ARCHIVED - Meeting December 4 and 5, 2013

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Introduction

On December 4 and 5, 2013, members of consumer and health associations joined officials from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for the sixth meeting of the Consumer Association Roundtable (CAR).

The objectives of the meeting were:

  • to provide information to CAR members about a number of CFIA issues:
    • A. CFIA transformation;
    • B. XL Foods recall action plan;
    • C. CFIA risk-based oversight; and
  • to gather feedback from CAR members on
    • D. the labelling modernization initiative;
    • E. private certification;
    • F. food safety communications; and
  • to identify potential issues that could be addressed in future meetings.

CFIA Executive Vice-President Mary Komarynsky chaired the roundtable meeting and welcomed CAR members and new representatives. She opened the meeting by thanking the CAR members for their contributions to CFIA's recall renewal and social media initiatives, as well as their input at the Food Forum in June 2013. She also commented on the following CFIA changes:

  • the appointment of the new CFIA president, Dr. Bruce Archibald;
  • the CFIA's move from Agriculture to the Health Canada portfolio; and
  • the strengthening of co-operation between Health Canada and the CFIA on specific activities.

A commitment was made to implement the changes recommended by the Office of the Auditor General's report and to report regularly on progress.

The Chair expressed confidence that despite a need to clarify certain roles and responsibilities from a legislative perspective, the portfolio reorganization had already led to better integration with Health Canada.

Health Canada Parliamentary Secretary Eve Adams spoke to the roundtable on behalf of Health Minister Rona Ambrose. She thanked roundtable members and highlighted the fact that the CFIA, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada are now closely connected. She reviewed the pillars of the Healthy and Safe Food for Canadians Framework to illustrate how it will enable the departments to work more collaboratively on issues of food health and safety.

A. Update on CFIA Priorities

CFIA Transformation

The objectives of the CFIA's transformational agenda were outlined, which aim to:

  • reposition the CFIA to be responsive to developments over the coming decades;
  • enhance the role of inspectors under a model of risk-based oversight;
  • modernize labelling; and
  • improve food safety measures.

CFIA President Dr. Bruce Archibald spoke to members, highlighting the following:

  • The passing of Canada's Safe Food for Canadians Act in November 2012 marked a significant milestone in strengthening Canada's world-class food safety system.
  • The Food Safety Regulatory Forum that took place in June, 2013 demonstrated an unprecedented commitment to stakeholder engagement and consultation and the active participation of CAR members added to its success.
  • The CFIA is working toward simplifying and consolidating its regulations, streamlining processes and providing a single-window access to services, which will be supported by sound science and better technology. The use of technology will continue to play a big part in how the CFIA will carry out its inspection mandate.

Compliance Promotion Initiative

CFIA Strategic Policy and Priorities Director Dawn Lumley-Myllari outlined the objectives of the CFIA's new compliance promotion approach to:

  • facilitate compliance by improving regulated parties' understanding of legislative and regulatory requirements;
  • make available tools and training options in collaboration with third parties: and,
  • provide greater transparency around compliance outcomes.

A strategy should be drafted by June 2014 for review. The six principles guiding the work of the CFIA in promoting compliance are the same as those reflected by the Agency's Statement of Rights and Services (accessibility, transparency, credibility, risk-based, preventive, and usefulness).

Key stakeholders from industry, academia and Federal Provincial Territorial governments (including the CFIA) are leading a Canadian effort to operationalize national training and certification in support of a professional and competent workforce.

Best practices drawn from Canada, major trading partners and international organizations (i.e. International Food Protection Training Institute [IFPTI]) will inform outreach and the development of tools to facilitate industry compliance.

Comments from CAR members included the following:

  • Discussion around which competencies are developed through the IFPTI model.
  • Comment that inconsistencies at the inspection level is concerning and that a standard quality is essential.
  • It was underlined how training is believed to be a critical element of compliance.

