Overview of Public Feedback Received on the Imported Food Sector Regulatory Proposal

Introduction

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is proposing to enhance the safety of imported products in the non-federally registered sector through proposed new regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act (CAPA). The proposed Imported Food Sector Product Regulations will apply to agricultural products that are imported and are not already regulated under commodity-specific regulations administered by other CFIA programs. The commodities in the Imported Food Sector (IFS) represent approximately 70 per cent of food products sold in Canada and include foods such as infant formula, spices and seasonings, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, fats and oils, bakery products and confectionaries, and coffee and tea. This initiative is a key commitment under the Government's Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan.

The regulatory proposal, which includes general provisions outlining basic food safety requirements and importer licensing conditions, is intended to:

  • strengthen the accountability of importers for the safety of food products in order to minimize the risk of unsafe products entering the Canadian marketplace
  • enhance the CFIA's ability to communicate important food safety information.

The CFIA conducted a public pre-consultation from August 16 to October 18, 2010 to receive feedback on the Imported Food Sector Regulatory Proposal. This report provides an overview of the feedback received from stakeholders during the pre-consultation period, and the CFIA's response.

About the Pre-Consultation

The regulatory proposal was posted for comment on the CFIA external website, and five public meetings were held across Canada. A total of 198 written responses from a broad range of stakeholders were submitted.

Figure 1: Breakdown of respondents Footnote 1

Bar graph - Breakdown of respondents

Bar graph - Breakdown of respondents
  • The purpose of this diagram is to illustrate the distribution of respondents by primary business or focus.
  • The diagram is in the form of a horizontal bar graph.
  • The vertical axis of the graph is the category of primary business or focus.
  • The horizontal axis of the graph is the number of respondents.
  • The following data was used to generate the bar graph:
    • 41 respondents identified themselves as part of the Importer/exporter category
    • 28 respondents identified themselves as part of the Distributor category
    • 40 respondents identified themselves as part of the Importer/manufacturer category
    • 25 respondents identified themselves as part of the Federal government category
    • 25 respondents identified themselves as part of the End user category
    • 12 respondents identified themselves as part of the Broker category
    • 1 respondent identified themselves as part of the Municipal government category
    • 11 respondents identified themselves as part of the Provincial/Territorial government category
    • 29 respondents identified themselves as part of the Industry association category
    • 4 respondents identified themselves as part of the Research community category
    • 30 respondents identified themselves as part of the General public category
    • 31 respondents identified themselves as part of the Other category
  • Note that some respondents belonged to more than one category and as a result, the number of respondents used to generate the diagram exceeds the actual number of submissions.

Overview of Key Stakeholder Feedback

Overall the feedback was positive and supported the proposal, in particular the perceived impact the proposal could have on the safety of imported foods.

Respondents noted the following desirable aspects of the proposed regulations:

  • improved recall capability
  • increased consumer confidence
  • the CFIA will have better information to both oversee and communicate with importers.

Respondents also identified some concerns with the proposal, including:

  • the level of clarity of definitions and requirements
  • the additional administrative requirements for importers already possessing commodity-specific import licences (for example, fish and cheese)
  • the additional costs for industry to comply with the new requirements, particularly for those that do not already have the proposed measures in place.

The CFIA's responses to the key concerns are outlined below.

Scope of the regulations

The proposed regulations will impact Imported Food Sector Products which includes non-federally registered sector products that are imported and meet the definition of "agricultural product" in the Canada Agricultural Products Act. Based on this definition, respondents were concerned that the proposed scope would exclude an estimated 14 percent of imported products in this sector. Also, based on this definition, respondents were concerned that imported products outside of the non-federally registered sector, and not already subject to importer licensing requirements, were not included. Respondents were also concerned that the regulations would create an uneven playing field given that there is no licensing requirement for the domestic non-federally registered sector.

CFIA Response: The new regulations are being proposed under the Canada Agricultural Products Act as this legislation provides the necessary authority to establish the importer licensing requirement that is central to fulfilling the envisioned enhancement of the safety of imported food. Given that the Canada Agricultural Products Act is only applicable to food that is, or is derived from, a plant or an animal, it therefore excludes an estimated 14 percent of non-federally registered sector products such as bottled water, salt, vitamins, minerals, and synthetic colours and flavours. Although not a perfect solution, proposing the regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act would enhance the safety of over 85 percent of imported food products. The remaining 14 percent of excluded products would continue to be regulated under the Food and Drugs Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, as are all foods sold in Canada.

The Government of Canada decided to focus initially on the import of non-federally registered sector products in order to minimize the risk of unsafe food coming into Canada. However, the Government of Canada intends to continue modernizing the federal legislative framework as it pertains to all food.

Exempt foods subject to other commodity-specific legislation

The regulatory proposal would not apply to agricultural food products currently regulated by the Meat Inspection Act and by commodity-specific regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act. Some respondents requested that the proposed regulations also not apply to foods subject to other commodity-specific legislation.

CFIA Response: The current focus of the regulatory proposal is to enhance the safety of imported food products in the non-federally registered sector. Food products regulated by the Meat Inspection Act and by commodity-specific regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act will not be impacted by the proposed regulations because they are already subject to specific food safety, composition and labelling requirements under their respective regulations. Other commodity-specific legislation that importers may be required to comply with do not include the necessary food safety, composition and labelling requirements and therefore importers of these commodities were not exempted.

Clearer definitions and requirements

Respondents requested that more clarity and guidance be provided on the proposed requirements for importers to develop, implement and maintain a written preventive food safety system and recall plan, to apply for a licence, and to notify the CFIA within 24 hours if they become aware that a product they have imported might pose a risk to public health.

