Canada Has a Robust Risk-Based Import Control System

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)'s risk-based import inspection programs are based on internationally recognized standards and principles, and are comparable to the import inspection systems of other developed countries, such as the United States. The CFIA also works with other governments, including the Chinese government, to ensure that food products imported to Canada meet Canadian food safety requirements.

Regardless of country of origin, if the CFIA identifies products that do not meet regulatory requirements, enforcement action is taken. Enforcement action can take on a number of forms, up to and including to prosecution.

Food safety standards apply to all foods sold in Canada, whether imported or domestic. Importers are responsible for the safety of foods that they import into Canada. Canada's food safety standards are established by Health Canada, with the CFIA responsible for their enforcement.

Canada, similar to major trading partners, has additional provisions for products that are commonly traded domestically and internationally for example, meat, fish. These products have been assessed to have the potential to present higher levels of risk due to the hazards commonly associated with such products (e.g. microbial concerns, veterinary drugs) combined with high volumes of consumption and trade.

The CFIA's import programs for meat and fish products are comprehensive and can include:

  • assessment of the inspection systems in place in exporting countries,
  • certification that products meet Canadian or equivalent regulatory provisions,
  • statistical and performance-based assessment of documentation or shipments to verify certification provisions are met, and
  • statistically-based product sampling and analysis to confirm that residues if present do not exceed Canadian standards.

Inspection frequencies are adjusted to reflect the history of compliance associated with importers and products. Where non-compliance is determined, products from specific exporters may be targeted. On occasion, products from a country or region may be subject to increased verification, for example, shipments of certain seafood products from some Asian countries have been targeted for higher rates of inspection due to the use of unapproved veterinary drugs.

Products such as eggs, dairy products and processed fruits and vegetables are expected to originate from countries that have standards and inspection systems in place equivalent to those in Canada. The country of origin of a particular food product is not in itself a determining factor for inspection frequency. Statistically-based sampling and testing programs are conducted to determine if problem areas exist.

Where non-compliance is found, importers are required to demonstrate that follow-up shipments meet Canadian requirements before entering the Canadian marketplace.

When a problem area is identified, directed programs may be put into place. For example, due to a history of non-compliance relating to canned mushrooms, China worked with Canada to introduce a pre-clearance program whereby importers source product from specific establishments. Importers are further required to submit test results from shipments to demonstrate Canadian provisions are being met.

The CFIA has a monitoring program in place for imported fresh fruits and vegetables and honey. When a violation of a Canadian maximum residue limit is identified, importers must demonstrate that subsequent shipments from that source meet established maximum residue limits.

Priorities for more highly formulated products are based on risk. CFIA works with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada to undertake an assessment of potential areas of concern and identify risk management strategies to address them. When a problem area is identified through sampling programs, recalls or other sources, import alerts can be issued to address imports.

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