Safe Food for Canadians Act - Questions and Answers

  • General

    What is the Safe Food for Canadians Act?

    The Safe Food for Canadians Act is legislation that consolidates the authorities of multiple food statutes into one Act. It modernizes and strengthens food commodity legislation to better protect consumers.

    Which Acts have been consolidated?

    Four food-related statutes have been consolidated

    • Canada Agricultural Products Act (CAPA)
    • Fish Inspection Act (FIA)
    • Meat Inspection Act (MIA)
    • Food-related provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act (CPLA)

    How does Safe Food for Canadians Act work with the Food and Drugs Act?

    Both pieces of legislation protect consumers from unsafe food commodities. The Safe Food for Canadians Act strengthens oversight of food commodities being traded inter-provincially or internationally. The Food and Drugs Act will continue to protect consumers from any and all foods that are unsuitable for human consumption, including those marketed exclusively within provinces.

    The Safe Food for Canadians Act does not change the inspection regime or the fines and penalties of the Food and Drugs Act

    What does this food safety legislation achieve?

    Our Government is committed to making food as safe as possible for Canadian families and this is reflected in the Safe Food for Canadians Act. Generally, the legislation:

    • Improves food safety oversight to better protect consumers through:
      • Tougher prohibitions, penalties and fines for activities that put health and safety at risk;
      • Better control over imports;
      • A more consistent inspection approach across all food commodities; and
      • Strengthened food traceability.
    • Enhances international market opportunities for the Canadian food industry by providing authority to certify any food commodity for export.
    • Provides for licensing and registration of imports in all regulated food commodities to ensure a consistent approach for all food commodities.

    How does this Act help the federal government and inspectors keep food safe for Canadians?

    The new Safe Food for Canadians Act consolidates authorities from four food-related Acts into one set of food authorities, with consistent and modern language. This will make it easier for inspectors who currently conduct inspections of various food commodities. Uniform inspection authorities will improve consistency of multi-commodity inspections. The modernized language in the legislation reduces ambiguity in authorities and in enforcing the regulations.

    The Safe Food for Canadians Act also enhances inspector mobility between food commodities. For example, inspectors currently working under the Fish Inspection Act can now easily transfer to meat or agricultural product inspection because the authorities will be the same for all foods.

    Another benefit for inspectors is their ability to make warrant requests by telephone, simplifying and expediting the process for them.

    How does legislation address the recommendations in the Report of the Independent Investigator into the 2008 Listeriosis Outbreak, also known as the Weatherill Report?

    The Independent Investigator, Sheila Weatherill, recommended that food safety legislation be simplified and modernized to address concerns that the federal regulatory framework for food safety is in need of modernization. The new legislation achieves that by consolidating the CFIA's food commodity legislation, including modernizing inspection authorities.

    How is this legislation related to the 2007 Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan (FCSAP)?

    The Safe Food for Canadians Act fulfills a significant commitment by the federal government to modernize food safety legislation when the 2007 FCSAP was introduced.

  • Consultations

    Did you consult stakeholders on the Safe Food for Canadians Act?

    Yes. The Government of Canada engages stakeholders on elements of any proposed legislation. Over the past few years, many stakeholders have been supportive of efforts to modernize food safety. The Government of Canada has engaged industry on many topics including what could potentially be included in legislative proposals to modernize and streamline the food safety framework in Canada.

    There are several mechanisms in place that are used to engage with industry on important issues including the Agri-Food Sub-Committee on Food Safety and various Value Chain Round Tables. The CFIA is also supported by a Consumer Association Roundtable, an Expert Advisory Committee, the Federal-Provincial-Territorial (FPT) Food Safety Committee and the Ministerial Advisory Board which it has used - and will continue to use - to discuss issues that could be addressed in legislation.

    There was also an opportunity for consumers, industry groups and other stakeholders to express their views during the consideration of the bill at committee.

  • Inspector Powers

    How are inspector powers change in this Act from previous Acts?

    The Safe Food for Canadians Act consolidates the inspector authorities of the existing food safety statutes and modernizes the language to ensure there is no ambiguity in authorities in the context of evolving industry trends. The advancement of technology and innovation in the industry since these statutes were originally drafted, as well as the changing legal conventions in the area of enforcement have made modernization of the language necessary.

