Guide to Importing Food Products Commercially
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Table of Contents
- Section A - Canadian Food Legislation
- Section B - Government Agencies and Departments Responsible for Imported Food
- Section C - Importer Responsibilities
- Section D - General Requirements for Foods
Section E - Summary of Import Requirements for Food Commodities
- A Note on TRQs
- Alcoholic Beverages
- Dairy Products
- Eggs and Processed Eggs
- Fish and Fish Products
- Food Additives
- Food Colour
- Foods for Special Dietary Use, including Weight Loss
- Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
- Fruit and Vegetable Products - Processed
- Infant Formula (Human Milk Substitutes)
- Low Acid Foods in Hermetically Sealed Containers (Canned Foods)
- Maple Products
- Meat and Poultry
- Novel Foods - Biotechnology
- Organic Products
- Sports Nutrition Products
- Section F - Import Procedures and Documents
- Section G - Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs)
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Government of Canada accept no liability for and do not warrant the accuracy or content of information contained in any other site to which this Guide refers. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is not affiliated with any commercial sites to which reference may be made. The views and opinions expressed in non-Agency sites to which reference may be made do not reflect the views, opinions or policies of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Information on non-federal government sites may not be available in both official languages.
The purpose of this Guide is to present an overview of the federal regulatory and policy requirements for the commercial importation of food into Canada. It is designed for importers, consultants and those considering embarking on an import venture.
Section A - Canadian Food Legislation
The Food and Drugs Act and Regulations is the primary legislation that applies to all food sold in Canada, whether imported or domestic. This legislation sets out minimum health and safety requirements, as well as provisions preventing fraud or deception (labelling, composition, packaging, treatment, processing, sale and advertising).
Various statutes contain standards or specifications that complement or further define the food standards set out in the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. The Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations, for example, establish labelling and net quantity requirements for consumer packaged goods for sale in Canada. The Canada Agricultural Products Act and associated Regulations, the Fish Inspection Act and Regulations and the Meat Inspection Act and Regulations also contain food standards. However, these statutes are primarily intended to ensure the marketability of food products traded internationally and interprovincially, through a combination of safety, quality and grading standards.
Several federal statutes are designed to protect Canadian agriculture, fish stocks, forestry, industry and wildlife from the introduction of animal and plant diseases and pests: the Health of Animals Act and Regulations, the Plant Protection Act and Regulations, and the Fish Health Protection Regulations of the Fisheries Act. These statutes restrict the importation of certain foods from specific areas of concern or require phytosanitary certificates, permits or other documentation.
To permit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to take effective enforcement action against importers and domestic companies marketing products that do not meet Canadian regulatory standards, the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act will allow regional CFIA officials to issue monetary penalties for non-compliance with provisions of the seven agri-food Acts to which this legislation applies.
Appendix I of this Guide provides brief descriptions of these and other federal statutes relevant to the importation of food. The list, however, is not exhaustive. There may be health and safety requirements in other federal or provincial acts.
Key Federal Legislation
Section B - Government Agencies and Departments Responsible for Imported Food
While federal responsibility for food inspection resides primarily with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, other departments play a role in the regulation of the importation of food. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, while not directly involved in the inspection of goods, controls the importation of certain agricultural products through the application of the Export and Import Permits Act and tariff rate quotas (TRQs).
Some departments and agencies involved in the inspection of food, Canada Border Services Agency for example, aid the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in enforcing Canadian food regulations, while others have wider mandates that include food. An example of the latter is Environment Canada, which administers the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora for all products, including food products when from species of animals and plants listed under this convention.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency provides all federal inspection services related to food safety, economic fraud, trade-related requirements, animal and plant disease and pest programs. This consolidation of responsibilities into a single agency is designed to enhance food safety systems by integrating the delivery of inspection and quarantine services that had previously been provided by other departments.
All those involved in the production of food or in the import or export of food, live animals or plants are now able to deal with a single agency for inspection and quarantine services.
To meet its mandate, the CFIA administers and/or enforces the following acts:
- Food and Drugs ActFootnote *
- Canada Agricultural Products Act
- Meat Inspection Act
- Fish Inspection Act
- Consumer Packaging and Labelling ActFootnote *
- Plant Protection Act
- Health of Animals Act
- Administrative Monetary Penalties Act
- Seeds Act
- Feeds Act
- Fertilizers Act
- Canadian Food Inspection Act
- Plant Breeders' Rights Act
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency provides food labelling information at offices located across the country.
Canada Border Services Agency
Canada Border Services Agency assists other government departments in the administration and enforcement of their legislation as it applies to imported products. The Customs Act provides the legislative authority for Customs inspectors to detain goods that may be in contravention of the Customs Act, or any other act or regulation governing the import or export of goods.
- review import documentation, ensuring that all required permits, certificates and licences (including those for other government departments) are presented before the goods are released; and
- perform examinations of food shipments to verify that the information/documents being presented at the time of release are relevant to the goods.
Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada
The Trade Controls and Technical Barriers Bureau of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development is responsible for the issuance of permits for goods on the Import Control List and Export Control List under the authority of the Export and Import Permits Act. The following agricultural products are or will be subject to controls:
Agricultural Products Subject to Import Controls
- Broiler Hatching Eggs and Chicks
- Shell Eggs and Egg Products
- Ice Cream, Yogurt
- Other Dairy Products
- Barley and Barley Products
- Wheat and Wheat Products
- Beef and Veal from Non-North American Free Trade Agreement countries
Canada is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This Convention, commonly known as CITES, is an international agreement through which more than 157 countries exercise control over the import, export and in-transit movement of various plant and animal species listed in the Convention. Live species and their derivatives, parts and products are controlled through an international permit system, which varies depending on how endangered each species is.
