The CFIA provides timely and effective science support through a broad range of activities ranging from laboratory-based science (e.g., testing, surveillance, and research) to risk assessments, policy studies, and disease surveillance.
- Innovative science and technology for food safety
- Innovative science and technology for animal health
- Innovative science and technology for plant protection
Food safety is the CFIA's top priority. Our food safety science includes improving and developing new testing methods, verifying industry practices and protocols, and determining whether industry is in compliance with food safety policies and standards. CFIA scientific activities supporting food safety include: allergen testing; pathogen surveillance and detection; laboratory testing and analysis to support investigations and recalls; and researching, developing, validating, and implementing rapid methods.
Increasing the efficiency of chemical residue testing
The CFIA is responsible for monitoring chemical residues in food and determining compliance with the allowable limits to ensure food safety. CFIA food safety scientists are always looking to improve the efficiency and accuracy of testing methods. For example, our scientists conducted a study on the methods used to detect dithiocarbamates, a class of fungicides used on many fruits and vegetables in Canada and the United States. The researchers determined that the method of headspace gas chromatography is more cost effective, sensitive, and provides more detailed information towards detecting dithiocarbamates.
Technician conducting tests at CFIA's Longueuil laboratory
The CFIA's laboratory in Longueuil provides diagnostic testing to verify nutritional labelling and nutritive compositional standards of food. The laboratory also provides diagnostic services for food allergens, food colours, and analysis of marine toxins.
Spectrometry expands pesticide residues program capabilities
The capacity of the CFIA's pesticide residues program has increased dramatically with the addition of a multi-residue high performance liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry/mass spectrometry (HPLC/MS/MS) method. This method adds testing capabilities for 140 additional pesticides after the nearly 300 residues already covered by the CFIA's original multi-residue method. This additional capability gives the CFIA's pesticide monitoring program one of the broadest regulatory scopes in the world.
The new method was validated for a variety of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables and will be transferred to accredited private sector labs for use in the CFIA's National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program. The CFIA plans to further expand the scope of the method to grain and pulse (legume seeds such as peas and lentils) crops and eventually to the animal feeds program.
New screening methods for Listeria
The CFIA constantly strives to improve food safety technologies and provide the best approaches for detecting foodborne pathogens as quickly as possible. For example, CFIA food microbiology laboratories across Canada have been working together on a modified screening method for Listeria monocytogenes in food. The new screening method was validated for use in processed meat products in early 2009, and has since proven to be more efficient at detecting L. monocytogenes in fruit and vegetable samples and environmental swabs, when compared to the established method of growing the organism in culture.
Increased food colour testing capability
The CFIA Laboratory in Longueuil recently completed a scope extension and rationalization of its food colour methods. This gives the CFIA the capability to identify over 200 different water and fat-soluble colours in food, which includes permitted colours and illegal dyes.
New methodology for fish species identification
The substitution of low value commercial fish species for more highly valued species is a worldwide problem regulated in Canada under the Fish Inspection Act. With the objective of continually improving our testing capabilities, the CFIA Dartmouth Laboratory is implementing state-of-the-art DNA technologies to identify commercial fish species.
To support the testing, the laboratory is also:
- collaborating with scientists from the United States Food and Drug Administration in the development of a new regulatory DNA database for verification of fish species
- building on the contribution of the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding (University of Guelph), to develop a protocol for species identification of canned fish using short sequence DNA barcodes.
New technology: leading the world in shellfish toxin testing
The CFIA is developing a chemical-based assay to replace the traditional mouse bioassay method for paralytic shellfish toxins (PST) testing. This study, led by the CFIA Dartmouth Laboratory, may yield a non-animal based alternative that could revolutionize PST testing in Canada and abroad.
This initiative has generated interest from more than a dozen countries wishing to participate in the pilot project. Such interest substantiates Canada's position as the world leader in implementing non-animal-based testing methods for monitoring shellfish for marine biotoxins.
International attention has been focused on the Dartmouth Laboratory's new technique for paralytic shellfish toxin testing. This post-column oxidation (PCOX) method is more sensitive and has shown potential as an alternative to both previously approved methods of analysis.
New benchmark for ractopamine residue monitoring in meat
Our laboratory scientists are always looking to improve techniques to put in place the best surveillance program for food safety. Ractopamine is an approved feed additive used to promote growth in pigs and was recently approved for use in beef cattle. However, the test CFIA used for ractopamine monitoring in pigs presented some significant challenges when applied to cattle. The CFIA conducted a comparative evaluation of methodology and implemented a testing regime that satisfies the regulatory requirements for ractopamine residues in cattle. The CFIA is also involved with AOAC INTERNATIONAL (Association of Analytical Communities) in selecting and validating a new global standard to detect ractopamine.
