Safe Food for Canadians Act: An Overview

The Government of Canada is committed to making food as safe as possible for consumers and Canada's food safety system is world class. However, there is a need to strengthen and modernize the legislation on which it is based. In 2007, the Prime Minister announced the Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan. Legislative modernization was one of the commitments under that plan. In 2009, the Report of the Independent Investigator into the 2008 Listeriosis Outbreak (the Weatherill Report) recommended that the Government "modernize and simplify federal legislation and regulations that significantly affect food safety." The commitment to update legislation was reconfirmed in the 2010 Speech from the Throne and this intent was reiterated in the report "Action on Weatherill Recommendations to Strengthen the Food Safety System:  Final Report to Canadians". The Safe Food for Canadians Act builds on action taken to address these commitments.

The need for change

Food in Canada is regulated under a suite of different statutes: the Food and Drugs Act, the Fish Inspection Act, the Meat Inspection Act, the Canada Agricultural Products Act, and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act. These Acts were created at various times over several decades, and have been updated at differing frequencies. While these food statutes have served Canadians well, the time has come to have stronger and more modern statutes to manage today's risks to food safety, while ensuring that Canadian industry has continued opportunities in international trading markets.

What the legislation does

The legislation consolidates food provisions now administered and enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency under four statutes into the Safe Food for Canadians Act to strengthen oversight of food commodities being traded inter-provincially or internationally. The Food and Drugs Act will continue to exist separately, providing overarching protection for consumers from any foods that are unsuitable for consumption, including those marketed exclusively within provinces.

The Act focuses on three important areas:

  1. Improved food safety oversight to better protect consumers,
  2. Streamlined and strengthened legislative authorities, and
  3. Enhanced international market opportunities for Canadian industry.

1. Improved food safety oversight to better protect consumers

New prohibitions against food commodity tampering, deceptive practices and hoaxes

This legislation provides new authorities to address immediate food safety risks and builds additional safety into the system, from producer or importer to consumer. For example, the new prohibitions provide a stronger deterrent against deceptive practices, tampering and hoaxes. Related penalties and fines also increase to deter willful or reckless threats to health and safety.

Strengthened food traceability

Current legislation does not require food manufacturers and other regulated parties to have traceability systems. The legislation provides the CFIA with strengthened authorities to develop regulations related to tracing and recalling food, and the appropriate tools to take action on potentially unsafe food commodities. This includes a prohibition against selling food commodities that have been recalled.

Improved import controls

Imports are challenging to control because there is less information on or direct control over foreign manufacturing processes and products. The legislation strengthens import controls by including powers to register or license importers and prohibits the importation of unsafe food commodities. Holding importers accountable for the safety of imported products will also promote a level playing field between importers and domestic producers.

2. Streamlined and strengthened legislative authorities

Modernization and simplification of existing food safety legislation

Consolidating diverse food commodity provisions into one Act addresses commitments made in the 2007 Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan and responds to the 2009 recommendation of the Weatherill Report to "modernize and simplify federal legislation and regulations that significantly affect food safety" in Canada. The government concurred and later reconfirmed its commitment to update food safety legislation in the 2010 Speech from the Throne. Further, the report, "Action on Weatherill Recommendations to Strengthen the Food Safety System: Final Report to Canadians", stated that this Government was developing a new food safety bill.  With the adoption of the Safe Food for Canadians Act, the Government of Canada has met  its commitment to enhance Canada's food safety system.

Aligned inspection and enforcement powers

Existing CFIA food commodity statutes contain inconsistencies in inspection and enforcement authorities. Consolidating diverse provisions and authorities into one Act aligns inspection and enforcement powers, making them consistent across all food commodities, enabling inspectors to be more efficient, and fostering even higher rates of compliance for industry. As a result, consumers will enjoy a safer food supply.

3. Enhanced international market opportunities for Canadian industry

Authority to certify food commodities for export

In recent years, more countries have required that the foods they import be certified, reflecting an international effort to ensure food safety. The legislation provides the authority to certify all food commodities for export, allowing the CFIA to treat exported food commodities consistently.

New review mechanism

In addition to the announcement made in February 2012, the Safe Food for Canadians Act creates a review mechanism for regulated parties to seek review of certain decisions made by CFIA officials. Established under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act, this mechanism will provide an additional avenue of recourse for regulated parties.

The review mechanism will apply to all products falling under legislation administered by the CFIA. It will be faster and less costly than the judicial process. Regulated parties can still ask for a judicial review by the Federal Court if they are unsatisfied with the final CFIA decision.

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