Plea for independent Canadian food agency

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, Canadian food inspection agency

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s dual mandate of public protection and food risk safety assessment is not working and should be replaced with an independent food safety agency, warns a leading food safety expert.

Sylvain Charlebois, co-author of the 2008 Food Safety Performance World Ranking and business professor at Regina University, made the comments to a parliamentary committee investigating the country’s fatal listeriosis outbreak last summer.

"The CFIA​ (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) is inherently hardwired to assess risks and contain threats​," said Charlebois. The current situation could be improved by refocusing the CFIA’s role on working with industry to promote international trade while setting up an independent food safety organization, concentrating only on consumers concerns, reporting directly to parliament.

At present, Health Canada prepares guidelines related to food policy and the CFIA, which is the responsibility of the minister of agriculture, is responsible for inspection and enforcement.

But Charlebois warned against over regulating the food safety system in the wake of listeriosis outbreak. “The 'let's inspect more' mantra is much too simple​," he added.

Financial Resources

In March, a federal government advisor on food safety told that not enough money was available to combat food borne illnesses. Rick Holley, a member of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) advisory panel, said: “We don’t have the financial resources to address listeria​ and listeriosis and that is symptomatic of larger problems​.”

Canadian food-borne illness surveillance is passive and not “usefully comprehensive,​” said Holley. “It’s been cut back since the late ‘80s due to other fiscal priorities​.”

Also, two-tiered food safety inspection systems, including federal and provincial monitoring, complicate testing procedures unnecessarily, he added.

The outbreak of listeriosis in Canada last summer was linked to the deaths of 20 people.

Meanwhile, CFIA and the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) have announced a $1.2m partnership to enhance animal health expertise in Canada.

Research and training

The new Canadian Regulatory Veterinary Epidemiology Network (CRVE-Net), led by UPEI, will link Canada’s five veterinary schools and contribute to the development of research and training programs at the universities.

Gail Shea, federal minister of fisheries and oceans, said on behalf of federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz: "This partnership will strengthen Canada’s animal disease prevention and control efforts, thereby reducing the social and economic consequences of animal disease outbreaks​."

Dr Brian Evans, chief veterinary officer of Canada, added: "This network will further strengthen our ability to understand and respond to animal health and zoonotic disease challenges in a world of ever changing risks. It will also fulfill national and international needs by drawing upon and encouraging the development of advanced veterinary expertise in specialized areas​."

Related topics: Regulation

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