NAFTA talks a chance to create joint risk assessment body

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

US and Canada doing Whole Genome Sequencing but without a combined bioinformatics infrastructure, said McAlpine and Robach. Pic: ©iStock/luchschen
US and Canada doing Whole Genome Sequencing but without a combined bioinformatics infrastructure, said McAlpine and Robach. Pic: ©iStock/luchschen

Related tags Food safety

With NAFTA renegotiation talks ongoing it is a critical time for a conversation on protecting and improving the supply chain, according to two think tanks.

The Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) and the Canada Institute of the Wilson Center co-published a piece​ on cooperation in Canada and the US as The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) discussions continue.

Don Buckingham, president and CEO of CAPI, said it represents an opportunity to present new thinking on food safety issues to stakeholders on the frontlines of Canada-US economic policy.

"Food safety is not just about consumer protection, it's about enhancing the competitiveness of the Canada-US agri-food supply chain around the world. A well-functioning food safety regime helps to increase global demand for safe and wholesome North American food products."

Fragmentation in approach to risk assessment

Rory McAlpine, SVP government and industry relations at Maple Leaf Foods and Mike Robach, VP of corporate food safety and regulatory affairs at Cargill, said there is still too much fragmentation in the approach to food safety risk assessment.

The authors said a Canada-US ‘food safety risk assessment organization’ could deliver the best science at the earliest stage of decision-making, reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and duplicative effort between agencies and accelerate time-to-market for best practices.

McAlpine and Robach said it is not about any country compromising the right to establish its own ‘level of protection’ of food safety, quality or nutrition, either for domestic or imported food.

“It is not about changing the mandate of food safety regulatory agencies and their alignment to jurisdictional boundaries, commodity responsibilities and legal mandates. Rather it is about joint scientific data collection and risk assessment to inform choices on food (and feed) safety standards and their enforcement.”

With the US Food Safety Modernization Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act, both countries have done legislative and regulatory modernization of largely independent systems of oversight.

NAFTA renegotiation presents an opportunity in food safety hazard identification and surveillance, risk assessment and technology approvals, said McAlpine and Robach.

Canadian and American differences

Differences include Canada considering mustard to be a priority allergen while the US does not.

Canada has brought its policy on controlling Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods into greater alignment with the US but definitions of food-contact and non-food contact surfaces in the manufacturing environment are not the same.

US manufacturers can use analytical test methods for microbiological hazards as long as they are validated by organizations like AOAC, whereas Health Canada maintains a compendium of approved methods.

McAlpine and Robach said companies can innovate in one country but can’t sell in the other – giving the example of 3M.

“It has a series of molecular detection assays that can significantly improve the performance and speed of testing for E. coli O157, Listeria and Salmonella and yet the latest versions of these analytical test methods are not approved for mandated tests in Canada.

Food safety inspectors prescribe subtly different rules for everything from pre-op sanitation to validation of cook and cool cycles even though ‘systems equivalence’ has been agreed between the countries.”

The US and Canada are also putting efforts into Whole Genome Sequencing for food safety investigations but without a combined bioinformatics infrastructure.

Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute of the Wilson Center, said: "During a period of trade upheaval and fractured supply chains, it is particularly important to bring practical suggestions to the table that will build trade, increase competitiveness and safeguard the protection of consumers."

Meanwhile, Canada and ASEAN are to start discussing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), following the Sixth ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) – Canada Consultations earlier this month in Manila, Philippines. 

Ministers agreed to a formal feasibility study on a Canada-ASEAN FTA.

It comes one year after Canada and ASEAN agreed to draft terms of reference for an FTA feasibility study between the two parties.

Related topics Food safety and labeling

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