In Canada, CITES is administered by the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada. Assisting in the implementation of the CITES restrictions are the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Canada Border Services Agency, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
The Fish Health Protection Regulations (FHPR) apply only to salmonid species (e.g., salmon, trout, and whitefish) belonging to the genera listed in Schedule I of the FHPR. The Regulations are designed to minimize the risk of spread of infectious diseases through inspection of wild and cultured fish stocks and to control the movement of infected fish between provinces/territories. They apply to live and uneviscerated dead cultured fish, eggs (including fertilized eggs or gametes) of cultured and wild fish and products of dead, uneviscerated cultured fish destined to move across provincial or territorial boundaries within Canada.
Although Health Canada is no longer directly involved in the inspection of food, it has responsibility for setting national health and safety policy with respect to food. Among other activities, the Health Products and Food Branch of Health Canada:
- administers the food safety provisions of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations
- develops regulations and guidelines for food safety;
- sets national standards for food safety and nutritional content of food;
- conducts health risk assessments and evaluations concerning physical, chemical and microbial contaminants, natural toxicants, food additives, etc.;
- provides the Canadian Food Inspection Agency with guidance to determine the health risk of a situation when no guidelines exist;
- conducts safety assessments on novel and genetically modified food;
- approves the use of food additives;
- approves the use of veterinary drugs on food producing animals and sets residue tolerances; and
- serves as national authority for food safety issues at the international level in the development of international standards, guidelines, recommendations, etc. (e.g. WHO, FAO, CODEX).
The Pest Management Regulatory Agency of Health Canada sets maximum residue limits for pesticides on foods for sale in Canada.
Measurement Canada, an agency of Industry Canada, enforces the Weights and Measures Act, which establishes net quantity requirements for commodities sold on the basis of measure. The Weights and Measures Act applies to foods destined for commercial or industrial enterprises or institutions, products sold in bulk and clerk-served products at retail.
The legislation does not apply to commodities subject to net quantity requirements set out in other federal legislation. Consequently, it does not apply to goods packaged for direct sale to the consumer as these are covered by the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, the food provisions of which are enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Provincial and Territorial Governments
Provincial and territorial governments have jurisdiction over public health issues, which includes food prepared, sold and manufactured within their borders. Provincial and municipal inspection programs have focussed on the food service industry (including restaurants and caterers), and the food retail industry (including grocery stores, butcher shops and bakeries). Some provinces and territories have additional requirements for certain commodities such as dairy products, margarine, bottled water, and maple syrup.
Section C - Importer Responsibilities
In all cases, it is the responsibility of the importer to ensure that products meet all requirements of Canadian legislation (federal, provincial and municipal).
Registering an Import Business
The Government of Canada has introduced a more efficient numbering system for businesses. With this new system, one number, the business number (BN), has replaced the many numbers that were needed to deal with the federal government. All commercial importers must have a business number for any import/export account with Canada Border Services Agency.
The business number has 15 digits: nine numbers to identify the business, plus two letters and four numbers to identify the program and each account. The system includes major types of Canada Border Services Agency programs that many businesses may be registered for, including GST, payroll deductions, corporate income tax and import/export (identified by RM). For example, an import/export account will look like this 12345 6789 RM0002.
In order to obtain an import/export account, traders should obtain a copy of Form RC1, Request for a Business Number (BN), which is available from any Canada Border Services Agency office. The Canada Border Services Agency will issue an account free of charge, as soon as the form is completed and submitted.
For most shipments entering Canada, importers will have to show an import/export account on customs documents.
Books and Records
Health and Safety Records
In accordance with Good Importing Practices, importers should keep records of the distribution of their products, so that goods may be efficiently and effectively recalled from the market place when a food poses a health risk to the population or when a serious contravention of the regulations has occurred. Records of consumer complaints and action taken should also be maintained, and all records should be kept for two years.
Importers are required to keep books and records to substantiate what goods have been imported, the quantities, the prices paid, and the country of origin. Records must be kept in Canada, in paper or electronic format, for six years after the importation of goods. To keep records outside of Canada, written permission from Canada Revenue Agency is required.
Even if a customs broker carries out customs activities on behalf of the importer, the records should be kept on the importer's premises. The importer is responsible for all records on reporting, releasing, accounting for, and paying for goods, as well as later adjustments. For more details, see Canada Border Services Agency's Memorandum D17-21 Maintenance of Records and Books in Canada by Importers.
Section D - General Requirements for Foods
Health and Safety
To ensure a safe and nutritious food supply, all foods sold in Canada, whether domestic or imported, must meet the health and safety requirements of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. Enforcement is provided for in criminal law.
Section 4 of the Food and Drugs Act prohibits the sale of an article of food that:
- has in or upon it any poisonous or harmful substance;
- is unfit for human consumption;
- consists in whole or in part of any filthy, putrid, disgusting, rotten, decomposed or diseased animal or vegetable substance;
- is adulterated; or
- was manufactured, prepared, preserved, packaged, or stored under unsanitary conditions.
Good Importing Practices
Good Importing Practices are proper food handling procedures that facilitate the identification and control of problems that may be encountered at all stages of importation, from the planning stages through to the final distribution in Canada. Adherence to Good Importing Practices should ensure compliance with the health and safety requirements of Canadian legislation.
All foods packaged for consumer use and imported into Canada must comply with basic food labelling requirements specified by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations.