    Do inspectors now have new powers?

    Under the Safe Food for Canadians Act, all inspector powers of the Fish Inspection Act, Meat Inspection Act, and the Canadian Agricultural Products Act have been consolidated into one suite of authorities with a modernized language. The Safe Food for Canadians Act does not distinguish between different food products, as each individual statute did.

    The main new authority that did not exist in any of the former food safety statutes is the power to request a warrant by telephone. In addition, the legislation provides more explicit authority for an inspector to pass through or over private property to get to a place for inspection purposes or to take photographs.

    Many authorities have been updated from their previous version to reflect new drafting conventions and to make them clearer for all stakeholders. Some of these authorities include the power to request that an individual start or stop an activity to prevent non-compliance with the Act, the power to ask for documents to be produced, and the prevention of obstruction and interference with an inspector carrying out his duties.

    Are inspectors losing any powers?

    With the consolidation of these inspection statutes, there are two authorities that are discontinued in the new statute as they were rarely used and were deemed no longer necessary in the context of a modern inspection regime. These include the power of arrest and power to administer oaths in the Fish Inspection Act. Their removal modernizes the approach and makes it consistent with other Canadian legislation. The removal of these authorities does not affect the safety of foods for consumers.

  • Benefit to Consumers

    How does the Safe Food for Canadians Act better protect consumers?

    The Act allows the CFIA to better protect consumers by modernizing outdated authorities and inconsistencies in its legislative framework for food commodities, and addressing by new and modern challenges for the Canadian food supply. The Act will help keep potentially unsafe food commodities out of consumers' hands by:

    • Introducing consistent food inspection practices across all food commodities;
    • Increasing some existing fines, and introducing new fines and penalties;
    • Giving the CFIA the ability to require regulated parties to have traceability systems;
    • Including a prohibition against selling food commodities that have been recalled;
    • Introducing new and stronger prohibitions against deceptive practices, tampering and hoaxes;
    • Giving the CFIA the ability to require the registration or licensing of regulated parties and establishments; and
    • Prohibiting the importation of unsafe food commodities.

    How does this Act help prevent situations like the current XL Foods Inc. recall from happening?

    The Act gives more authority in areas critical to food safety inspection and investigation. For example, it gives the CFIA more authority to require industry to produce timely and useable information when requested and to have traceability systems, which will help speed up investigations in situations like the recent XL Foods Inc. recall.

    Is tampering not covered by the Criminal Code?

    Yes it is; however, tampering under the Criminal Code refers broadly to activities more often described as "mischief" and tends to deal with mischief as related to property. This provision provides the CFIA with explicit authority to take enforcement action against persons who tamper with or threaten to tamper with food commodities. The seriousness of such activities is reflected in the increased penalties for tampering.

    What are the new fines and penalties under the Safe Food for Canadians Act?

    The Act includes tougher fines and penalties for activities that put the health and safety of Canadians at risk. Anyone convicted of an offence by way of summary conviction under the Act could now face a penalty of up to $250,000 and/or 6 months imprisonment for a first offence, or more for subsequent offences.

    When the offence is serious or knowingly or recklessly puts Canadians lives in danger, such as tampering, penalties are up to $500,000 and/or 18 months imprisonment for a first offence proceeded by way of summary conviction, or more for subsequent offences. Anyone convicted of an offence by way of indictment will face even higher fines and penalties.

    Current Legislation Current Penalties Safe Food for Canadians Act
    Canada Agricultural Products Act

    Summary Conviction - $50,000 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment

    Indictable Offence - $250,000 fine and/or 2 years imprisonment

    (Amount of the fine for an subsequent offence could be higher if designated by regulation)

    For most offences:

    Summary Conviction (First offence) - $250,000 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment

    Summary Conviction (Subsequent offence) - $500,000 fine and/or 18 months imprisonment

    Indictable Offence - $5,000,000 fine and/or 2 years imprisonment

    For certain serious offences*:

    Summary Conviction (First offence) - $500,000 fine and/or 18 months imprisonment

    Summary Conviction (Subsequent offence) - $1,000,000 fine and/or 2 year imprisonment