The Chair asked for further comments about obtaining compliance from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Comments from CAR included the following:

  • Mentoring for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is needed (e.g. retired professionals).
  • There is a need to create an environment where it is better for the small business to be licensed.
  • Licensing authority gives the CFIA the opportunity to establish a relationship and communicate with them. With engagement, information can be shared that promotes compliance, and also communicates information that SMEs want and need; liability for bad products can be avoided before import occurs.

The Chair asked if people would feel the CFIA would be in a conflict-of-interest situation if the Agency engaged in promotion.

Comments from CAR included the following:

  • Generally, CAR members expressed the opinion that no conflict would be apparent.
  • There is a need to separate the regulatory function from the enforcement function.
  • Good inspectors are those who educate rather than enforce with a heavy hand. However, it was suggested that a process should be educational, but also progressively punitive, depending on the potential impact of the situation for the health and safety of Canadians.

Final Inspection Model and Path Forward on Transformation

This presentation was divided into two parts. CFIA Associate Vice-President Catherine Airth presented the first part, proposing that planned agency transformation be viewed through two lenses:

  • a legislative and regulatory modernization lens; and
  • a business transformation lens.

Main points touched on various inspection model functions that would contribute to business transformation, including plans for:

  • Centres of Expertise and program management (work is underway to articulate how these will be rolled out);
  • field operations, enforcement and investigation;
  • risk-based oversight;
  • licensing;
  • border control / single window for all government departments;
  • regulatory response; and
  • integrity and redress.

Agency Transformation is being undertaken in response to a number of factors, including a shifting consumer landscape, new production and processing technologies and the modernization initiatives of Canada's trading partners. Upon completion, the CFIA will have:

  • stronger food safety rules;
  • more effective inspection (i.e. risk-based oversight enabled by legislative and regulatory change, replacing 13 current regulations and 8 programs with a single set of food inspection regulations and a single food program);
  • a strengthened commitment to service (including force of law through a new appeals process); and
  • more information for consumers.

Business Processes Executive Director Greg Stubbings presented the second part, which touched on the common requirements that will apply to an evolving scope of business processes. The focus was on the five core elements of the new inspection model:

  1. CFIA Oversight – how to use and deploy resources according to risk;
  2. Licensing – onus is on food industry to demonstrate criteria to enable risk-based decisions;
  3. Inspection – tools, training and technology to maximize effectiveness;
  4. Compliance and enforcement; and
  5. System performance – this involves table of stakeholders and inter-departmental relations and reflects a need to look at ways to continually improve this system.

Comments from CAR members included the following:

  • The Government of Canada's move toward fewer websites and away from paper underlines the fact that today's access point to government is the Internet.
  • Members noted the importance of continuing to have access to as much information as possible.
  • E-publishing helps bring out information in installments and allows it to be promoted as it is searchable, contextualized by a date, and can be available wherever books are sold.
  • The study showing where and how Canada placed in international rankings should be made available and communicated.
  • Tools are required to measure and compare data (e.g. pie charts showing geographical breakdown of recalls).

B. XL Foods Recall Action Plan

Policy and Programs Vice-President Paul Mayers provided information on how lessons learned from XL Foods inform current CFIA activities, including:

  • increased focus on "high event days" for control of E. coli
  • more focus on trending (i.e. trend analysis) and front-line staff training
  • improved incident management and recall response (e.g. technical expertise communications, clarification of roles and responsibilities in emergency management, etc.); and
  • strengthened public and other stakeholder communications (using social media, etc.).

Comments from CAR members included the following:

  • The need to be more proactive with communications and the need for context around announcements. Interactive web education could play a major role in making a connection between the three sides of the issue, i.e. the problem leading to a recall, public reaction and the industry reality.
  • There is a perception that "voluntary recalls" are less important. The CFIA should explain this terminology and report on regular surveillance activities, so that the public understands how the agency is being proactive.
  • Discussion about the absence of informative labelling (i.e. tenderization) in the XL Foods case.