Labelling requirements include the common name of the food, a list of ingredients and components, the name and address of the responsible party, a net quantity declaration in metric and a best before date when required. The Nutrition Facts table is mandatory for most prepackaged foods with some exceptions and exemptions. The format and information provided must comply with the Guidelines on Nutritional Labelling developed by Health Canada and also with the Food and Drug Regulations. Agricultural and fish products for which standards exist under the Meat Inspection Act, Canadian Agricultural Products Act and associated Regulations, and the Fish Inspection Act may have additional labelling requirements (e.g. grade or country of origin).
All mandatory labelling information and nutritional labelling, other than the name and address of responsible party, is required to be declared in both French and English.
It should be noted that Canadian labelling requirements may differ significantly from those of the United States and other countries. As an example, the United States' Nutrition Labelling Information (Nutrition Facts) is not currently permitted on products imported into Canada.
In Canada, net quantity declarations on consumer packaged products must be expressed in metric units of weight (grams or kilograms), volume (millilitres, litres) or count (when applicable). The manner of declaring net quantity and the method of determining the accuracy of net quantity declarations for consumer packaged products, as well as commercial, industrial or institutional products, are based on the average system. The average system is prescribed in the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations, in the case of consumer packaged products, and the Weights and Measures Act and Regulations, in the case of commercial, industrial or institutional products.
The average system is based on three criteria:
- the average net content of all packages in a lot must not be less than the declared net quantity;
- only a specified number of samples in a lot are allowed to contain less than the declared net quantity by more than the prescribed tolerance (as set out in the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations); and
- no more than one sample in a lot may contain less than the declared net quantity by more than twice the prescribed tolerance.
Sampling procedures for the average system are designed to be closely representative of the lot of merchandise being tested.
The Weights and Measures Act and Regulations prescribe the manner of net quantity declarations for food products sold in bulk and clerk-served foods sold at retail.
Food products require more careful handling than other commodities. Food should not be shipped with dangerous or hazardous goods (chemicals, auto parts, etc.) Food shipments that have been contaminated by incompatible goods in the container/truck may be refused entry into Canada. Temperature sensitive goods, such as frozen food or fresh fruits, require a climate controlled shipping environment.
Requirements for safe transportation of goods should be part of the agreement between traders and carriers.
A variety of foods can cause adverse reactions in hypersensitive individuals. These reactions can vary from minor to life-threatening. Most adverse food reactions are caused by the following foods or their derivatives:
- tree nuts (e.g., almonds, Brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pinenuts, pistachios, walnuts)
- sesame seeds
- crustaceans (e.g., crab, crayfish, lobster, shrimp)
- shellfish (e.g., clams, mussels, oysters, scallops)
If these foods and their by-products or derivatives are not labelled or are incorrectly labelled, or if inadvertent carry-over occurs during manufacture, the results can be serious and sometimes fatal.
Despite all possible precautions, the presence of allergens cannot always be avoided. Consequently, a policy on precautionary labelling has been developed, which allows industry to voluntarily label products that may inadvertently contain substances capable of causing severe adverse reactions (e.g., "May contain peanuts").
Addition of Vitamin and Mineral Nutrients to Food
The addition of vitamins, minerals and amino acids to food is regulated by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. Section D.03.002 of the Food and Drug Regulations specifies which foods may be enriched and with which nutrients. (There are limited exceptions to this regulation).
Canadian requirements for the addition of nutrients to food may differ significantly from the United States and other countries.
Vitamins and/or mineral supplements are regulated as drugs in Canada. For further information on these products, contact the Therapeutic Products Directorate of Health Canada.
Foods Containing Food Additives
The use of food additives is strictly controlled by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. The food additive tables in Division 16 of the Regulations prescribe which additives may be used in foods sold in Canada, to which foods they may be added, for what purposes, and at what levels.
Canadian requirements and the list of acceptable food additives may differ from those of the United States and other countries. Products containing non-permitted food additives may be refused entry into Canada.
Irradiation of food is regulated by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. Only the following foods are currently allowed to be irradiated in Canada: potatoes, onions, wheat, flour, whole wheat flour, whole or ground spices and dehydrated seasoning preparations.
Special labelling requirements apply to irradiated foods and foods containing irradiated ingredients. Irradiated foods not in compliance with the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations are not permitted for sale in Canada.
Section E - Summary of Import Requirements for Food Commodities
This section contains a summary of commodities that are subject to specific import requirements for commercial shipments or have specific compositional requirements.
As outlined in Section A, all foods sold in Canada are subject to the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, which contain health and safety requirements, labelling requirements and provisions preventing deception and fraud. However, many agricultural and fish products are also subject to other legislation. Consequently, the need for licensing, permits and certificates varies depending upon the type of food being imported and, in some cases, on the country or area from which the food is imported.
In certain circumstances the importer is required to be licensed with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. This applies, for example, to importers of fish products. In other cases, each shipment of a specific commodity must be accompanied by an official certificate from the authorities of the exporting country and/or an approval or permit from the appropriate Canadian federal department. For some products, such as dairy products, the importer is required to provide an Import Declaration to the effect that the product is sound and fit for human consumption.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Automated Import Reference System contains detailed information on the federal import requirements for all foods.
It should be noted that in some provinces there are additional requirements for certain foods, such as dairy products, margarine, bottled water, and maple syrup.
A Note on TRQs
Certain agricultural goods are subject to Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs) and some require an import permit issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. TRQs and the presence or absence of import permits may drastically affect the rate of tariff charged for a commodity. Please note that firms importing restricted goods without a specific import permit will automatically be charged the high tariff rate by Canada Border Services Agency. At this point, specific import permits will not normally be issued. (For more information regarding TRQs and Import Permits, see Section G).
The Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, a federal statute, gives the provinces and territories full control over the importation of intoxicating liquor into their jurisdictions. (Note: there are certain exceptions, such as bulk importations by licensed distillers and brewers for blending purposes). Consequently, importers should consult the appropriate provincial or territorial liquor authority before considering the importation or interprovincial trade of intoxicating liquor. (See Appendix II for contact information).
