Enhancing Openness and Transparency at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA): Closed consultation
Current status: Closed
This consultation ran from June 20 to August 2, 2018. A summary of feedback received from external stakeholders is available in the What We Learned report.
Government of Canada departments and agencies are working to maximize release of government data and information to support transparency, accountability, citizen engagement, and socio-economic benefits.
In support of this initiative and as part of maintaining trust in Canada's regulatory system for food, plants and animals, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is refreshing its approach to openness and transparency.
This means it will proactively release more information about its regulatory and scientific activities, decisions, programs and services in useful, timely, and accessible formats, while appropriately protecting personal and confidential information.
With this consultation, the CFIA wanted to hear from Canadians and stakeholders on how and where it should increase openness and transparency.
Who was the focus of this consultation?
The Government of Canada was seeking input from:
- Consumer associations
- International, provincial and municipal governments
Key questions for discussion
Your ideas and input were sought around the following themes:
- How can the CFIA provide Canadians with more useful, timely and accessible information about food safety, animal health and plant protection to help them make informed decisions?
- Which additional information and tools could the CFIA provide to help industry comply with regulatory requirements?
- How can the CFIA share more information about its compliance and enforcement activities?
- What can the CFIA do to help stakeholders and the public learn more about regulatory science, and have access to research and information from CFIA scientists?
Webinars in both official languages were held for industry and the general public throughout July.
Questions and Answers
What are openness and transparency?
Openness is being receptive to free exchange of information, communications, change and new ideas as part of seeking excellence and continual improvement in design and delivery of programs and services.
Transparency is proactively providing useful, timely and accessible information to the public to demonstrate accountability for delivery of programs and services, as part of supporting the right of Canadians to government records.
Why is the CFIA trying to be more open and transparent?
Many factors are influencing the CFIA to adopt a more open and transparent approach:
- Canadians expect to be provided with useful, timely and accessible information that will hold government institutions accountable for providing them with high-quality programs and services.
- Canadians expect government-created information they have helped fund to be made available proactively in order for them to make informed choices.
- Canada has been elected to a leadership role on the Open Government Partnership, a 70-country initiative that requires member states to take steps to promote transparency and empower citizens.
- Ministers' mandate letters for all departments and agencies ask Ministers to pursue greater openness and transparency.
- Increased media and social media scrutiny is challenging the CFIA to report faster on its activities and decisions.
- The scientific community is pushing for open access to data and publications to enable innovation.
- The Directive on Open Government requires all Government of Canada departments and agencies to release as much data and information of business value as possible and to shift toward a culture of open by default by 2020.
Wasn't the CFIA already open and transparent?
The Agency has always been committed to openness and transparency and has made significant achievements as part of its transparency agenda, including:
- Posting information about select compliance and enforcement activities to verify that domestically produced and imported products meet Canadian requirements;
- Posting prosecution bulletins when it obtains a conviction on contraventions of the laws and regulations it enforces;
- The "My CFIA" portal, which provides industry with convenient, secure access to online services;
- "Ask CFIA", a service which provides certain food industry sectors with one point of entry for asking questions on how to comply with current regulatory requirements;
- The Complaints and Appeals Office, an independent recourse mechanism which allows stakeholders to register complaints and appeals related to CFIA services and decisions; and
- Social media videos posted to Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube to highlight its regulatory role and scientific expertise.
Is this unique to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency?
No. Other departments and countries have been increasing openness and transparency. Keeping pace with counterparts is necessary if the CFIA wants to meet expectations and maintain the trust of Canadians and of other stakeholders. Further increasing openness and transparency will allow the CFIA to align with what is being done by other organizations in Canada and around the world. For example, Health Canada, the Food and Drug Administration (United States), the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (United States), the European Food Safety Authority (European Union) and the Food Standards Agency (United Kingdom) have all adopted various openness and transparency measures.
What are the expected benefits of being more open and transparent?
Increasing openness and transparency will enhance general public and foreign market trust in Canada's regulatory system. In addition:
- Canadians will better understand how and why CFIA regulatory decisions are made and will be able to use this information to make well-informed choices for themselves, their families and their businesses.
- Providing more information about regulatory activities undertaken by the CFIA will help Canadians and trading partners better understand the efforts industry puts in place to keep them safe.
- Industry will have new data to better inform its business decisions and help them comply with regulatory requirements.
- Industry associations will have more documents and information to enable research benefiting Canadians.
- Increased transparency will also promote fairness and consistency in regulatory decisions affecting industry.
- Academics and scientists will be able to pursue data collaboration and pool scientific resources and information to advance research.
Does this mean everything will be made public?
No. Information must be shared responsibly. Although more information will start to become public, the Agency's obligation to protect legitimate personal and confidential business information will always be taken into account before anything is shared. All disclosed documents will need to respect requirements governing public release of information, including the Privacy Act, Access to Information Act and the common law as it relates to confidential business information.
The CFIA says it is committed to protecting personal information - What is personal information?
Personal information means information about an identifiable individual that is recorded in any form. Examples of personal information that is protected under the Privacy Act include:
- name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, websites (if it reveals personal information on an identifiable individual);
- race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, marital status;
- education, medical, criminal or employment history;
- any identifying number or symbol assigned to the individual;
- their personal opinions or views; and
- any of their financial information.
The CFIA says it will protect confidential business information - What is confidential business information?
Under Canadian laws, confidential business information includes financial, commercial, scientific and technical information supplied to a government institution by an outside party that is not publicly available, treated consistently in a confidential manner by the outside party, and has economic value that would result in financial loss to the provider or gain to a competitor if disclosed.
Examples of confidential business information in the food industry, for example, typically include:
- product formulations or recipes;
- scientific or technical information such as unique manufacturing processes, research and development information;
- commercial information such as sales, volume of production; product distribution, buyers and supplier information; and
- financial information.
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