  • trade associations
  • producers and growers
  • academia and students
  • governments (including international, federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal)

Food industry stakeholders offered significant feedback, providing helpful insights on the application of the proposed regulations to business processes.

Many other submissions supported further strengthening the proposed animal welfare requirements, including a petition signed by Canadians in support of recommendations for more humane treatment of animals.

Summary of key messages by theme

Technical

Stakeholders provided suggestions to improve the clarity of the extensive regulatory text. Many were invited to CFIA's technical information sessions which allowed them to ask questions prior to submitting comments.

Respondents endorsed the consolidation of several food-related regulations into one, as it would significantly improve regulatory consistency, and reduce regulatory duplication and complexity.

Stakeholders highlighted the following:

  • The use of incorporation by reference (IbR) for documents and specific standards were welcomed by the majority of participants, and further details were requested on the process for amending IbR documents.
  • There was overwhelming support for acknowledging the food safety systems already in place under recognized industry regimes, such as CanadaGAP.
  • Respondents commented on the definitions outlined in the proposed regulations, including requesting some new definitions, clarification of existing definitions (e.g. reword definitions for "control measure", "critical control point", and "contaminated") and alignment with other regulations (e.g. Food and Drug Regulations), provincial/territorial requirements, international standards (e.g. Codex Alimentarius), and trading partners (e.g. United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Australia, and South America).
  • Several stakeholders requested that any label changes linked to the implementation of the proposed regulations be coordinated with Health Canada's impending nutrition labelling changes, to help mitigate the associated costs.
  • With respect to animal welfare, more precise training protocols, and specific and stronger language were requested for the humane treatment of animals prior to, and during, slaughter.
  • Additional suggestions included providing clarification of the regulatory text through interpretation and guidance documents.
  • There was mixed reaction to exempting transporters and storage facilities from licensing, as they were seen by many stakeholders as being integral and core elements of the supply chain. The exemption of foodservice operations prompted opposition by some and comparisons were made with retailers who would be required to prepare and keep traceability documents.

Small business

Small business owners were generally supportive of the regulatory framework, however there were mixed reactions to the proposed exemption for micro and small businesses.

Larger firms and national associations called for mandatory licensing and maintenance of a written preventive control plan (PCP) to ensure food safety at every link in the supply chain, while smaller business owners felt the government could do more to support them.

Stakeholders highlighted the following:

  • Small business owners welcomed the proposed measures to alleviate administrative burden, including the three-year implementation time line, exemption from maintaining a written PCP for certain micro and small businesses, and the recognition that smaller businesses would need additional support through guidance documents to help with compliance.
  • Many small business owners perceived the anticipated administrative, financial and compliance burden to be significant.
  • There were various suggestions for reducing the burden on small businesses including raising the exemption threshold for a written PCP or adoption of the United States' approach (e.g. offer modified requirements to businesses with either less than $1M USD in total sales or $500K USD in annual sales and sales over 50 per cent to qualified users within 275 miles of their business). Interest was also expressed in having access to government funding to assist with the necessary investments to comply with the new requirements and to extend the licence renewal period (from the proposed period of two years) as an administrative and cost-saving measure.

Organic products

The current Organic Product Regulations were consolidated into the proposed Safe Food for Canadians Regulations and included a proposal to enhance the integrity of organic certification along the entire organic supply chain. However, stakeholders expressed concern about the proposed inclusion of slaughter, storage and conveyance facilities in the scope of organic activities that would be subject to mandatory certification requirements.

Stakeholders highlighted the following:

  • Stakeholders perceived that a SFCR license was required for organic certification, but licensing is more related to food safety requirements and is separate from organic certification.
  • Stakeholders requested that the mandatory percent organic content on certificates and the period of validity of organic certificates be removed.
  • The scope of the proposed definition of aquatic plants was met with mixed reactions.

Implementation

While the consultation provided an opportunity to comment on the regulatory text, many submissions also included questions and comments on how the regulations would be implemented.

Stakeholders highlighted the following:

  • The guidance materials and interactive tools that are currently posted on the CFIA website were well received by stakeholders. Industry respondents requested the release of information well in advance of the final regulations to maximize the time available for them to understand and comply with the regulations.
  • Respondents welcomed the CFIA's move toward improved service through the creation of the Statement of Rights and Service, the Complaints and Appeals Office, Ask CFIA, and the targeted Micro and Small Business consultations in 2015.
  • Several stakeholders recommended additional training for inspectors to ensure consistent interpretation and application of the proposed Regulations, as well as industry advice and technical assistance from the CFIA in real time.
  • Clarification was sought in various areas, including potential changes to the frequency and type of regulatory oversight, and how private certification schemes would fit with the proposed Regulations.
  • Extra time and further details were requested regarding the transition from registration numbers to licence numbers, and the consequential packaging changes.
  • Many stakeholders highlighted the importance of government-industry partnership and offered to work with the CFIA on the development of additional guidance documents to ensure compliance with the regulations.
  • Additional comments included effectively using technology to support industry compliance with the regulations (e.g. pre-populated online forms, electronic communications, timely updates to the website and regulatory guidance.