National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease (Winnipeg)
The CFIA and the Public Health Agency of Canada share a state-of-the art facility in Winnipeg, which houses the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease. It is also a hub of the Canadian Animal Health Surveillance Network and the Canadian Public Health Laboratory Network.
Animal diseases can threaten the health of Canadians and can lead to multi-million-dollar losses for the livestock industry. The CFIA aims to prevent the introduction and spread of animal diseases in Canada and to monitor, control, or eradicate these diseases.
Among the many scientific activities that support Canada's animal resource base, the CFIA:
- conducts research to better understand diseases of concern to Canada
- develops surveys to detect known and emerging diseases
- performs research and provides advice on adopting state-of-the-art technology by Canadian labs
- assesses risks associated with key animal diseases for disease control and import/export purposes
- performs diagnostic tests to detect disease.
The Canadian Animal Health Surveillance Network (CAHSN) is a network of federal, provincial, and university animal health diagnostic laboratories that has significantly improved the national capacity to detect emerging animal disease threats in real time. The CAHSN focuses particularly on those animal disease threats that could have zoonotic potential (diseases that can be transmitted to humans from animals) and provides a rapid response to minimize human health and economic risks to Canada.
The network is centred around the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease (NCFAD) in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It is linked to the Canadian Public Health Laboratory Network, which gives CAHSN the ability to combine surveillance data received from many sources and simultaneously alert both human and animal health authorities in Canada when potential animal disease threats are identified.
World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)
A number of CFIA animal health laboratories have been designated as international reference laboratories by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
- Lethbridge for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, anthrax, and bovine viral diarrhea
- Ottawa (Fallowfield) for rabies, brucellosis, scrapie, and chronic wasting disease
- NCFAD in Winnipeg for avian influenza and classical swine fever
- Saskatoon for trichinellosis (this lab is also an OIE Collaborating Centre for Food-Borne Zoonotic Parasites).
A lab designated as a reference laboratory by the OIE functions as a centre of expertise and standardization for a particular disease or topic. Under this designation, the laboratory performs a variety of functions related to that disease or topic, including:
- developing new procedures for diagnosis and control
- providing scientific and technical training for scientific personnel from other OIE member countries
- coordinating scientific and technical research in collaboration with other labs
- providing diagnostic testing and surge capacity to other countries.
This recognition by the world's pre-eminent animal health organization highlights Canada's role as a leading contributor to international science in the management and eradication of animal diseases. It is a tribute to the expertise and commitment to excellence of the individuals working in these laboratories to protect animal health and maintain the safety of Canada's food continuum.
H1N1: Science excellence in a crisis management situation
When an influenza-like illness was reported in a swine herd in Alberta in April 2009, there was no test worldwide to confirm if pigs had the new pandemic H1N1 flu virus. In less than 48 hours a test method was completed. Within days of receiving samples, CFIA scientists at NCFAD confirmed the presence of pandemic H1N1 flu virus in the pigs.
In a few weeks, the new techniques were transferred to the CAHSN to increase the ability to detect H1N1 across the country. Working closely with colleagues from the Public Health Agency of Canada, CFIA scientists decoded the genetic makeup of the virus and provided this information to the international scientific community to facilitate and improve their diagnostic work and research.
Throughout the H1N1 pandemic, the CFIA continued to play a significant role in developing international policies and procedures for managing the virus in pigs. During this time, the CFIA engaged national and international scientific networks, shared research and test methods, and communicated research results in a timely manner.
Canada's plant resource base includes forestry products, fruits and vegetables, grains and oilseeds, and ornamental plants. Ever-changing global trade patterns present new challenges because they create new paths with the potential to introduce unprecedented numbers of pests into the country. Regulatory programs and policies must be flexible, science-based, and responsive to this complex situation.
The CFIA performs a wide range of scientific activities that contribute to these decisions and actions. Activities include:
- risk assessments to determine whether pests, commodities, weeds, and new genetically modified crops could pose risks to Canada
- surveillance programs for foreign plants, pests, and diseases that could damage Canadian agriculture and forestry
- diagnostic testing to support import and export inspections and domestic control programs
- new tool development to detect plants and pests that threaten Canadian agriculture and forestry.
National Invasive Alien Species Strategy
The CFIA protects Canada from potentially harmful plants and plant pests by focusing on prevention through science-based regulation, surveillance, pest eradication, risk management, and public awareness. The CFIA provides leadership in implementing the national Invasive Alien Species Strategy as it relates to plant pests, such as the phytophagous (plant-eating) beetles from the Asia Pacific region. Eleven invasive alien species established in North America, for example, belong to the beetle genus Agrilus. One of these is the emerald ash borer (EAB) arguably the most infamous recent invasive species, responsible for unparalleled losses of ash trees.