Standards of identity and labelling requirements for alcoholic beverages exist in the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations and the Excise Act and Regulations. Standardized container size requirements for wine exist in the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations.
In addition to the basic food labelling provisions, alcoholic beverages are subject to further requirements, such as the declaration of alcohol content by volume.
Butter, cheddar cheese, dry milk products and variety cheeses are regulated by the Dairy Products Regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act. Imported dairy products must comply with these regulations, which cover quality, labelling, packaging and grading, as well as health and safety. In addition, the Health of Animals Act restricts the importation of certain dairy products from countries where the presence of animal diseases poses a threat to Canadian agriculture and health. Most dairy products also require an import permit issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. (Please see Section G for further information).
An Import Declaration, completed in duplicate, must accompany each dairy product shipment, indicating that the products were manufactured from sound raw materials and prepared under sanitary conditions, and that the products were sound and fit for human consumption at the time of shipment.
All cheese importers must hold a valid cheese import licence issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in order to import cheese. At present, there is no federal requirement for importers of other dairy products to be licensed. Product inspection may take place at the product's entry point or at its destination point, at the discretion of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Eggs and Processed Eggs
Both shell and processed chicken eggs must meet the requirements set out in the Egg Regulations and Processed Egg Regulations, respectively, of the Canadian Agricultural Products Act. Shell eggs are destined for either the table market or breaking stock. Processed eggs are frozen egg, frozen egg mix, liquid egg, liquid egg mix, dried egg, dried egg mix and egg product, including all products consisting of 50 percent or more of egg.
These products may only be imported from a country with an inspection program and grade standards equivalent to Canada's. Shipments will be inspected upon entry into Canada and must be accompanied by inspection documentation issued by officials of the exporting country, certifying that the products conform to Canadian standards.
Both shell eggs and processed eggs require an import permit issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. (Please see Section G for further information). In addition, the Health of Animals Act restricts the importation of eggs and processed eggs from countries where the presence of animal diseases pose a threat to Canadian agriculture and health.
Eggs from different species of birds, balut eggs, and preserved duck eggs, are not subject to the Egg Regulations. However, eggs and egg shells from birds and reptiles listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) require export permits from the country of origin and, in some cases, import permits issued by Environment Canada under the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA). (See Section B: Environment Canada; Section E: Wildlife; and Section F: Import Procedures and Documents).
Fish and Fish Products
Fish and fish products are subject to the Fish Inspection Act and Regulations, which contain requirements for wholesomeness, labelling, packaging, grading, and health and safety.
Importers of fish and fish products must have an Import Licence issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and must notify the closest Canadian Food Inspection Agency fish inspection office in writing each time they import fish.
Restrictions apply to the importation of aquatic animals. Import permits are required for susceptible species of finfish, molluscs, and crustaceans. These animals must meet the import requirements to enter Canada.
All sturgeons are regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This means that all sturgeon, including their meat and caviar, require a CITES export permit from the exporting country. Some species also require a CITES import permit issued by Environment Canada.
In the absence of specifications under the Food and Drug Regulations, food additives must conform to specifications in the Food Chemicals Codex, Fourth Edition, 1996 (as required by Section B.01.045 of the Food and Drug Regulations).
The labels on food additive preparations must include either a quantitative statement of the amount of each additive present, or directions for use which, if followed, will produce a food that does not contain additives in excess of the maximum levels as prescribed in Division 16 of the Food and Drug Regulations.
Synthetic food colours are unique because they are the only additives that must be certified by the Health Products and Food Branch, Health Canada before being used in foods. Regulations concerning food colours are listed in Division 6, and Table III of Division 16 of the Food and Drug Regulations.
Before a colour destined for use in food may enter the country or be distributed for use, it must be certified. Health Products and Food Branch officials both administer and audit a certification program for manufacturers of food colour. Manufacturers who participate in this program can obtain "self-certification status".
If the request for certification is approved, a certificate number (CN) is issued, and the Canadian importer is supplied with a letter indicating that the specific lot of dye (identified by lot number and quantity) has been assigned a specific CN. This number covers only the colour and shipment identified in the letter.
A copy of the letter must be presented by the importer to Canada Border Services Agency before the dye is released from Customs. At present, certificates issued by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are also acceptable in Canada.
Procedures for Food Colour Lakes are somewhat similar, except that they must be manufactured from a certified colour. Identification Numbers (IN) are issued instead of CN numbers.
Further information on the certification program can be obtained from the Health Products and Food Branch, Health Canada, (see Appendix II for contact information).
Foods for Special Dietary Use, including Weight Loss
The composition and labelling of foods for special dietary use are regulated under Division 24 of the Food and Drug Regulations and include: formulated liquid diets, meal replacements, carbohydrate-reduced foods, sodium reduced foods, low calorie foods, etc.
It is important to note that the only food products that may be promoted for use in a weight reduction diet are meal replacements, foods for very low calorie diets, prepackaged meals that meet the requirements of Division 24 of the Regulations and foods sold in weight loss clinics to clients for use in their programs. No other foods may be promoted for weight loss.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables, including nuts and edible fungi, are regulated by the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act. These regulations cover quality, labelling, packaging, grading, and health and safety requirements.
Commercial importers of fresh fruits and vegetables must have a Produce Licence issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or be a member of the Dispute Resolution Corporation (DRC). Each shipment of fresh produce must be accompanied by a Confirmation of Sale form in triplicate, which is the importer's evidence that there is a firm purchase agreement. This form is reviewed by a Customs officer at the products' point of entry, and relayed to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
To ensure compliance with Canadian standards for safety, quality, labelling, packaging and grading, all shipments of fresh produce are subject to examination upon entry into Canada by an inspector of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Special requirements also exist for the importation of products shipped in bulk.