    Indictable Offence - Unlimited fine and/or 5 year imprisonment

    *: Tampering, providing false information, failing to comply with an order, or knowingly or recklessly causing a risk
    Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act

    Summary Conviction - $50,000 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment

    Indictable Offence - $250,000 fine and/or 2 years imprisonment

    Fish Inspection Act

    Summary Conviction (First offence) - $20,000 fine and/or 3 months imprisonment

    Summary Conviction (Subsequent offence) - $50,000 fine and/or 2 years imprisonment

    Indictable Offence (Corporation) - $250,000 fine

    Indictable Offence (Individual) - $100,000 fine and/or 5 years imprisonment

    Meat Inspection Act

    Most offences

    Summary Conviction - $50,000 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment

    Certain serious offences

    Indictable Offence - $250,000 fine and /or 2 years imprisonment

    Food and Drugs Act

    Summary Conviction - $50,000 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment

    Indictable Offence - $250,000 fine and/or 3 years imprisonment

    What is the difference between AAAMPA and the fines and penalties in this legislation?

    The Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act (AAAMPA) can impose administrative monetary penalties (AMPS) for violations of certain Acts and Regulations. AMPS are an alternative to the existing penal system and provide another enforcement option.

    The CFIA uses AMPS for certain violations. There are three levels of commercial violations under AMPS, each with its own maximum penalty ($1,300 for a minor violation, $6,000 for a serious violation and $10,000 for a very serious violation). There is no possibility of imprisonment for a violation, and violations are not normally pursued for more serious offences.

    By contrast, the fines and penalties structure established in the Safe Food for Canadians Act falls under penal law, with much higher maximum fines and penalties. The Crown will decide how to proceed against someone who contravenes the Act or Regulations, by way of summary conviction or indictment. Jail time is a possibility under the fines and penalty structure of the Safe Food for Canadians Act, and the maximum fines go from $250,000 for a first-time contravention for most offences, up to a maximum at the court's discretion for the most serious crimes.

    The Act allows violations under AAAMPA, and requires regulations to operate under the regime.

    What do consumers stand to gain by licensing and registering importers?

    Licensing and registrations will help the CFIA protect consumers and maintain Canada's reputation for producing safe, high-quality food. Licensing, or registering, persons and registering establishments will also provide greater control over the production and importation of food commodities than the current patchwork of licensing and registration systems. For example, the CFIA has the authority to prescribe conditions for licenses and registrations. This means that importers have to comply with the conditions attached to their license or registration or face consequences.

  • Benefit to Industry

    How does the legislation help businesses produce or handle safe food for Canadians?

    The legislation will strengthen our controls over imported food commodities, introduces powers to register or license regulated parties (industry), and prohibits the importation of unsafe food commodities.

    Allowing the CFIA to certify food commodities for exportwill help our Canadian businesses compete on a global stage. More foreign governments are requiring that imported food be certified by the originating country - our businesses require this so that they can remain competitive around the world.

  • Traceability

    What is the purpose of the provisions on traceability?

    Traceability is the ability to follow an item or a group of items such as animal, plant, or food products or their ingredients from one point in the supply chain to another.

    The amendments to the Health of Animals Act strengthen Canada's regulatory-making authorities and expand our existing traceability requirements which already include animal identification and components of movement reporting.

    The amendment provides the groundwork for a national livestock traceability system for Canada. A national system could lessen the impact and severity of an animal disease outbreak, thereby protecting animal health, human health and safeguarding the food supply.

  • Review Mechanism

    Does the new legislation allow regulated parties to ask for a review of decisions made by CFIA officials?

    The legislation creates a review mechanism for certain decisions made by CFIA officials as set out in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act. This review process underpins the CFIA's new Complaints and Appeals mechanism, announced in February 2012, to provide businesses with a more transparent and accessible way to register complaints and appeals.

    How can stakeholders complain if they feel they were treated unfairly by an inspector?

    If stakeholders feel that they were treated unfairly by an inspector the CFIA has always been willing to hear comments or suggestions on how to improve their customer service. Stakeholders can find out more about the Complaints and Appeals Office and how to file a complaint through the CFIA website.

