CFIA food safety rules costly, frustrating: report

Regulations hurt small businesses | Canadian Federation of Independent Business says inconsistent decisions among issues

The cost of complying with Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulations has risen to $657 million a year, according to a report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

The CFIB said last week the cost and time needed to deal with agency bureaucracy is a blow to competitiveness and productivity in the industry.

A senior CFIA official said the agency is improving, but it takes the criticism to heart.

Industry representatives, while uncertain about the cost calculation, said the CFIA should acknowledge industry frustration.

The CFIB based the cost calculation on survey responses from 402 of its 7,200 farm and small to medium-size agriculture business members.

The report said compliance costs have risen more than seven percent in seven years to more than $20,000 per member.

“Farmers support rules necessary to ensure safe food and are tired of getting the run around from the CFIA,” Marilyn Braun-Pollon, the federation’s vice-president for agribusiness, said in a statement.

“Spending thousands of dollars and countless hours navigating through confusing forms and contradictory information leaves farmers feeling completely frustrated, and this does nothing to promote food safety.”

Paul Mayers, CFIA vice-president for policy and programs, said he could not verify the number but accepted the points about costs and industry frustration. He said the agency has been working with the federation on ways to improve service.

“We have been working closely with the CFIB as it relates to the cost of compliance,” he said. “The number, I really can’t say if it is good, bad or indifferent, but we certainly agree with the CFIB that there is a challenge for small and medium enterprises, and we have been working with them to enhance the experience. CFIB has been very useful in terms of providing input around how we can contribute to improved compliance without necessarily adding costs.”

He said the CFIA has established a statement of rights and services and an appeal process for industry members who believe they have been treated unfairly.

“But they certainly are saying we need to do more and we hear that.”

Braun-Pollon said the survey showed improvement in accessibility and CFIA employee attitude, but she also noted that only 20 percent of respondents rated CFIA’s “overall performance” as good.

“CFIA clearly still has a lot more work to do when it comes to communications and overall service.”

Industry reaction was that while the actual cost calculation is suspect because it is an extrapolation from a small sample, the underlying issues raised are valid.

“It sounds like a high number, and we would have to bore into that to see how valid it is,” said Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett.

“But I think it does raise some valid issues about the hassle and cost of compliance with regulations that should be addressed.”

The Canadian Meat Council, whose federally regulated meat plants typically would not fit into the small and medium size enterprise category and have a more intense relationship with the federal regulator, said in a statement that many of the complaints lodged by CFIB members resonate with its members.

Despite efforts by CFIA to improve service and processes, businesses continue to complain that some policies impose unnecessary costs and bureaucracy.

There are also complaints about the lack of consistency in inspector decisions and “the limited knowledge of some CFIA staff about the industry they regulate.”

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