To prevent the introduction and spread of plant diseases and pests, fresh fruits and vegetables are subject to the Plant Protection Act and Regulations. Consequently, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency requires import permits and/or phytosanitary certificates for certain fresh fruits and vegetables from specific countries or states.
For detailed information regarding Canadian import requirements for fresh fruit and vegetables, refer to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Overview - Import and Interprovincial Requirements for Fresh Fruit and Vegetables page.
Information on Canadian plant protection requirements may be found at the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS).
Fresh fruit and vegetables derived from a plant with a novel trait (i.e., derived from biotechnology) are considered novel foods (see section on novel foods).
Fruit and Vegetable Products - Processed
Processed fruit and vegetable products include canned and frozen fruits and vegetables as well as some other fruit and vegetable products (vegetable soup, prepared mustard, spaghetti in tomato sauce, etc.)
Imported product must comply with the Processed Products Regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act. These regulations cover quality, labelling, packaging (including standardized sizes), grading, and health and safety requirements.
Each shipment must be accompanied by an Import Declaration form in duplicate, which indicates that the products meet the requirements of the Processed Products Regulations and were processed under sanitary conditions, and that they were sound, wholesome and fit for human consumption at time of shipment. At present, there is no federal requirement for importers of processed fruits and vegetables to be licensed.
All shipments are subject to inspection by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency at their destination point.
The section "Low Acid Foods in Hermetically Sealed Containers" contains further information.
There are Tariff Rate Quotas for wheat, barley and their products. Consequently, an import permit issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development is required to import these products. (Please see Section G for further information).
Please note that grains derived from a plant with a novel trait (i.e., derived from biotechnology) are considered novel foods.
The Canadian Grain Commission and the Canada Border Services Agency may also have requirements regarding the importation of grains into Canada and should be contacted prior to importation.
Honey and honey products are regulated by the Honey Regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act. Imported products must comply with these regulations, which cover quality, labelling, packaging, grading, and health and safety requirements.
Each shipment of honey and honey products must be accompanied by an Import Declaration, Request for Release Approval and Customs Transaction Document. This documentation must be presented to the CFIA National Import Service Centre for clearance before shipments are allowed entry into Canada by CBSA officers. The importer or the importer's authorized agent must declare that the honey meets the requirements of the Honey Regulations. This means that the honey was prepared under sanitary conditions, and is wholesome and fit for human consumption. All shipments of honey are subject to inspection at their destination point, by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency restricts the importation of honey from countries where the presence of animal diseases poses a threat to Canadian agriculture and health.
Infant Formula (Human Milk Substitutes)
The composition and labelling of foods for infants are regulated under Division 25 of the Food and Drug Regulations. In the case of new infant formulas and those which have undergone a major change, manufacturers and importers are required to notify Health Canada of their intention to market the products. The information to be submitted in this "pre-market notification" is outlined in Division 25 of the Regulations. It permits Health Canada to conduct a thorough safety assessment for the proposed product.
Low Acid Foods in Hermetically Sealed Containers (Canned Foods)
Low acid foods in hermetically sealed containers (LAFHSC) are foods that generally have a pH greater than 4.6, a water activity greater than 0.85 and are packaged in containers that preclude the entrance of microorganisms and air. Traditionally, these products have been limited to canned vegetables, mushrooms, meat, fish and poultry. However, with the recent progress in food technology and packaging techniques (including the tetra-pak container concept), and with the influx of new foods to the Canadian market, the variety of low acid foods in hermetically sealed containers is increasing very rapidly.
These foods, if improperly processed or packaged in damaged, leaky containers, can provide a perfect medium for the growth of bacteria which may cause illness (including botulism, a potentially deadly form of food poisoning). Division 27 of the Food and Drug Regulations contains requirements specific to these products to prevent and control any public health threat.
Food labels or containers must bear a legible and permanent code or lot number that identifies the establishment and the date (day, month and year) the food was processed. The importer must be able to provide the exact meaning of this code or lot number to an inspector upon request.
Knowledge of the production and quality control procedures implemented at the manufacturing plant is important, in order to ensure that the imported food is safe and does not pose a health hazard.
MargarineMargarine is on the Import Control List established under the Export and Import Permits Act. Therefore, an import permit issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development is required to import margarine. (Please see Section G for further information). The Food and Drug Regulations outline standards of identity and composition for both margarine and calorie-reduced margarine. Certain provinces may also have restrictions on the addition of colour to margarine.
Maple products include maple syrup, maple sugar, soft maple sugar, maple butter and maple taffy that are obtained exclusively from maple sap.
Imported maple products must meet the requirements of the Maple Products Regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act. These regulations cover quality, labelling, packaging (including standardized sizes), grading, and health and safety requirements. At present, there is no federal requirement for importers of maple syrup and maple products to be licensed.
All shipments are subject to inspection at their destination point by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Meat and Poultry
Importation of meat and poultry meat products into Canada is regulated by the Meat Inspection Act and Regulations and the Health of Animals Act and Regulations, administered by the CFIA, and the Export and Import Permits Act, administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.
Before the products are imported, the exporting country must be evaluated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and found to have a national meat inspection system, including a residue monitoring program, equivalent to that of Canada. As well, foreign establishments must be approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency before being eligible to export to Canada.
To prevent the introduction of animal diseases, all importations of meat products are subject to the Health of Animals Act and Regulations. Some foreign countries are restricted in the type of product they can export to Canada.