    In addition to this ongoing dialogue with stakeholders, the new bill will provide an alternative review mechanism for certain inspector decisions. Since this legislation modernizes and consolidates inspector powers, regulated parties may be impacted by these changes. Therefore, a review mechanism will be developed to address regulated parties who disagree with certain decisions taken under this Act and under legislation administered by CFIA, since the review mechanism will appear in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act.

    Can original decisions be overturned or changed through the review process?

    The reviewing officer can confirm, change, or cancel the decision.

    Who will review the original decisions?

    They will be reviewed by an officer who was not involved in the original decision.

    If regulated parties disagree with a reviewing officer's decision, will they have any further recourse?

    Regulated parties can still ask for a judicial review by the Federal Court if they are unsatisfied with the final CFIA decision.

  • Implementation plan

    Is the Safe Food for Canadians Act now in force?

    Before the Act can be brought into force, new supporting regulations need to be made. Therefore, all current legislation and regulations will remain in effect until new supporting regulations are developed and the Act comes into force. Where appropriate, interim policies may be developed to allow the Agency to implement certain policy requirements in advance of the new regulations, such as requesting establishments to provide documentation in specific formats and timelines when there is a food safety investigation.

    When will the Act actually come into force?

    The CFIA will be completing an extensive and comprehensive review of the current regulations and working with affected stakeholders to develop the new regulations as quickly as possible. Other modernization efforts currently underway at the Agency will also tie-in to this process, such as

    • inspection modernization;
    • overall regulatory modernization and streamlining regulations to improve consistency, provide clarity and increase flexibility; and
    • user fees as a whole.

    It was noted during the recent XL Foods Inc. recall that the CFIA would have enhanced authority under the Act to demand documents in a specific format and timeframe during a food safety investigation. What will be done to implement these authorities in advance of the supporting regulations being finalized?

    Work is underway between the Agency and industry to clarify expectations related to documentation formats and deadlines. If necessary, an interim policy could be implemented to formalize these expectations in advance of the Safe Food for Canadians Act coming into force.

    How much will this Act cost industry ?

    We will make all efforts to find efficiencies and minimize costs to industry in the future.

    Are additional inspectors or other resources needed as a result of the Safe Food for Canadians Act?

    We do not anticipate requiring new inspectors or other staff as a result of this legislation. However, the CFIA will be assessing its our needs as regulations are revised or new ones adopted. If additional staff is needed at that time, decisions will be made on how to fulfill those needs.

  • Personal and confidential business information

    How is confidential business information handled with regard to food recalls?

    The legislation continues to allow the Minister to disclose personal and confidential business information to a person or government if he considers that disclosure is necessary to protect the health and safety of Canadians (for example, in the case of a recall that has or will be ordered), information disclosure must still follow all applicable Government legislation and guidelines (including the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act). This can be done now, under some provisions of the Privacy Act.

    The Act clearly articulates when disclosure can take place to ensure a common understanding, should it be required. This is the model that has been adopted recently in the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act.

  • Federal-provincial matters

    How does the Act affect the federal-provincial division of powers regarding food safety?

    The divisions of powers and responsibilities between the federal and provincial jurisdictions remain the same.

    The Safe Food for Canadians Act only affects areas of federal jurisdiction and creates consistent legislative authorities across all the food commodities that are currently regulated by CFIA legislation.

    Does the legislation affect food brought across provincial or national borders for personal use?

    No. Exemptions are made for food commodities that are for personal use only. The purpose of the Safe Food for Canadians Act is to regulate the trade and sale of food commodities, not to prevent the importation of food commodities for personal use across provincial borders or internationally.

  • Ministerial responsibilities

    Which Minister is responsible for this legislation?

    The Minister of Health is responsible for carrying out the Safe Food for Canadians Act.

    The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is responsible for non-food safety agricultural activities, including economic and trade issues, as well the CFIA's animal health and plant protection work.

  • Import and Export provisions

    How does this Act strengthen CFIA's control over imported and exported food?

    The Act includes provisions to register or license importers, holding them accountable for the safety of the food commodities they bring into the country. Canada already has a rigorous system to verify the safety of imported foods, and this legislation makes that system even stronger. For exports, the CFIA gains the ability to certify all foods for export. Given that export certification is a requirement of many trading partners, this new authority will create new export opportunities for Canadian products.

