National Newswatch

Critic says CFIA fixes took so long because they weren’t a top government priority.

OTTAWA — It’s been about 2000 days since the Safe Food for Canadians Act became law and the food industry is still waiting for the final version of the sweeping regulations generated by the legislation.

Albert Chambers, Executive Director of the Canadian Supply Chain Food Safety Coalition, counted the days since Nov. 22, 2012 when the bill received Royal Assent. To make the law have effect requires a package of regulations to officially replace 14 sets of food safety rules that CFIA inherited from various federal departments when it was created 20 years ago.

Following passage of the Safe Food Act under the former Conservative government, CFIA began consulting industry, agriculture and consumer groups about what the new regulatory framework should contain. Sixteen months ago, CFIA published its proposed final version of the regulations, which received more than 1,700 comments from groups and individuals outside government.

It’s the official release of these regulations that the agrifood sector is waiting for.

Chambers told the Barton Forward conference organized by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute that completing the regulatory package has taken so long because it wasn’t taken seriously enough by the Harper or the Trudeau governments.

For example, it took about 600 days to advance from the bill’s Royal Assent to the start of consultations on draft regulations to implement the bill.

On its website, CFIA says it anticipates the regulatory package will be unveiled later this year. “Canadian and international stakeholders will have a period of time to review the final regulations once published and get ready to meet the new requirements before they come into force.”

Chambers said he expects the package will be made public in the Canada Gazette Part Two in June and begin to come into effect at the end of 2018 or early 2019. That will be followed by a three-year implementation period.

CFIA President Paul Glover told the Barton conference it could be another 500 days before the regulatory process is complete. CFIA’s experience with turning the law into regulations shows “big changes are bad.”

It would’ve made more sense to use small surgical strikes to update the regulations, he said. “Let’s not try to boil the ocean. We need to a find a way to move more quickly.”

Chambers said in an interview later that he still thinks the lack of government resolve to advance the regulations is the prime cause of the protracted process. “It was a big and complex and just not a priority,” he said. “We asked continuously where the resistance in government was without getting an answer.

“We heard little from them after release of the proposed regulations in January 2017,” he said. The Agency is supposed to be moving to a more outcome based approach to regulating the food industry, “which will be a big change for it.”

Carla Ventin, Vice President of Government Policy for Food & Consumer Products of Canada, said, “There’s a lot of frustration in the food industry about how long it has taken to implement the law.”

While CFIA has been good about consulting with industry about the regulations, it should have made changes on a continuous basis instead of waiting until the whole package was complete, she said. “Too many things have been neglected over the years.”

What industry wants are regulations that will be nimble and in line with international standards, she said.

The plodding progress on completing the regulations has drawn criticism from others in the food business who look at the impact of a high turnover rate among CFIA staff as among the contributing factors because too few of them ever learn much about the industry.

In a recent statement about the regulations, CFIA released details about what food importing companies can expect when their operations come under its rules and what food companies that want a CFIA licence for export purposes will have to do.  “Food businesses can get a head start on enhancing food safety now by following three steps: learn, prepare and stay connected.”

Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writes for domestic and international publications about agriculture, food and transportation issues. He’s also the author of two science fiction novels with more in the works.

 

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