Trade and competitiveness

Harmonizing regulatory requirements for domestic food businesses and importers to create a more level playing field was well received. There was also significant support for the recognition of foreign systems, however the proposal that non-resident importers would be able to apply for an import licence was met with mixed reactions.

Stakeholders highlighted the following:

  • While the recognition of foreign systems was well received, some respondents recommended that all commodities should be included (i.e. beyond shellfish and meat) and agreements and equivalencies should be negotiated with more countries.
  • The proposed SFCR Schedule I (Exclusions–Foods used as Grain, Oil, Pulse, Sugar or Beverage) was similarly welcomed, along with the suggestion to expand the list and incorporate it by reference.
  • It was perceived that the proposed Regulations would require foods prepared for export to meet Canadian requirements for standards of identity. This was not well received and it was suggested that emphasis be placed on meeting the food compositional standards of the destination country.
  • There was mixed reaction to the proposal that importers can apply for an import licence if they have a fixed place of business in a country that has been recognized by CFIA as having a comparable food safety system. Concerns included increased inspection and investment costs. Stakeholders proposed allowing United States' non-resident importers to present a notarized document or affidavit to Canadian officials at the time of import into Canada. Another proposal was to allow CFIA-approved importers in foreign countries to be licensed to import food.
  • There was also mixed reception to the licensing exemption for personal use (e.g. products that will not be offered for sale directly to consumers and weigh up to 100 kg). Proponents on both sides referenced current domestic and international practices.

Next steps

The comments received have provided valuable direction. The CFIA is now preparing for the final publication of the regulations which is planned to appear in Canada Gazette, Part II in spring 2018. The timing for the coming into force of the Act and Regulations will be announced when the Regulations are published.

More information on this initiative, including guidance materials and compliance promotion tools, will be available in the coming months on the CFIA's Safe Food web page. To receive the latest news and updates, visit the CFIA's Stay connected web page to sign up for email notifications, to subscribe to The CFIA Chronicle and to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Food safety remains a top priority for the Government of Canada. The CFIA would like to thank all of the people who participated in the consultation. The insights will be useful to further strengthen Canada's food safety system. The success of this undertaking depends on the ongoing efforts of all food stakeholders as implementation of the proposed Regulations moves forward.

Appendix

Figure 1: The CFIA consultation time line

The CFIA actively engaged stakeholders over a period of five years through a variety of channels, both domestically and internationally.

Meetings and engagement events. Description follows.
Description for Figure 1 – The CFIA consultation time line

The CFIA actively engaged stakeholders over a period of five years through a variety of channels, both domestically and internationally.

  • Before 2012 – the CFIA consulted on the development of a new law
  • In 2012 – the Safe Food for Canadians Act received all-party support
  • In 2013 – the CFIA hosted an inaugural Food Forum to develop a regulatory framework
  • In 2014 – the CFIA consulted on the proposed regulatory framework
  • In 2015 – the CFIA consulted micro and small businesses on their unique needs, and released draft regulatory text
  • In 2016 – the regulatory text was amended and guidance materials were developed for industry
  • In 2017 – the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations were pre-published in Canada Gazette, Part I

Figure 2: Engagement events

Between January and April 2017, the CFIA held a number of meetings and events to help stakeholders better understand the proposed Regulations and to ask questions. Through these events more than 2000 industry, consumer and government stakeholders shared their views.

In addition to the written submissions that are the focus of this report, comments heard during each of the events (identified below) are also being considered as the regulations are finalized.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency consultation time line. Description follows.
Description for Figure 2 – Engagement events

Between January and April 2017, the CFIA held a number of meetings and events to help stakeholders better understand the proposed Regulations and to ask questions. These events engaged more than 1500 external stakeholders and over 500 CFIA staff.

In addition to the written submissions that are the focus of this report, comments heard during each of the events (identified below) are also being considered as the regulations are finalized.

  • 13 sector-specific technical sessions;
  • 8 internal webinars;
  • 5 external webinars;
  • 16 international events;
  • 23 unique industry outreach events, such as AGMs;
  • 7 Value Chain Roundtables; and
  • 10 public information sessions were held in nine provinces
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