    Is imported food less safe than domestic food?

    No. All food sold in Canada, whether domestic or imported, must comply with the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations. Regardless of country of origin, if the CFIA identifies products that do not meet regulatory requirements, enforcement action is taken. Enforcement action can take on a number of forms, including recall.

    Canada has a robust risk-based import control system that is based on internationally recognized standards. Our approach is comparable to the import inspection systems of other developed countries, such as the United States. That said, we import food from around the globe, and we are always looking for opportunities to enhance the safety of our food supply.

  • Aligning with International Trading Partners, including the US

    Is the Safe Food for Canadians Act in line with legislation in other countries? If so, how?

    Modern and consistent food safety legislation is more compatible with that of other countries generally. More specifically, the enhanced abilities to govern food safety (e.g. authorities for traceability, export certification) provided in this Act provides us with authorities similar to those contained in recent U.S. legislation.

    How does the new Safe Food for Canadians Act compare to the Food Safety Modernization Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 2011?

    The Safe Food for Canadians Act is a key step in aligning our food safety system with those of our international trading partners, including the US. Having modern regulation-making authorities allows the federal government to respond to any new trade requirements. For example, the Act includes new authorities for the certification of food commodities for export, a key component in the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act.

    The legislation also complements the Government's efforts to increase the regulatory cooperation that exists with the United States, making it easier to conduct business and contributing to the benefits of the Canada-U.S. trade in agriculture and agri-food products. This is no small business, with $33 billion in total bilateral trade in 2010. Bilateral trade in Agriculture and Food between Canada and the U.S. enables both countries' citizens to enjoy a reliable supply of some of the safest and highest quality food in the world. Of note, meat and poultry equivalencies, meat cut naming and food safety testing will contribute to simplifying how we conduct bilateral trade.

    Does this Act have an impact on the workload of the border agency?

    No. We will continue to work closely with the Canada Border Services Agency to ensure that they have the necessary tools to enforce the CFIA's legislation at airports and other Canadian border points.

  • Licensing and registration provisions

    Why do you need to have licensing and registration provisions in this Act?

    Licensing and registration are very effective methods to address non-compliance. If there is a contravention of the conditions of a licence or registration, the instrument can be suspended or revoked. Currently, the CFIA can license persons or register establishments for activities that relate to some food commodities. These provisions in the new Act will enable the CFIA to use licensing and registration for all food commodities.

    Furthermore, the ability to issue licences and registrations under one statute rather than requiring multiple licenses or registrations for multi-commodity operations under existing regimes (e.g. registration of an establishment that processes meat products and fish products) will reduce the administrative burden and simplify requirements for industry.

    Will establishments and exporters in other countries that export to Canada be required to adhere to the new CFIA licensing and registration requirements?

    No. Canadian importers must ensure the foods they import meet Canadian requirements. The legislation allows them to have greater control over these products.

    Foods such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs are already regulated in Canada. Importers must meet Canadian requirements to bring these products into the country. In cases where foods products are not regulated (for example coffee, baked goods, spices), having a licensing regime for importers places the responsibility on them to import safe foods and will increase Canada's ability to act when there is non-compliance.

    Will there be a cost for a license or a registration?

    Since there are currently fees for licenses and registrations under acts administered by the CFIA, it is likely that fees will be carried over or apply to additional licenses and registrations, subject to the conditions for doing so. Consistent with the process described in the User Fees Act, thorough analysis and consultation with stakeholders will take place before new fees are put in place.

  • Natural Health Products

    Does the Act affect Natural Health Products (NHPs)?

    The Safe Food for Canadians Act only regulates food commodities, and does not cover drugs or NHPs that are not also a food commodity. If a product is a food commodity (based on its format, representation, and history of perception and use/consumption), it should be regulated as a food commodity, irrespective of whether it also shares certain features with products that are NHPs or drugs.

    How are NHPs regulated?

    NHPs are regulated under the Natural Health Product Regulations, made under the Food and Drugs Act, and administered and enforced by the Minister of Health, not the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

    Who decides if a product is an NHP or a food commodity?

    By means of a classification decision, the Minister of Health will indicate to which regulatory regime a product currently belongs; companies can challenge classification decisions, including in court if necessary.

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