Transparency

The CFIA is committed to making itself a more transparent organization. This means keeping the public informed about what we do while maintaining and building public confidence in how we do our job.

Promotion and Regulation: Different and Distinct Government Roles

The government believes that it is important to keep its regulation function separate from any economic promotion function. These functions are kept independent of each other by assigning different and distinct mandates to separate departments and agencies. These mandates are established by legislation. All departments and agencies are accountable to Parliament for how well they fulfill their assigned duties.

The creation of the CFIA, in 1997, clearly reinforced the division of federal powers between the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and the Minister of Health. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, through the CFIA, is responsible for animal and plant health standards and related inspection activities. With regard to food, the CFIA conducts all federal food inspection activities while Health Canada establishes policies and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada. In addition, Health Canada assesses the effectiveness of the CFIA's activities related to food safety.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act separated the agency from any part of the government involved in research and development of biotechnology products. In addition, the CFIA is separated from other arms of the government responsible for trade promotion, market information and policy related issues such as farm income and rural development. No CFIA employee is involved in the economic promotion of agricultural products or foods

Public Access to Information

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) strives to improve its communications as many Canadians have asked for more information about biotechnology-derived products.

Decision Documents

The CFIA prepares "decision documents" whenever regulatory decisions are made about plants with novel traits, including those derived through biotechnology. They explain in detail what was reviewed to make the decision, and why certain conclusions were reached. They provide background information, describe the plant's novel traits, and discuss the results of the assessment and evaluation of the potential environmental and livestock feed use impacts.

As a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada submits non-confidential information on the environmental release of plants with novel traits, including those derived through biotechnology, to the OECD's publicly available Biotrack database

Confidential business information, also referred to as "proprietary information," is not included in the CFIA's decision documents, nor is it included in the documents on the OECD database. Protecting confidential business information does not mean that the information is not required to do an assessment. It also does not mean that the information is exempt from rigorous assessment. Confidential business information is subjected to the same assessment standards as all other required information.

Confidential business information is considered valuable to the companies that provide it for assessments, and the government is required by law to assure that such information is not given to unauthorized recipients. Innovators invest their resources into research and development, and to protect their investment, they obtain confidentiality protection from the government when submitting information required for approval of products. The information they provide is reviewed as part of the environmental assessment but is not made available publicly because such information could be used by the competitors of an institution or company which has received approval for a product, to the economic detriment of the people who invested in the work to produce the information.

Biotechnology Notices of Submission

The CFIA and Health Canada post "notices of submission" on the CFIA website that describe the product and the data they receive from certain product developers who have requested safety assessments of plants with novel traits (PNTs) for unconfined release and safety assessments of novel feeds and novel foods derived from PNTs.

Government Responses to Environmental Petitions

The 1995 amendments to the Auditor General Act created an environmental petitions process. Under this process, residents of Canada can forward a written petition to the Auditor General. Petitions must relate to environmental matters that are the responsibility of specific federal departments and agencies. The Commissioner monitors the status of these petitions and the government's response to them.

Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel Report

In November 2001, the Government of Canada published an action plan in response to the Expert Scientific Panel of the Royal Society of Canada report entitled: Elements of Precaution: Recommendations for the Regulation of Food Biotechnology in Canada.

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