by SUSAN MANN
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s proposed changes to modernize its food inspection systems look good on the surface but groups representing farmers and agency workers are keeping a close eye on how the proposals will work in real situations.
Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, says some of the proposals will cut red tape and streamline paperwork and they “make a lot of sense.”
Bonnett says agency officials have met with the federation to explain the proposed changes. “We’re monitoring those changes.”
Similarly, Bob Kingston, national president of the agriculture union of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents inspectors, says they and the union representing agency veterinarians talk to CFIA officials about this regularly. “So far, we don’t have a problem with what they’re doing.”
But sometimes proposals don’t make it into final programs. Kingston says inspector and veterinarian representatives will be vigilant to ensure these proposals are developed as they’re currently being discussed. “It just depends whether everybody in CFIA senior management ranks are clear and of the same understanding as the project designers.”
CFIA released its proposal Friday to improve food inspection. On its website, the agency says it’s designing a single and consistent approach to inspection that will apply to both domestic and imported foods. The public and stakeholders can comment on the proposals by July 31 by email, fax or mail. The addresses to send comments are on the agency’s website.
Cameron Prince, agency vice president of inspection modernization, says the changes will have an indirect impact on farmers. But they mainly affect food processors, importers and distributors.
The agency will insist food processors implement preventative control programs, which most already have. One example is the mandatory Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point systems required in meat and fish processing already.
Other industries, such as eggs and dairy, already have these food safety systems in place too. Often companies’ food safety systems require farmers to provide records to verify the safety of the animals or products they’re supplying to processors, he says, noting “Canada already has a very robust on-farm food safety system.”
Prince says the new proposals are designed to level the playing field across various commodities. It will replace the eight different food programs that evolved separately. There are currently different groups of inspectors in each of the areas. “What we’re looking to do is move to one common food inspection program” without eliminating specialty inspectors in, for example, dairy and eggs.
The proposals will streamline inspector manuals and training. They call for one common information system to help inspectors have information at their fingertips and will enable agency staff to “treat hazards in a similar, identical way,” he says.
Prince says CFIA started this past year to develop the new food inspection model and do consultations with consumers, industry, farmers and importers. The agency hopes to have consensus around the new inspection delivery model by next spring. It will be implementing that during the following three years with inspector training and the installation of a new electronic system to enable agency staff to communicate better with importers and exporters. Those communications are currently being done by paper, telephone and fax machines.
On its website, CFIA says inspection modernization will improve the existing inspection system by appropriately balancing traditional visual inspections with verification of industry preventative control systems, expanding the use of science and inspection data to help focus resources on areas with the greatest risks or non-compliance, and recognizing emerging risks more rapidly to mitigate and prevent potential hazards. BF