Shipments of poultry (fresh or prepared) and fresh, chilled and frozen beef from non-NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) countries usually require an import permit issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. (Please see Section G for further information.)
Novel Foods - Biotechnology
Novel foods include:
- a substance, including a microorganism, that does not have a history of safe use as a food;
- a food that has been manufactured, prepared, preserved, or packaged by a process that
- has not been previously applied to that food, and
- caused the food to undergo a major change; and
- a food that is derived from a plant, animal or microorganism that has been genetically modified such that
- the plant, animal or microorganism exhibits characteristics that were not previously observed in that plant, animal or microorganism,
- the plant, animal or microorganism no longer exhibits characteristics that were previously observed in that plant, animal or microorganism,
- one or more characteristics of the plant, animal or microorganism no longer fall within the anticipated range for that plant, animal or microorganism.
The Novel Food Regulations under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations (Division 28) establish a clear and stringent process for evaluating the safety of novel foods. Manufacturers and importers of novel foods are required to notify Health Canada of their intention to market a new product in Canada, before sale or advertisement for sale. This pre-market notification permits Health Canada to conduct a thorough safety assessment of the proposed product.
Safety assessment of a novel food includes the following considerations: evaluation of the process used to develop the food product; comparison of its characteristics to those of traditional food counterparts; its nutritional quality; the potential for new toxicants or anti-nutrients; and the potential allergenicity of any proteins that have been introduced into the food by genetic modification techniques. In this way, Health Canada provides assurance that the novel food is safe.
The responsibility for the labelling of novel foods is shared between Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Importers are also required to notify the Canadian Food Inspection Agency of their intention to import fruits, vegetables, tubers and grains derived from plants with novel traits, including transgenic plants. Assessments of the proposed products will be conducted to evaluate the risk to the agricultural and forestry environment.
The Organic Products Regulations require mandatory certification to the revised National Organic Standard for agricultural products represented as organic in international and inter-provincial trade, or that bear the federal organic agricultural product legend (or federal logo).
Sports Nutrition Products
Canada has very specific compositional and labelling requirements for foods, and strictly controls the addition of vitamins, minerals and amino acids to foods. (See Section D: Addition of Vitamin and Mineral Nutrients to Food). Many sports nutrition products produced outside the country do not comply with the compositional and labelling requirements contained in the Food and Drug Regulations. They may contain non-permitted ingredients, and/or make unacceptable label claims. Some products, because of their composition or because they bear drug claims, are considered drugs and require a Drug Identification Number (DIN) from the Therapeutic Products Directorate, Health Canada, before they can be sold in Canada.
Importers of certain exotic and rare foods should be aware that Environment Canada administers the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly known as CITES. This Convention controls the international movement of designated wildlife through an international permit system. (See Section B: Environment Canada, and Section F: Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). In Canada, all CITES import permits are issued by the CITES Management Authority of the Canadian Wildlife Service.
All CITES-regulated wild animals and plants, whether alive or dead, are controlled, including their parts or derivatives, and specimens bred in captivity or artificially-propagated.
All endangered wild animals and plants listed in Appendix I of the Convention must receive prior import authorization from the CITES Management Authority in Canada, as well as prior export authorization from the CITES Management Authority for the country of export. Commercial trade in these species is not normally permitted.
Generally, all other CITES-controlled animals and plants listed in Appendices II and III of the Convention can be commercially traded as long as prior export authorization has been obtained from the CITES Management Authority of the country of export. If the import is accompanied by a valid foreign CITES export permit, no Canadian CITES import permit is required.
Section F - Import Procedures and Documents
Canada Border Services Agency Requirements
In order to obtain the release of a commercial shipment at the Customs office, the following documents are required:
- two copies of the cargo control document. This document may be a manifest, waybill or some other approved document obtained from the carrier or freight forwarder.
- two copies of an invoice to support the value of the goods. This invoice provides information concerning the shipment including: details regarding the importer and exporter, a description of the goods, the value of the goods, the country of origin and destination of the goods, and the currency of settlement. A Canada Customs' invoice or a commercial invoice containing all the required information is necessary for goods with a value of $1,600 or greater. An additional copy of the invoice is required in cases where the importer or broker intends to transmit the final accounting data through Customs Automated Data Exchange (CADEX).
- two copies of a fully completed B3 form, for all shipments for commercial use in Canada, regardless of value. The B3 document is used for duty and tax purposes. A third copy of this form is required by Statistics Canada for shipments valued over $1,600.
- all permits, certificates, licenses or other documentation required by Canada Border Services Agency or other government departments for the release of food shipments. Generally, original documents are necessary.
Special programs exist to speed the transit time through Customs. The Pre-Arrival Review System (PARS) allows Customs to process release information before the goods arrive, thus accelerating release or referral of goods when they do arrive. The Frequent Import Release System (FIRST) processes repetitive importations of low risk shipments with a significant savings in time.
Release on Minimum Documentation Option is another program offered by Canada Border Services Agency, to importers or brokers who post security with Canada Border Services Agency for release of goods prior to payment of duties. Importers or brokers requesting this option provide specified minimal documentation rather than the complete information otherwise required. When goods are released on minimum documentation, the importer or broker must present or transmit confirming accounting data within five full business days from the date the goods are released.
Further information regarding Customs' release systems and procedures, duties, tariff classifications and taxes may be obtained from local Canada Border Services Agency offices or from the Customs Automated Information System, which can be accessed toll free in Canada at 1-800-461-9999.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Automated Import System
AIS (Automated Import System)
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Automated Import System (CFIA-AIS) is a computerized system for the management of all imported products regulated by the Agency. This program is designed to speed up the importation of CFIA goods at the border, which often have additional specific import requirements. It also allows inspectors to focus on high risk commodities.
