Government of Canada to Strengthen Safety of Imported Food

The Need for Change

Canada imports food from more than 190 countries, and many of our domestic food products are made from imported ingredients. In 2010, Canada imported $30.7 billion worth of food and agricultural products. While our existing food safety system remains effective, recent food safety issues have underscored the reality and risks of today’s increasingly complex global marketplace.

Canada’s Robust Risk-Based Import Control System

Food safety standards apply to all foods sold in Canada, whether imported or domestic. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspects imported products using a risk-based system. This means that the number of inspections depends on the level of risk. It takes into account the history of a product’s compliance. Regardless of the country the product came from, if the CFIA identifies that it does not meet regulatory requirements, the CFIA will take enforcement action. Enforcement action can mean several things, including recall and prosecution.

The CFIA currently oversees the safety of food imports through a variety of activities, including:

  • Offshore efforts, such as equivalency agreements and Memoranda Of Understandings (MOUs) with trading partners
  • Document verification at border entry
  • Targeted border blitzes, including random sampling
  • Post-entry verification, including inspection and sampling at destination points within Canada
  • Product Inspection
  • Retail-level verification inspections

The vast majority of Canada’s importers provide safe food products to Canadians. The proposed regulations support minimizing risks in the food supply and limiting the possibility of unsafe food from entering the country by identifying food importers through a licensing regime and requiring them to enhance control measures for imported food products.

Strengthening the Safety of Imported Food

The safety of Canada’s food supply is a shared responsibility. All food industries, including importers, are responsible for the safety of the foods they sell to Canadians. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is proposing to develop new regulations that would tighten controls over the safety of imported foods sold in Canada. 

The new rules would require food importers to be licensed and have food safety plans in place to identify, report and recall potentially hazardous products from the marketplace as quickly as possible.

Committed to Food Safety

Action on imported foods builds on the Government of Canada’s commitment to continuously improve food safety. The vast majority of food manufacturers, processors, distributors and importers provide Canadians with safe food, but there is an ongoing need to adapt to new food safety challenges. The Government, working with industry, is taking action to deliver a strong, unified food safety system – a system that anticipates and prevents problems throughout the import and domestic supply chain, targets areas of highest risk, and responds rapidly when a problem occurs.

The Government, largely through the work of CFIA, has taken unprecedented steps to improve Canada’s domestic and imported food safety system and better protect Canadian families. This has included multiple investments including:

  • More than $489 million over five years through the Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan. Of this total, the CFIA received more than $223 million to enhance inspection of high risk sectors, track imports and boost recall capacity.
  • $75 million over three years to respond to all 57 recommendations of the Weatherill report. Of this total, the CFIA received more than $46M to hire and train an additional 70 food safety inspectors. The Government of Canada has taken action on all of the recommendations made by the Independent Investigator.
  • $51.2 million through Canada's Economic Action Plan 2012 will be spent over the next two years to strengthen Canada's food safety system. This is an extension of a three-year commitment made in 2009.
  • $13 million annually for two years through Budget 2010 for CFIA to increase meat inspection capacity
  • $100 million over five years in Budget 2011 to further invest in inspector training, tools and technology, and science capacity.

These investments and actions are significantly enhancing the Government’s ability to oversee the safety of the food supply. Consumers can be confident that food safety remains a priority and the food safety system remains one of the best in the world.

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