Meeting on June 9, 2011
Record of discussion
On June 9, 2011, staff from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and members of various consumer associations participated in their second Consumer Association Roundtable (CAR) discussion. The objective was to present and exchange views and opinions on information and consultation items, as well as to consider future items for discussion.
Dr. Brian Evans, Chief Veterinary Officer and Chief Food Safety Officer of Canada, chaired the roundtable. He emphasized that the intent of the meetings is to have an interactive dialogue to address issues of interest in a collective way.
He also spoke of the significance of the 2011 federal budget to the CFIA. Under the Government of Canada's Strategic and Operating Review, all government departments and agencies have a mandate to review operating costs in the next twelve months, with an objective to propose options to Cabinet this fall to reduce expenditures based on five and ten percent scenarios.
Dr. Evans went on to provide updates to roundtable members about organizational changes at the CFIA.
Dr. Evans also recognized recent worldwide developments including
- radiation levels in Japan and its effect on food imports to Canada,
- di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) levels in food and beverages in Taiwan, and
- the E. coli outbreak in Europe.
He emphasized the Agency's goals to act with preventative (not reactive) measures, by adopting a more horizontal approach to risk management that engages science, policy and operational delivery elements. He also expressed the government's continued interest in third-party policy advice, such as the Conference Board of Canada's proposal for a Food Institute and their reports on food safety.
The discussion began by having each member describe changes in their organizations and share current priorities. Thoughts were expressed about:
- the language of food recalls and the use of "industry speak" as opposed to "public speak"
- questions around the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
- the importance of food labelling being accessible to aging Canadians and other vulnerable populations
- interest in the People's Food Policy Initiative and new provincial food policies such as the one being discussed in Quebec
- how the CFIA is going to monitor the accuracy of smartphone applications developed for food product information (focus being paid to the issue of nanomaterial and the use of smartphones at the point of sale on materials, as well as work being done on some labelling with GS1 Canada to create industry compliant globally accepted bar codes.
- the role of local and small food processors and farmers in the discussions around regulation
- Health Canada's changes to the Enhanced Allergens Labelling Regulation (February 2011) and the fact that the beer industry has been left out of the new regulation changes
- labels and the guidelines on the use "free from" and "may contain" language on products as it relates to allergens
- free trade agreements and their affect on consumers
- interest in publishing restaurant food safety inspections
Information: presentation on targeted surveys under the Food Safety Action Plan
The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) survey initiative was announced in 2007. The objective of the plan is to promote informed decision making by consumers. It includes initiatives to proactively monitor and improve tracking of importers and imported foods, and to increase response to non-compliant products.
The purpose of bringing the survey results to the table was to receive feedback from the associations on
- whether the data was useful,
- how they could better improve and communicate to consumers, and
- how they could better help consumers make informed decisions based on the results.
- Some members were pleased to see the survey, but were disappointed to see that the focus was limited to food safety, and that it did not address broader consumer products. Health Canada is responsible for regulating consumer products.
- There was a suggestion that the study should consider nutritional safety as well as food safety in the program deliverables.
- It was stated that Health Canada should update standards for residue levels in Canada.
- There was discussion over not having available test kits at the provincial level and the private sector level, and the suggestion was made to approve more methods and increase the availability of test kits.
- There was an appreciation for the survey's longitudinal approach, as some associations use long-term historical development data.
- There was discussion about the process of recalls through these surveys. CFIA staff clarified how a recall may occur as a result of the survey, but emphasized that the surveys can be a preventative measure that can stop products from being made available to consumers.
- There was recognition that the survey also assists with identifying problems with inventory management. However it was pointed out that the survey did not find "bad results."
Information: Briefing on recent Codex meeting
Codex Alimentarius Commission is a United Nations-based organization that engages and develops international standards for food in a broad number of areas. The organization runs a number of committees, including the Codex Committee on Food Labelling (CCFL), which is hosted by Canada.
- This year's consultations resulted in the CCFL agreeing to advance revisions to the Guidelines on Nutrition Labelling for adoption by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
- The CCFL has also agreed to advance the proposed draft compilation of Codex texts relevant to labelling foods.
- There were questions over a lack of policy for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and why the term "modern biotechnology" had been adopted instead of the term "genetic modification (GM)"
- Clarification was provided with regard to the Codex proposed guidelines and the need for consistency with Canada's approach to GMO labelling (which is a voluntary approach; a choice is given whether to label GMOs, provided labels are truthful, accurate, and not misleading)
- It was mentioned that the documents were lengthy and that reading them is labour-intensive. It was noted that specific questions may be addressed to Codex for easier and faster access to the information.
- There was an appreciation for the fact that Canada held public hearings before the Codex meetings.
- The lack of third-party consumer engagement in consultations was raised due to inadequate funding.
Consultation: Low-level presence and GMOs in plant products
An overview was provided on the issue of low-level presence. This is the unintended presence, at low levels, of a trait that has been introduced via genetic modification, which has been approved in at least one country but not in the country of import.
