Archived - What We Heard Report
Inspection Modernization: The Case for Change
Consultation from June 1 to July 31, 2012

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On June 1, 2012, the Government announced that it would develop a stronger, more comprehensive inspection approach that would further strengthen food safety in Canada. A document that explained the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA) first steps and the reasons behind them called The Case for Change was posted on the CFIA's web site for comment until July 31, 2012.

This consultation was announced to various CFIA inspector, bargaining agent, Canadian consumer, industry and international groups. Stakeholders were asked for their feedback on proposed key components of an improved inspection approach and ways that Canada's science-based inspection system can be enhanced.

Feedback was received through an online survey and by email, fax and mail. This information will help the CFIA draft an improved food inspection approach that will be driven by continued discussions with industry, bargaining agents and front-line staff from across the country.

The online survey

The CFIA received 125 completed online surveys. Respondents self-identified as

  • 62 general public
  • 34 government (including 33 CFIA staff and 1 provincial government employee)
  • 24 industry
  • 1 international
  • 4 union

When completing the survey, respondents were asked if they had a better understanding of why the CFIA is improving food inspection after reading The Case for Change. Seventy three percent indicated that they did, 12 percent indicated that they did not and 15 percent did not know.

Email, fax and mail responses

The CFIA received 51 email, fax and mail responses. Respondents self-identified as

  • 2 general public
  • 12 government (including 7 CFIA staff and 5 from other government)
  • 28 industry
  • 9 respondents could not be identified

What we heard

Generally, feedback from consumers, CFIA inspectors and industry stakeholders was supportive and positive. Respondents were interested in the steps that the Government and the CFIA are taking to build a more comprehensive approach to food safety that includes stronger oversight. Overall, respondents indicated they want

  • new tools and stronger oversight to match the evolving food-safety environment,
  • all food manufacturers and processors, importers and exporters held to the same standard,
  • an open and transparent system that effectively enforces regulations and keeps food safe,
  • adequate training and time to transition for both CFIA inspectors and industry,
  • clear communication, simple regulations and less documentation, and
  • a continued or expanded role in the consultation process.

Emailed or faxed comments and general comments included with completed questionnaires covered a wide range of topics, including

  • CFIA oversight,
  • compliance and enforcement,
  • inspection and training,
  • licensing, and
  • system performance.

CFIA oversight

There is considerable support for stronger, more consistent oversight across all food—whether it is imported or produced domestically. Respondents generally indicated that industry should be responsible for producing safe food and the CFIA should be responsible for verifying that industry is meeting all requirements.

Respondents indicated that education, communication and time to comply with any new requirements are necessary for the improved approach to work. They asked that

  • industry preventative control plans be clear,
  • regulatory and food safety outcomes be properly communicated, and
  • business owners, specifically of small- and medium-sized businesses, be given time to create plans and comply.

CFIA response

The CFIA is proposing that industry have flexibility to use either existing or customized preventive control plans, but be required to address the following:

  • physical structure and maintenance
  • equipment design and maintenance
  • employee hygiene and training
  • sanitation and pest control
  • product/process control
  • transportation and storage
  • traceability and recall
  • company verification processes

The CFIA is considering what type of guidance and assistance it would provide to all businesses—including small- and/or medium-sized businesses—to help promote regulatory compliance. However, mandatory preventative control plans could be scaled and adapted to the size and complexity of operations at smaller businesses.

Respondents wanted to see more detail about the risk factors that would be considered when determining the level of oversight, especially for those establishments that manufacture or process different products on the same premises. However, respondents agreed that oversight must be based on residual risk and must include compliance history of the operator. Respondents indicated that oversight should

  • continue to use prescribed routines like unannounced inspector visits to promote compliance, and
  • not be based solely on third-party audits.

CFIA response

Inspection remains at the core of the CFIA's activities. The CFIA would continue to inspect facilities, but the inspection frequency and associated resources would be adjusted based on risk and compliance history. Inspectors would increase their frequency of visits to high-risk operations and/or non-compliant facilities.

The CFIA is developing the parameters for determining risk categories. This proposal will be posted online for comment once it has been drafted.

Compliance and enforcement

There was also considerable support for consistent enforcement across all food. In addition, respondents indicated they expect CFIA inspectors to be able to enforce their decisions if compliance is not met. Small- and medium-sized businesses asked for a graduated approach to implementation and for fines to be based on the size of business. Respondents commented that enforcement should

  • be consistent across all food,
  • also apply to importers and international trading partners,
  • include more severe penalties and greater inspector powers like those proposed in the Safe Food for Canadians Act, and
  • provide CFIA inspectors the ability to enforce regulations in multi-commodity establishments.

CFIA response

The model proposes one food program that includes consistent compliance requirements for all regulated commodities.

Enforcement action would depend on a number of factors, including

  • the circumstances under which non-compliance is identified,
  • the potential impact or harm, and
  • the intent and demonstrated performance of the regulated party.

In addition, enforcement action could be directed at the product, the regulated party, or both.

Inspection and training

Respondents were more cautious about the proposed approach to standardize inspection and verification. Respondents indicated that they understand that inspection activities need to change, but generally also asked that inspectors continue with in-person, on-site inspections. Questions from respondents included the following:

  • How would inspection apply to the retail and import sectors?
  • Would surveillance and monitoring activities continue?
  • Would current tools like the Compliance Verification System (CVS) be used?
  • When would inspectors issue notices like Corrective Action Requests (CARs)?

CFIA response

As part of the model, the CFIA is developing a surveillance plan to assess compliance in the marketplace for domestic and imported food. Investments in technology would allow information to be captured more readily and illustrate whether industry is continually complying with Canada's federal food safety regulations and policies.