The CFIA is involved in a capacity-building program to recognize the threat that these beetles pose to Canadian plant resources. This includes building knowledge on these organisms prior to their arrival in Canada, and sampling beetles in their native habitat.
Every year, CFIA surveillance biologists provide training for inspectors within the Agency as well as partners across the country to aid in the early detection of invasive alien species of interest to the CFIA. The training includes class and field sessions on pest biology and surveillance techniques for potential invasive species in each area.
Protection against phytophagous beetles
Entomologists at the CFIA's Ottawa (Fallowfield) Laboratory are conducting taxonomic research on phytophagous beetles in China, Eastern Russia, and some neighbouring countries. These beetles could pose a risk to Canadian plant resources if they enter Canada. The project involves fieldwork where insect samples are brought back to Ottawa for identification and preserved for morphological and DNA studies as voucher specimens.
International scientists collaborate on pest risk analysis standards
In 2010, the CFIA hosted a workshop to explore the concept of enhancing North American plant health risk analysis methodologies and tools. Collaborative efforts between Canadian and American scientists will build on a similar European project entitled Enhancements of Pest Risk Analysis Techniques (PRATIQUE), which is focussed on improving approaches to plant health risk analysis. By sharing information and exchanging ideas, scientists are able to improve the quality and efficiency of an important scientific element in the CFIA decision-making process.
Diagnostic tests to prevent sudden oak death
Phytophthora ramorum (P. ramorum) is a fungus-like plant pathogen that affects a wide variety of nursery plants, such as rhododendron and camellia. Sudden oak death is one disease caused by this pathogen, and now occurs as far north as southern Oregon.
The CFIA conducts annual surveys for P. ramorum and, in the past, has detected the presence of the organism on plants in a number of nurseries in the southern coastal area of British Columbia. Detection is difficult as the organism is microscopic and symptoms of P. ramorum resemble those of other plant diseases. As CFIA researchers recently discovered, the species also has three lineages with varying origins and levels of pathogenicity. The study, conducted in collaboration with researchers from Washington State University, the Canadian Forest Service, and the United States Agricultural Research Service, developed molecular tests to differentiate among the three lines.
The CFIA prepared a comprehensive assessment of the phytosanitary risks posed by P. ramorum to Canada. This Pest Risk Assessment includes information from hundreds of scientific papers and posters as well as expert opinions and unpublished results from over a dozen researchers from North America and Europe. The document was finalized following peer review by a panel of national and international experts and is now used by the CFIA as a basis for effective regulation of this pest.
Phytophthora ramorum is capable of infecting a wide variety of plant species, including rhododendron, which is an important host species for the dissemination of disease across borders.
Determining World Distribution of Gypsy Moth Genotypes
In 2009, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) presented its Editors' Choice Awards for the best articles in 2008 from each of the ESA journals and from the American Entomologist publication. CFIA research scientist Marie-José Côté received this award for her work on a project led by Melody A. Keena of the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Together with Phyllis S. Grinberg and William E. Wallner, the group received the Editors' Choice Award for their article "World Distribution of Female Flight and Genetic Variation in Lymantria dispar (Lepidoptera: Lymantriidae)." The gypsy moth is considered a serious forest pest in North America. For the project, the group examined different strains of gypsy moths from Asia, Europe and North America to determine the flight propensity of each strain and their genotype.
Potato cyst nematode
Potato cyst nematodes (PCN) are internationally recognized as pests of concern because they can remain dormant in the soil for decades. When no measures are taken to suppress an infestation, they can reduce yields of potato and other host crops, such as tomatoes and eggplant, by up to 80 per cent. They do not pose a risk to human health.
The female PCN develops into a spherical cyst in the later stage of her life cycle. The female then dies and her cuticle forms a tough protective cyst containing 200-500 eggs. The eggs inside of cysts can remain dormant in soil for years. At left, a photo of a ruptured cyst of PCN with eggs and juveniles is shown.
When Canada confirmed the presence of PCN in Quebec in 2006, the CFIA immediately put measures in place to prevent the spread of the infestation and greatly increased soil sampling and testing capacity. Extensive PCN soil surveys have been conducted annually since 2006. Most recently, in 2010 the CFIA conducted an extensive PCN soil survey of the fields used to produce a seed potato crop. PCN was not detected in any of the soil samples. These extensive PCN surveys have been essential to quickly delimit any infestation, provide reassurance domestically and internationally that this pest is not widespread in Canada, and to maintain and regain market access for Canadian potatoes and other horticultural products.
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