Codex has established guidance for the risk analysis for genetically modified plants, micro-organisms and animals, and that approval status is granted on the basis of regulations that are consistent with international standards regarding GMO.
The presentation ended with a request for views on reasonable approaches to effectively consulting on managing low-level presence. This included a desire to complement traditional consultations with more inclusive ones, such as online consultations and webinars.
- While recognized to be out of the scope of the presentation, questions were raised regarding GMO labelling. It was recognized that it is difficult to discuss a specific issue such as low-level presence when the broader awareness about genetic modification needs to be improved.
- It was noted that certain approaches may lead to a way for producers to ignore low-level presence in a GM product.
- Suggestions were made over the choice of language with regards to low-level presence being "unavoidable" rather than the suggested "unmanageable." The former was said to close the conversation, while the latter opens more possibilities for solutions.
- There was discussion over the perceived value of market access over public health. It was debated as to whether the two were opposed or ran parallel.
- More discussion focussed on Canadian sovereignty in the situation of managing low-level presence in the global context.
- Questions as to why the CFIA was coming to the roundtable for suggestions on the topic in a meaningful way. Mr. Mayers responded that the CFIA wants the associations to be aware that the Agency will be consulting with the public for future conversations and that the Agency recognizes the challenge of listening to Canadians with regards to which direction is best to take.
Consultation: 2025, the CFIA's long-term strategy
CFIA is developing a long-term strategic plan with the goals and strategies that need to be in place during a rapidly changing global environment. The intent of the plan is to address and manage future risks and opportunities by developing a vision for 2025. The presentation concluded by asking the roundtable for input on the strategy before it is finalized in 2012.
- The CFIA was commended for sharing the organization of the initial stages of the strategy with the roundtable.
- In the future, the associations would like time to take the call for input back to their organizations, so that the organizations have a chance to formulate a more thorough discussion to present back to the CFIA.
- Participants acknowledged that the process of brainstorming and presenting issues for the strategy may be a lengthy process for voluntary organizations. There was mention of a potential informal proposal brought to the table for associations to take back with them in the near future.
- It was noted that there needs to be more work done to develop a social science framework within the Agency, which is needed for the strategy.
Consultation: The CFIA's service commitment
The CFIA's service commitment is a basis for an overall transparency agenda. One way to achieve this commitment is to provide a service statement. This statement is a set of principles that describe the kinds of services clients can expect to receive from the organization. The CFIA's approach to the service commitment is through development, consultation, implementation, and evaluation: currently the service statement is going through the development stage.
The CFIA plans to ask Canadians the following regarding the service statement:
- whether or not the principles are clear,
- what the principles mean to them, and
- whether it provides a better understanding of the objectives of the CFIA.
The roundtable was asked for feedback in terms of what "quality of service" means to consumers and how a services statement can improve relationships with the CFIA.
- The suggestion was made to consider greater accessibility to the CFIA by applying more visuals in documents for those who are less literate or do not speak English or French as a first language.
- There is still lack of awareness around which department or agency to go to with their questions (that is, the CFIA or Health Canada). It was noted that many consumers are unaware of the mission of the CFIA. A suggestion was made to raise public awareness through enhancing internet search and advertisements in order to lead consumers to the CFIA website.
- Suggestions were made to increase overall efforts towards adopting "public speak" for documents, as opposed to "industry speak", cautious of balancing plain language with important technical information. A suggestion was made to provide associates with draft plain language documents to be reviewed.
- Suggestions were made to ensure follow-up procedures for reports, even if consumers would be directed to another department or agency.
- A suggestion was made to review the Government of Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs website and other websites that describe the purpose of the CFIA, to make sure their statements align with the CFIA's mission and vision.
- The point was made to consider quality service for Canadian's first over cost and efficiency measures.
Going forward discussion
Members of the roundtable concluded the meeting by discussing their future agenda items.
- The roundtable decided to hold a teleconference on nanotechnology on June 23.
- Sodium reduction
- The roundtable decided to remove the sodium reduction discussion from the future agenda.
- People's Food Policy Project
- The roundtable decided to invite other bodies such as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Health Canada, or other stakeholders to the discussion on the project in the context of any emerging national food strategy and related food regulatory challenges. A date for discussion on the project will be determined later.
- Discussion on other potential agenda items
- natural health products in food and their place within the CFIA's 2025 strategic plan
- guidelines on precautionary labelling on food
- a request to have the Office of Food Safety Recall speak on how a recall is done, and how wording is chosen
- plan for strategies around immediate needs to adjust to the economic realities, not just long-term strategies
- labelling GM foods (especially in the conversations around low-level presence)
- how labels are going to be managed in the future while still having consumers benefit from labels
- irradiation awareness and other similar options to battle food contamination
Dr. Evans' closing remarks included a suggestion that the roundtable meet in the fall in order to discuss the next performance report.
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