The CFIA-AIS interfaces electronically with the Canada Border Services Agency and links the two agencies into an electronic, single-window of service.
The program is comprised of various modules that work together as an information provision system and a tracking system.
AIRS (Automated Import Reference System)
The Automated Import Reference System is a comprehensive reference system that provides detailed information on import requirements for all Canadian Food Inspection Agency commodities.
ITS (Import Tracking System)
The Import Tracking System (ITS) enables Canadian Food Inspection Agency personnel to trace shipments from the point of arrival to their final destination. It allows for effective scheduling of inland inspections and monitoring of import activities.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) monitors the international trade of endangered species through an international permit system. (See Section B: Environment Canada, and Section E: Wildlife).
A CITES permit (import or export) must be an original document. Photocopies (except in the case of artificially-propagated plants and circus animals) and fax copies of permits are not accepted as alternatives to original documents. Permits must be obtained prior to shipment; those issued after an exportation or importation has occurred cannot be accepted as valid documents.
Foreign CITES export permits must be presented to Customs at the time of import, for Customs validation. Customs will retain the validated copy and forward it to the Canadian CITES Management Authority in Ottawa.
All live wildlife must be exported or imported according to International Air Transport Association (IATA) Live Animals Regulations and CITES Guidelines for Transport.
Further information on import requirements of CITES listed wildlife may be found on the Environment Canada's Website.
Section G - Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs)
This section pertains to agricultural goods included on the Import Control List (ICL), under the authority of the Export and Import Permits Act (EIPA). In order to implement specific Canadian commitments under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture, Canada replaced such measures as import quotas and other restrictions on the import of certain agricultural products with Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs). Under tariff rate quotas, imports are subject to low "within access commitment" tariff rates up to a predetermined limit (i.e. until the import access quantity has been reached), while imports over this limit are subject to higher "over access commitment" rates of duty. Under section 6.2 of the EIPA, the Minister may:
- determine an import access quantity allowed entry at the low tariff rate,
- establish a method of allocating the import access quantity, and
- issue an import allocation to any resident of Canada who applies for an allocation, subject to the regulations and any terms and conditions the Minister may specify in the allocation.
First-Come, First-Served (FCFS) Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs)
The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, along with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), administers FCFS TRQs for margarine, wheat, wheat products, barley, barley products, cut roses from Israel, and frozen pork from the European Union (EU).
In the case of these TRQs, import quota allocations are not issued to individual companies. For wheat, barley and their products, as well as cut roses from Israel, importers may invoke a general import permit (GIP) until such time as the TRQ has been filled. GIPs authorize importation of goods at the within-access tariff rate.
For margarine and frozen pork from the EU, a specific import permit issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development is required for each import shipment entered at the within-access tariff rate.
For certain agricultural products (e.g. dry onions and fresh strawberries from Chile; certain agricultural products from Mexico such as roses, carnations, chrysanthemums, tomatoes, onions or shallots, cucumbers and gherkins, broccoli and cauliflower, strawberries, and preserved tomatoes), FCFS TRQs are administered by CBSA. For these products, no GIP exists but the FCFS quota system operates in a similar manner.
Canada Border Services Agency's (CBSA) responsibility for FCFS TRQ goods includes monitoring their importation and counting all imports of within-quota TRQ goods. CBSA makes this information available to the public, including the amount of quota used and the amount still available. For more information on CBSA's role in the administration of TRQs, please contact the Customs and Trade Administration Branch, CBSA, at the address shown in Appendix II. CBSA also publishes a numbered series of memoranda (D10-18-1, D10-18-5, D10-18-6, D10-18-7, D10-18-8 and D10-18-9), which explain TRQs-related practices and procedures, including any changes or new agreements in this area.
TRQs Subject to Allocations
The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development also administers TRQs for broiler hatching eggs and chicks, chicken, turkey, eggs and egg products, non-NAFTA beef and veal, cheese, butter, milk and cream, buttermilk, yogurt, ice cream, and other dairy products.
In order to import the above goods at the within-access rate of duty, importers must have a specific import permit issued by the Minister for International Trade. Such import permits are issued pursuant to import allocations to Canadian-residents.
On behalf of the Minister of International Trade, the Trade Controls and Technical Barriers Bureau is responsible for allocating import quotas to individual Canadian-residents and for issuing the specific import permits pursuant to these allocations. For more information on quota allocations and import permits for agricultural goods covered by TRQs, please contact the Export and Import Controls Bureau, ITCan at the address listed in Appendix II.
Appendix I - Federal Legislation
The following are brief descriptions of legislation that may apply to import activities, listed in alphabetical order. Other legislation may apply. For further information, contact the appropriate federal or provincial authorities.
The Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act (AMPs) establishes a system of administrative monetary penalties for the enforcement of the following acts: the Canada Agricultural Products Act, the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Health of Animals Act, the Meat Inspection Act, the Plant Protection Act, and the Seeds Act.
Canada Agricultural Products Act and associated Regulations (CAP Act)
The Canada Agricultural Products Act (CAP Act) and associated Regulations are designed to set national standards and grades for agricultural products and to regulate the marketing of agricultural products in import, export, and interprovincial trade.
They provide for the licensing of dealers in agricultural products; the inspection, grading, labelling, and packaging (including standardized sizes) of regulated products; the registration of establishments; standards governing the construction, maintenance and operation of establishments; and mechanisms to settle disputes over transactions between dealers of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The following regulations fall under the CAP Act:
- Dairy Products Regulations
- Egg Regulations
- Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Regulations
- Honey Regulations
- Licensing and Arbitration Regulations
- Livestock and Poultry Carcass Grading Regulations
- Maple Products Regulations
- Organic Products Regulations
- Processed Egg Regulations
- Processed Products Regulations
This Act established the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and sets out the responsibilities, accountability regime, organization, human and financial resources regime, powers and reporting framework of the Agency.
The Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act is a federal statute which promotes fair competition in the marketplace by discouraging deceptive business practices and encouraging the provision of accurate and meaningful information on the labels of prepackaged food products.
The Regulations prescribe requirements for bilingual labelling, metric net quantity declarations and for the size and location of mandatory labelling information. The Regulations also prescribe standardized sizes for some consumer products including the following foods: glucose syrup and refined sugar syrup, peanut butter, and wine.
The Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations also establish the average system as the criterion for determining compliance with net quantity declarations.
The Customs Act provides the legislative authority for Customs inspectors to detain goods that may be in contravention of the Customs Act or any other act or regulation that prohibits, controls or regulates the importation or exportation of goods.
Export and Import Permits Act
The Export and Import Permits Act (EIPA) authorizes the Minister for International Trade to control the importation and exportation of certain products. The Act provides for the establishment of a series of lists including the Import Control List (ICL), the Export Control List (ECL) and the Area Control List (ACL). The Act sets out criteria that govern the inclusion of goods on the ECL and ICL. Through the issuance of import permits and export permits, the government controls the import and export of items included on these lists, and the export of goods to ACL destinations.
The EIPA authorizes the Minister to issue import allocations to Canadian-residents. Once shares of tariff rate quotas are allocated, import permits are issued to holders up to their allocation level so long as the terms and conditions of the associated EIPA authorization(s) are respected. The Minister may issue supplemental import permits to authorize imports in excess of the import access quantity.
The Fish Inspection Act and Regulations establish composition, quality, labelling and packaging requirements for fish and fish products traded internationally and interprovincially. Regulations also set standards of construction, operation and maintenance for processing establishments.
The Fish Health Protection Regulations under the Fisheries Act are designed to prevent the spread of infectious fish diseases, both by inspecting production sources of fish stocks, and by controlling the movements of infected fish stocks. They apply to live and dead cultured fish and eggs (including any fertilized or unfertilized sex products) of cultured and wild fish. These regulations apply to certain types of fish from the family Salmonidae.
The Food and Drugs Act is a consumer protection statute dealing with food, drugs, cosmetics and medical devices. It establishes minimum health and safety requirements, as well as provisions preventing fraud and deception for all food sold in Canada. "Sell" as defined in the Food and Drugs Act means to offer for sale, expose for sale, and have in possession for sale and distribution, whether or not the distribution is made for consideration. Regulations contain food labelling requirements and standards of identity, composition, strength, potency, purity, quality or other properties for several classes of foods.
The purpose of the Health of Animals Act and Regulations is to prevent the introduction of animal diseases into Canada and to protect the agricultural sectors and the economy.
The Health of Animals Act and Regulations regulate international trade in live animals, animal products and by-products (including aquatic animals), animal feeds, veterinary biologics and biotechnology products.
Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
The Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act is a federal statute concerning the transportation and release of intoxicating liquors in respect of their interprovincial and international movements. With few exceptions, this legislation restricts the importation and transportation of beverage alcohol to provincial liquor authorities.
The Meat Inspection Act and Regulations regulate international and interprovincial trade in meat and meat products. They provide for the registration of establishments involved in the slaughter, processing or packaging of products traded internationally or interprovincially. Regulations also set standards of construction, operation and maintenance for registered establishments.
The Plant Protection Act and Regulations provide the legislative authority to prevent the importation, exportation and spread of pests injurious to plants. The purpose of the Act is to protect plant life and the agricultural and forestry sectors. Plants and plant products, including certain fresh fruits and vegetables, are subject to plant protection import requirements.
The Weights and Measures Act establishes net quantity requirements for commodities sold on the basis of measure and sets out the criteria for determining commodity compliance to those requirements.
The Weights and Measures Act does not apply to products subject to net quantity requirements set out in other federal legislation, and therefore does not apply to food packaged for direct sale to the consumer. (These foods are covered under the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act.) The Weights and Measures Act, however, does apply to foods in shipping containers destined for commercial or industrial enterprises or institutions, products sold in bulk, and clerk-served foods at retail.
The Weights and Measures Act establishes design, performance, installation, and use requirements with regard to measuring devices being used in trade.
Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA)
The Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act is the implementing legislation for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Canada. It regulates the international movement of CITES-listed species and their derivatives through a permit system. It allows the prosecution in Canada of importers who violate wildlife conservation legislation in foreign countries, and permits Canada to restrict the importation of wildlife designated as harmful to Canadian ecosystems.
Appendix II - Contact Information
Federal Government Departments and Agencies
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
- Canada Border Services Agency
- Canadian Grain Commission
- Environment Canada
- Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada
- Health Canada
- Industry Canada
Provincial and Territorial Departments
Provincial and Territorial Liquor Control
Appendix III - Product Codes
Universal Product Code (UPC)
The Universal Product Code (UPC) is a 12 digit, all-numeric, machine readable code (bar code) that identifies a consumer package. The UPC is not required by government, but is administered by GS1 Canada. Although this code is not required by law, virtually all retailers require that the food merchandise they carry be labelled with a UPC. The code is used in tracking inventory, pricing, accounting and at the check-out counter. It is also used on invoices, cases, bills of lading, etc.
For more information concerning the UPC, or to obtain an application form, contact GS1 Canada.
Harmonized System Codes - HS Codes
The Harmonized System or HS is an international commodity classification system used in international trade. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency uses HS codes in its Automated Import System (AIS).
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