Private Certification Policy (Food Safety)
Background

Private certification schemes are voluntary systems that set process and product requirements as well as the means of demonstrating conformity with these requirements. Companies implement private certification schemes to manage risk, facilitate effective management of products along the supply chain and differentiate products.Footnote 1 In recognition of the importance of public endorsement by regulatory bodies, some private certification schemes have been developed with government support and regulatory oversight.

Private certification schemes are a prominent part of the world food supply system and are increasingly being used by industry as a means of achieving food safety and other outcomes. Demand for food safety private certification schemes comes from both the food industry and consumers.

There is a wide range of private certification schemes and many suppliers are facing requirements for multiple audits and certifications. As a result, international efforts are underway to harmonize private certification scheme requirements in order to help reduce costs and improve predictability in market requirements. With respect to food safety, there are global benchmarking initiatives such as the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) that provide a platform for collaboration between some of the world's leading food safety experts from industry, international organizations, academia and government on global benchmarking of private certification schemes.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is transforming how it delivers its food safety programs and activities to better meet the needs of today's consumer and industry. The CFIA recognizes that private certification schemes may play an important role in helping industry achieve food safety regulatory objectives, provided they can be assessed as being effective, credible and aligned with public policy objectives.

Private certification has been identified as one of several factors that CFIA will consider in its modernized approach to risk-based oversight. While the CFIA has always incorporated risk into its approach to food safety oversight, a modernized approach will enable improved risk-management by using private certification data to inform CFIA risk-based planning and prioritization within the regulatory framework, and as a resulting consequence, more targeted compliance verification.

Private certification is not intended to replace regulatory enforcement authorities; however, it may complement food safety regulatory oversight. The CFIA will continue to verify compliance of regulated parties; the type, frequency, and intensity of the CFIA's oversight activities will be proportional to the risks that need to be managed.

Changing Global Economy

The ways in which food, animals and plants are produced and marketed have changed dramatically. The complexity of the production and distribution landscape has increased, driven by changes in methods of production and processing and increases in international trade.Footnote 2 As a result, the challenges of carrying out regulatory oversight are multiplying. Given the growing importance and prevalence of private certification systems, it is important and timely to understand the challenges and opportunities that they present to the CFIA.

Fixed Resource Base

Compounding the inherent complexities associated with a changing global economy, the CFIA is mandated to manage multiple demands and risks (e.g., safety, consumer protection, market access) across multiple sectors (i.e., food, plant, animal). Given that it operates within a fixed resource base, the Agency must optimize its resources by investing in priority areas (e.g. highest risk) and in areas that produce the most significant return (e.g. reduced risk) on investment of effort/resources.

Risk-Based Approach

With pressures from increased globalization and advances in science and technology, the CFIA is modernizing its approach to inspection to maintain a robust approach to human, animal and plant health and consumer protection. The move towards a more preventative and systems-based approach under the Integrated Agency Inspection Model (IAIM) enables both the CFIA and regulated parties to more readily adapt to emerging risks and global and scientific trends.

Furthermore, the CFIA is developing a systematic, transparent and documented method of comparing risks within and across its business lines in order to align strategies, priorities and resources accordingly. This will be accomplished through the development of the CFIA Integrated Risk Management (IRM) Framework.

Expanding Authorities in Food

Currently, the CFIA can license register establishments for activities that relate to some food commodities The new Safe Food for Canadians Act includes provisions that will enable the CFIA to use licensing and registration for all food commodities. In particular, the current non-federally registered sector is a large and diverse food sector that has not previously been subject to CFIA registration or licensing requirements. With an estimated 50,000 regulated parties, many of whom were previously unknown to the Agency, this sector alone represents a significant increase to the number of establishments for which the Agency must consider in its risk-based oversight. It is anticipated that many of these establishments will have implemented a type of private certification scheme. Certification to a private scheme that has been assessed as meeting some or all regulatory requirements will be extremely useful information in assessing risk and determining appropriate regulatory response and oversight for all food commodities.

Existing Agency Initiatives

There are several existing Agency initiatives that have informed the development and implementation of successful programming in support of this policy such as the Food Safety Recognition Program (FSRP), the CFIA use of the Animal Nutrition Association of Canada Feed Assure program, the Canada Organic Regime and Seed Certification System. The FSRP will be particularly instrumental to the development of programming in support of this policy.

The FSRP process involves an evaluation of the technical soundness and administrative effectiveness of food safety systems developed and implemented by Canada's national (or equivalent) industry organizations. National food industry organizations from the on-farm or post-farm non-federally registered sectors can voluntarily submit their food safety systems to the CFIA FSRP team.

To date, the CFIA has not taken the investments companies have made in the FSRP into consideration in its risk-based oversight approach. The CFIA Private Certification Policy (Food Safety) will be a bridge between the FSRP and the CFIA risk-based oversight.

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