C. Risk-based Inspection Oversight

Food Safety Division Director Anne-Marie St-Laurent explained the move toward a single food program and how a risk-based approach will be implemented in the new inspection model. Key points included:

  • Risk-based oversight includes a risk assessment model that provides a risk rating for each food business.
  • Risk ratings for companies will be determined based on three factors:
    • risks associated with a food type, targeted population, processing, etc.;
    • industry risk mitigation e.g. preventive control plans; and
    • food business track record e.g. CFIA inspection findings.
  • The CFIA is now in the piloting stage of the Risk Assessment Model for rating food businesses and review and evaluation stages will follow.
  • Other countries are using similar approaches but with different criteria.
  • Criteria is based upon feasibility – using the right data points, so discrimination is anticipated.

Comments from CAR included the following:

  • The specific criteria used in this model merits closer scrutiny. Factors such as nutrient content, heavy metals and residues are among the data characteristics that should be taken into account by this model.
  • Are the model's risks weighted? For example, is consideration given to the sugar content limitations for a diabetic, or sodium for the general population?
  • Will this model apply to all companies equally (bigger and smaller firms)?
  • If the model proves to be effective, will the provinces be empowered to implement the elements of the plan for which they are responsible?

D. Updates on Labelling Modernization from the CFIA and Health Canada

CAR members were provided with:

  • an update on the CFIA's progress with its work on labelling modernization by CFIA Consumer Protection Division Director Luc Rivard. Key points included:
    • the online consultation was completed with over 600 responses received by the CFIA (75% from consumers);
    • the CFIA's move to the Health portfolio will not change the CFIA's food labelling responsibilities; and
    • the online labelling tool being developed by the CFIA will enhance the Agency's compliance and enforcement role and most of the content will be aimed at industry. There will be section geared toward consumers.
  • an update on the work being done by Health Canada on food safety issues by Health Canada Policy, Intergovernmental and International Affairs Director Anatole Papadopoulos. Key points included:
    • information on the new Healthy and Safe Food for Canadians Framework, which provides a vehicle for engaging consumers about what Health Canada and its portfolio partners are doing in the areas of promotion (providing information), prevention (strong rules/standards for industry), and protection (effective responses to food safety incidents and foodborne illness). When it comes to promotion and labelling, the focus is on enabling consumers to make an informed choice;
    • foods formerly marketed as natural health products have now adopted standard labelling, which has had significant implications on claims; and
    • CAR member input is being sought on:
      • labelling and claim issues in particular to be considered for inclusion in upcoming Health Canada consultations with Canadians;
      • insights or advice for consulting with parents and Canadians; and
      • views or perspectives on the modernization of standards, and any health and safety issues that need to be addressed when updating standards.

Comments from CAR members included the following:

  • Labels must be truthful and not misleading, and this will require guidance and monitoring.
  • Labelling needs to speak more to consumers' needs.
  • Plain language labelling is essential for consumer understanding.
  • Retailers are now developing their own interpretations for nutritional labelling; standardization is needed.
  • Graphic designers need guidelines with government oversight using accountability measures.
  • There was a question whether there is a coordinated approach that involved the medical profession and experts when it comes to the importance of labelling and allergies.
  • There is often confusion around the meaning and significance of logos on food products, and consumers sometimes wonder what scientific analysis has been done to underscore the safety behind each logo.
  • Recommendation on how important it is for inspectors to monitor, assess and action anything that is misleading.

A brief wrap-up of the labelling modernization discussion by CFIA Consumer Protection Division Director Luc Rivard included these key points:

  • Health Canada and the CFIA play a joint role in the communication process;
  • The Government of Canada needs to develop better partnerships with consumer groups;
  • The Government of Canada needs to communicate back in a more meaningful way to consumers on roles and responsibilities; and
  • Digital technology needs to be leveraged to greater effect.

Comments from CAR members included the following:

  • The CFIA could share lessons with Health Canada Food Directorate on information sharing.
  • Consumer organizations are available to help the CFIA define outcome-based regulations more clearly, or anything else that touches on public engagement.
  • Consumer organizations need advance notice to be able to reach out to members and collate feedback.
  • There are challenges in reaching small and medium enterprises (SMEs), some of which don't even know about the CFIA.
  • Digital technology must be embraced. The CAR can help the CFIA and Health Canada connect with Canadians through social media.

