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Canadian food safety audit finds ‘deficiencies’ in tracking imports

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 29-Sep-2010

An internal audit of Canadian food import safety systems has found deficiencies that heighten the risk of contaminated products entering the food supply, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has said.

The audit, which was published on the CFIA’s website this week, was intended to “provide assurance to senior management that CFIA's imported food activities are designed, organized, and delivered in order to achieve food safety objectives.”

But assessors looking at food import safety from April 2005 to March 2008 found several problems with tracking food imports, including poorly integrated information systems and a lack of systematic reports to monitor progress.

Chief audit executive at the CFIA Peter Everson wrote: “In my opinion, CFIA Management of Imported Food Safety has deficiencies that represent multiple areas of risk exposure requiring significant improvements related to the governance, control, and risk management processes.”

The audit also highlighted insufficient agency resources, which it linked to the rapid growth and diversification of imported food in Canada.

“A changing profile for food imports (e.g. complexity, volume, trade pathways, and risks) combined with staff retention issues and changing work volumes from region-to-region and area-to-area has resulted in resources not always being available to meet planned activities. While manuals for most programs are up-to-date or were being updated, some remain outdated and training is inconsistent across organizational locations and programs,” the report said.

The inflation-adjusted value of imported foods has increased by about 45 percent over the past decade, according to the CFIA, from C$14.2bn in 1997 to C$21.8bn 2006. The number of countries from which Canada imports foods has increased from about 143 in 1997 to 193 in 2005.

However, the agency has made moves to deal with the concerns raised in the report, and is currently seeking comments on the development of new regulations to monitor food imports.

The CFIA said earlier this month that the new regulations are intend to strengthen the accountability of importers for the safety of food products; enhance the CFIA's ability to communicate important food safety information; and increase consumer confidence in the safety of Canada's food supply.

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