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KNOWLEDGE CENTRE

Bill S-11: Safe Food for Canadians Act

June 2012

By Lewis Retik

On June 7, 2012 the federal government introduced the proposed Safe Food for Canadians Act (the Act). The proposed Act which must be passed by Parliament and may be subject to change, would apply to all persons and establishments that manufacture, prepare, store, package or label foods and/or beverages, as would its associated regulations. It remains unclear what these regulations would look like.

As part of a wider Government of Canada effort to modernize the federal regulatory framework for food safety, the Act’s primary purpose is to make food as safe as possible for Canadians, in part by targeting unsafe practices, increasing penalties and requiring licensing and registration. If enacted, it would consolidate and replace the Canadian Agricultural Products Act, the Meat Inspection Act, the Fish Inspection Act, and the food provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act. The federal government has indicated that the Act would provide more consistency with respect to rules and regulations and better align our system with those of trading partners such as the United States.

Registration and Licences

One of the most significant developments under the Act would be a mandatory licensing and registration regime for all persons who deal with foods that move between provinces, either imported or exported. A licence or registration would also be required to engage in any activity (i.e., manufacturing, preparation, storage, packaging, or labelling) with respect to such foods. At this time we do not have specifics about the proposed licensing and registration regime; however, even companies currently operating under a licence or registration system for a specific food product should expect to be subject to new requirements regarding the movement of goods both within Canada and internationally.

The Minister would have the power to grant, suspend and revoke non-transferable licences or registration for persons and establishments. Such licences would prescribe the food product and the activity(s) in which the licensee can engage with regards to the food, as well as any conditions that the Minister might choose to prescribe, either when the licence is granted or at a later date. The process for a person to apply for and obtain a licence or registration is unknown at this time.

Prohibitions and Offences

The sections of the proposed Act dealing with prohibitions and offences contain further substantial changes from existing legislation. The proposed Act includes a number of prohibitions targeting unsafe practices such as deception and erroneous impression and tampering. Under the proposed Act, penalties for offences would increase significantly. For example, the maximum fine for most minor offences would be $250,000 for a first offence, and $500,000 for subsequent offences. More serious offences would carry a maximum fine of $5 million and for certain serious offences the fine could be set even higher at the discretion of the court.

Inspection

Another large component of the proposed Act is the creation of a more consistent food inspection regime. Inspection authorities would be the same for all food products. This would support the aims of the new food inspection model recently outlined in a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) discussion paper which focuses on a standardized approach across all industries, with frequency and scope of inspection activities based on risk level.

The powers of inspectors would be the same, generally, as under the current regime, but the proposed Act uses more modern language in an effort to make the authorities clear to all parties. It proposes that inspectors would benefit from explicit authority to pass through or over private property to gain access to a place for inspection purposes and from the ability to request a warrant by telephone.

Imports, Exports and Traceability

While other stated priorities of the federal government are increased import controls, strengthened food traceability and increased export opportunities through product certifications, the proposed Act establishes the ability to enact regulations pertaining to these matters, but does not elaborate. The full impact of the proposed Act on industry will be difficult to assess in the absence of any indication of new or amended regulations.

Other food safety modernization initiatives announced to date include the elimination of standard container sizes, the establishment of a CFIA Complaints and Appeals Office, and a major shift in the approach to food inspection.

For further details or to access the content of the Safe Food for Canadians Act, click here.

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