E. Private Certification

CFIA Domestic Systems Acting National Manager Melissa Struthers spoke about the draft CFIA discussion paper considering industry's use of private certification systems. Such systems can play a role in helping to achieve regulatory objectives, provided they are

  • effective;
  • credible; and
  • aligned with public policy objectives.

In support of a modernized, scientific approach, the Agency is exploring how it may enhance its approach to risk-based oversight by assessing industry's use of private certification system. Publication of the CFIA discussion paper is targeted for April 2014, and will include a 60-day comment period. While the Agency is considering how it may take into account industry's adoption of private certification systems, it will retain its regulatory responsibilities and continue to verify compliance with regulatory standards on a risk-basis. Individual companies will retain responsibility for choosing a private certification system that meets their business needs.

Comments from CAR included the following:

  • Interest in the connection this initiative shared with the US Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) initiative.
  • Comments on whether companies would need to meet a higher bar on audit standards.
  • Members are interested in knowing what occurs when a standard does not measure up.

F. Food Safety Communications

CFIA Strategic Communications Executive Director James Stott asked CAR members to provide ideas on how to better communicate food safety information. He said that Canadians have indicated that they want to better understand the roles or responsibilities of those involved with the food safety system and processes. This provides an opportunity for the CFIA to educate about how the food safety system works and how to develop food safety risk communications.

  • Communications are to:
    • be transparent and proactive (including plain language);
    • shift toward consumer focus;
    • be cohesive with Health Portfolio; and
    • be based upon online and face-to-face consultation.
  • A recap of the communications activities completed to date was presented, including:
    • interactive tools;
    • social media;
    • recalls;
    • media relations (more proactive, frequent briefings);
    • website; and
    • framework and action plan.

The CFIA responded to CAR questions, including the following:

  • The CFIA has moved toward web communications because it is more direct and not reinterpreted by media.
  • Credibility can be a challenge. Familiarity is important in this regard. The CFIA is responding to this challenge by using a single recognizable face as a spokesperson.
  • The CFIA is looking at ways of addressing open data and sharing scientific data that can be worked with by others.
  • The CFIA should also look at the "non-safety" issues because consumers need to be aware of the potential health issue that might exist for vulnerable populations.

The CFIA's Transparency Initiative

CFIA Public Affairs Vice-President George Shaw provided background and progress to date on the CFIA's transparency initiative. Key points included:

  • The CFIA is committed to provide Canadians with information they need to make informed decisions for themselves and their families.
  • The CFIA is holding industry to account, thereby bolstering trust and confidence in the food safety system.
  • Two key initiatives, the Healthy and Safe Foods for Canadians Framework and the Safe Food for Canadians Action Plan, have strong links to the new approach to transparency.
  • The Action Plan aims to strengthen Canada's food safety system through
    • stronger food safety rules;
    • more effective inspection;
    • a renewed commitment to service; and
    • more information for consumers.
  • The Framework has three key pillars – information, promotion and protection that work together to support consumers in making healthy food and safe food choices.
  • Transparency is now deeply affecting the activities of policy and program.

CAR members were asked for their comments about what the CFIA transparency initiative had achieved to date, and what remained to be done.

Comments from CAR members included the following:

  • Food-sampling reports (pesticide residue testing, etc.) should be readily available and some support should be made available to help distribute the information contained in these reports.
  • CAR members want to know what factors determine the schedule for food-sampling and how much analysis is carried out.
  • The CFIA should investigate the possibility and communications value of creating a virtual expert circle that can speak with authority on various issues.
  • Commendation to the CFIA on the new approach to recalls, with a note that recalls are but "one link of the chain." Other information gaps need to be addressed, and the CFIA should be more proactive beyond the website postings and send recall information out to all health professionals.

Closing Comments

  • The Chair recognized the contributions towards transparency made by George Shaw during his career as Vice-President of Public Affairs.
  • The CAR members were thanked for their valuable and candid input at each CAR meeting.
  • It was suggested that the next meeting would take place in April 2014.
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