Bill will increase food safety: Ritz

National traceability | The act will enable food to be tracked, traced and recalled quickly

After years of spotty movement toward a national food traceability system, the federal government is proposing to give itself more power to impose rules through regulation if needed.

The Safe Food for Canadians Act, introduced in the Senate June 7 as the most sweeping consolidation and strengthening of food safety rules since the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was created in 1997, would give the agriculture minister authority to regulate traceability requirements throughout the industry.

Debate on the bill began June 12 in the Senate, but it is not expected to make it through Parliament at least until next winter.

“This new act will strengthen our tools to help track, trace and recall food,” agriculture minister Gerry Ritz told a June 7 news conference in Ottawa.

“This new act will further strengthen import controls and hold importers even more accountable for the safety of the products they bring to Canada.”

Brian Evans, Canada’s chief food safety officer and chief veterinary officer, said inclusion of new traceability regulatory powers is meant as a powerful signal from government to the industry that it should get moving to fulfill a pledge from federal and provincial ministers several years ago to develop a national mandatory system.

“It provides the legislative coverage and basically signals a move to mandatory, but it will have to have the support of producers and industry and provinces to implement it,” he said. “But it at least now sets in motion the legal framework that would require it and support it. There has been a sense that we may have lost some momentum, some direction, and this asserts the commitment and the focus to move on with it.”

Evans said if an agriculture minister decided in the future to impose regulations, “it is a mandatory requirement but this is just the first step toward that.”

A key concern of the government is that while Canada has vowed to move to national food traceability, progress has been slow and uneven and international buyers are be-coming skeptical.

“It hasn’t necessarily moved forward to meet the expectations of the international market.”

Canada may be further along the traceability path than the United States, but “other countries do have systems in place that do provide a true farm to fork traceability, and there’s a sense of vulnerability that this could impact on Canada’s branding going forward.”

He said the legislation would give Ottawa the power to regulate better recordkeeping and traceability responsibilities at the food processor, retail and farm levels.

Food importers would be licensed and the license would impose requirements that they be able to provide proof of the source of the imported food.

New rules at the farm and animal supply chain level could also be enacted if deemed necessary.

“This isn’t an obligation just on the company selling food,” Evans said. “This becomes a more generalized application that applies to the producer of the animal and anyone who subsequently has ownership of the animal or handles the animal such as an auction mart, so this is a broader authority that covers traceability from farm up to and including slaughter.”

He said the authority to impose regulations does not mean they will be written, but it is meant as a clear signal to provinces and industry to get moving.

“We’ve talked about getting there, and there’s now some concern on the part of some parts of the industry that some of our trading partners are looking for us to complete the work and this is a strong signal from the government to get the industry there.”

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