Also as part of the model, the current compliance verification approach will be reviewed and adjusted if and where necessary.

The CFIA would issue CARs for critical and serious food safety non-compliance, as well as for repeat cases of regulatory non-compliance. Industry would be responsible for developing effective Corrective Action Plans (CAPs). The CFIA would no longer approve CAPs but would inspect on-site and verify that non-compliance has been addressed.

Industry respondents indicated that they expect the CFIA to communicate how industry can meet stated objectives. The feedback emphasized the importance of enhanced inspector training. Comments included the following:

  • Inspectors must understand the science behind food production.
  • Inspectors must consistently interpret regulations and be able to explain to industry whether their preventative control plans are working and whether the plans and programs in place can achieve outcomes.
  • All inspectors should receive core training curriculum, but specialized expertise will still be required.

CFIA response

The CFIA is proposing that its inspectors have the appropriate scientific foundation and be capable of inspecting all food. A core training curriculum would allow inspector skills to be transferable across all food. However, specialists and unique specific expertise such as high pressure thermal sterilization or evaluating container integrity would still be required.

In general, respondents supported third-party verification as a tool to complement and streamline many industry and government activities. There is strong support for the Government to adopt internationally-recognized third-party benchmarking and food safety bodies. However, respondents were cautious and

  • acknowledged that this subject needs further analysis to determine who would be the final authority on audits conducted by third parties,
  • asked that third-party audits be conducted unannounced,
  • asked how the CFIA would use its resources to properly verify third-party audits, and
  • recommended that third parties should not replace CFIA inspectors.

CFIA response

The CFIA is still evaluating how it may use third parties. Results of third-party audits may be considered when determining the level of CFIA oversight. However, third parties would not replace CFIA inspectors.


There is strong support for a single license for each regulated party that imports, manufactures or produces food for sale outside provincial borders and internationally. Industry respondents indicated that

  • this would appropriately level the playing field for all sectors,
  • a license fee should be set as low as possible so it does not present a barrier to entry or negatively affect companies' competitive position in the marketplace, and
  • they understand that a single license would help reduce red tape and promote market access at the borders.

However, respondents also wanted to know

  • more details about the licensing criteria,
  • how the CFIA would check applications, and
  • why the license would not apply to establishments shipping within provincial borders and how it would apply to establishments that produce food for sale both within and outside provincial borders.

CFIA response

In order to obtain a licence, the CFIA is proposing that industry would

  • provide a statement indicating management's commitment to meeting regulatory requirements;
  • develop, document and maintain a preventive control plan, suitable to their activities and operations, to meet food safety and regulatory requirements;
  • demonstrate that key personnel within the food business have successfully completed safe food handling or similar training or have demonstrated experience in safe food handling practices; and
  • notify the CFIA when a food safety risk in the marketplace is confirmed to have originated from their operations.

The CFIA is proposing that licenses be issued upon receipt of payment. Manufacturers or importers of high-risk product may be subject to pre-licensing inspection. Licensed importers would also require a Canadian address and would need to provide CFIA inspectors access to documentation.

The licensing requirements of the model would only apply to the importers, exporters and manufacturers of food destined for trade outside provincial borders. Provincially-regulated establishments would continue to abide by the current federal legislation and the respective provincial legislation. For example, all meat produced in Canada—whether in federally- or provincially-inspected plants—must meet the safety requirements of the Food and Drugs Act.

Food products that are manufactured and sold within a province would be included in the CFIA's surveillance plans, as well, and the CFIA would continue to respond to food safety issues such as food recalls.

The CFIA is engaging provincial and territorial governments and expects that it will lead to additional discussions about

  • roles and responsibilities,
  • how oversight activities could be coordinated,
  • how information could be shared to develop meaningful surveillance plans and manage risks, and
  • how the provinces might strengthen their own approaches to food inspection.

System performance

There is strong support from respondents for a proposed system to measure the effectiveness of the improved food inspection model on an ongoing basis. This would help the CFIA

  • manage risks and respond appropriately,
  • promote continuous improvement, and
  • share information with stakeholders.

Respondents had questions about how system performance measures would be designed and evaluated, including the following:

  • What would be the key performance indicators?
  • Would industry and consumers provide input into the design and validation?
  • How would the results be shared?

CFIA response

To validate the food inspection program for continuous improvement, the model proposes that the CFIA

  • conduct environmental scans,
  • review inspection and surveillance data, and
  • complete trend analysis on an annual basis.

Through consultations with stakeholders, including employees, industry and consumers, key performance indicators are being identified.

The objective of validation would be to

  • assess overall effectiveness of the food inspection system,
  • assess program integrity to ensure that the inspection program is delivered consistently, effectively and efficiently,
  • identify gaps and trends, and
  • create accountability and provide feedback to support continuous improvement.

The results of validation would be used to review program effectiveness, adjust work plans and make improvements to program design and delivery.

The CFIA is committed to becoming a more transparent organization.

Next steps

The CFIA will use this feedback to draft an improved food inspection model and further refine its approach over the rest of this year. The Agency is planning extensive outreach activities to consult with employees as well as bargaining agents, consumers, industry, federal partners, provincial and territorial governments and international stakeholders in the fall.

The CFIA recognizes that this is a long and ambitious process but our focus remains on the future and having the best food safety system in the world. We are carrying out a number of complementary initiatives including a review of the Agency's regulatory frameworks and the Safe Food for Canadians Act, tabled in June 2012, which aims to modernize and strengthen food legislation. Together, these initiatives are part of a comprehensive effort to better manage food safety challenges and make food as safe as possible for Canadian families.

Thank you for your comments.

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