CFIA Response: The CFIA judiciously applied, where possible, an outcome-based regulatory approach rather than a prescriptive approach, in line with the Government of Canada's Cabinet Directive on Streamlining Regulations. To this end, the CFIA felt that further information in these areas could be addressed by separate policy and/or guidance documents developed in conjunction with stakeholders. This approach better serves the industry while still attaining the ultimate goal of safe imported foods. The CFIA is, however, further evaluating the request for more clarity on the proposed requirements.

The CFIA is committed to working with industry and other stakeholders, including consumer associations, when developing program requirements resulting from the new Regulations. The CFIA plans to meet with stakeholders to produce well thought out, practical guidance documents in order to facilitate industry compliance with the new Regulations. Currently, the CFIA provides guidance to industry on how to develop and maintain a recall plan in Food Recalls: Make a Plan and Action It! Importers' Guide.

One CFIA licence for all imported foods

Currently, not all food commodities require import licences. However certain commodities, such as fish and cheese, already require import licences. Respondents suggested that there be one CFIA licence required for all imported foods.

CFIA Response: The establishment of an Agency-wide licensing system is a broader initiative than the scope of this regulatory proposal. However, the CFIA will continue to work towards modernizing its regulatory framework and tools. In the future, this may include the establishment of one licensing system for all CFIA food programs.

Licence application information requirements

Respondents expressed concern regarding the amount of detailed information that would be required to apply for an import licence, specifically the level of detail regarding storage/handling facilities and the fact that information may have already been collected by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

CFIA Response: The CFIA is evaluating the licence application information requirements further in order to streamline the process where possible.

Align preventative food safety control system requirements

Respondents recommended that the requirement to implement a written, preventative food safety control system should align with existing programs/standards and any US food safety regulatory requirements.

CFIA Response: All Government of Canada regulatory proposals must consider economic impacts or implications for business including international trade. Following such considerations, the proposed regulations would be consistent with other CFIA food program requirements and international standard-setting organizations such as Codex Alimentarius.

Consider the needs of small businesses

Respondents commented that the CFIA should consider the needs of smaller or less complex businesses, given the potential resources required to implement a recall plan and a preventive food safety control system.

CFIA Response: The CFIA will continue to work with stakeholders, and will therefore certainly consider the particular needs of small businesses as it develops further guidance. It is already foreseen, for example, that preventative food safety control system guidance would be outcome-based to allow importers the freedom to develop preventative food safety control systems appropriate to their specific processes.

Barrier to non-resident importers

Respondents were concerned that the requirement to provide a Canadian address in the licence application and to maintain records at an address in Canada would eliminate non-resident importers and foreign vendors. It was suggested that the maintenance of records in Canada should not be necessary provided records are made accessible to inspectors in Canada within a reasonable timeframe.

CFIA Response: As is the case with all Canadian legislation, the legislation under which this regulation is being developed does not provide the legal authority to apply requirements and penalties to parties outside of Canada. The initial receiver of the imported food in Canada would be required to have the import licence and an address in Canada.

Compliant labels at time of import

Respondents were concerned that requiring compliant labels at the time of import instead of prior to sale in Canada will have a significant impact on current re-labelling practices.

CFIA Response: The CFIA is further evaluating the requirement for labels to be compliant at the time of import.

Notification of unsafe food

Respondents indicated that CFIA notification should only be required for imported products that do pose a hazard to the public (as opposed to 'may' pose a risk to the public), that the 24-hour notification window should be shorter in order to maximize the protection of consumers, and that notification should only be required for products already in the marketplace.

CFIA Response: The CFIA will evaluate further the conditions under which an importer would be required to notify the CFIA. The proposed 24-hour window is not intended to delay the initiation of a response to a food safety issue, but rather recognizes that importers may need some time to gather information in order to notify the CFIA. This notification window is consistent with the Canadian notification requirements for importers of other commodities, such as fish.

Licence exemption for product samples exceeding 5 kg

Respondents suggested that product samples that exceed the proposed 5 kg limit also be exempt from the licensing requirement.

CFIA response: Food distributed in the form of product samples for consumption by the public will remain subject to the Food and Drugs Act. The weight exemption in the proposal is intended to accommodate personal use. Products destined for laboratory analysis are not intended for human consumption and therefore fall outside the scope of the proposed regulations.

Verification prior to issuing licence

Respondents suggested that the CFIA verify if licence conditions have been met before a licence is issued to an importer.

CFIA Response: This question has been considered. The CFIA has strived, however, to determine a manner of verification that, unlike all case verifications, would not overly burden the system and/or impede trade. As such, it is envisioned that the CFIA would apply a risk-based approach to verify compliance with conditions. The approach would, for example, consider the risk of the imported food and the compliance history of the importer.

Record-retention time

Respondents' recommendations for the duration of the retention period for records at an address in Canada varied from 1 year to 5 years.

CFIA response: It is important to maintain records for several years as the current purchasing and storing practices of retailers and consumers may result in products being kept for extended periods of time. The proposed retention period (the longer of 3 years or one year after the expiry date of the product), is consistent with Canadian record-keeping requirements for other commodities such as imported fish.

How We Are Responding

All feedback submitted during the pre-consultation will be considered during the final drafting of the proposed regulatory package.

Proposed regulatory initiatives are published in the Canada Gazette, Part I. The Canada Gazette is the vehicle by which the Government of Canada notifies the public of new statutes and regulations. Once the proposed regulations are published, interested parties will have an opportunity to submit their comments, which will be considered by the CFIA.

The CFIA would like to thank everyone who contributed their time to the pre-consultation process and shared their views.

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