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Canadian Food Safety

Canadian Food Safety
Published in Dossier "Certificazioni - Le regole per esportare nei mercati extra UE", Alimenti&Bevande, Anno XX, Sommario n°1, 15 febbraio 2018.

CETA positive effects: Canada is preparing a new and advanced legislation on food safety.


Paolo Quattrocchi*

Canada is the second largest country in the world (after Russia) and its border with the United States of America, 8 893 km is the longest in the world separating the two states. Inhabited for millennia by aboriginal populations, the country was colonized by French and English in the early seventeenth century near the Atlantic coast. At present Canada is a federal state governed by a parliamentary system in the context of a constitutional monarchy, headed by Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. It is a state with two official languages, English and French, with a population of about 35 million people.

Canada becomes a very interesting commercial platform following the entry into force on September 21st 2017 of the “Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement” (CETA), with the European Union, and of the previous signing and approval of the “Trans Pacif Partneship” (TPP) with n.16 other countries of the Pacific area, from which the United States has recently come out. It represents a natural bridge between Europe and the countries of North America (USA and Mexico) related by the “North American Free Trade Agreement” (NAFTA) and Asia. Canada, with its 35 million inhabitants, will represent a great opportunity for the services industry to be exploited towards Europe and for the transformation industry an interesting springboard for North America and Asia. Are we ready?


The Canadian regulatory framework in the agri-food sector and the main Federal Agencies

The Canadian regulatory system in the agri-food sector is characterized by laws and regulations called “Statues and Acts”, issued by the Federal Parliament, “Regulations” that have the purpose of defining the implementation and verification of the correct application of the previous regulations and “Guidelines”, guidelines published by various federal departments to correctly interpret laws and regulations.

The federal agencies involved in food security are:

▪ Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), a Canadian food inspection agency that provides all federal inspection services related to food security, economic fraud, business requirements, animal and plant diseases and prevention programs for the most common parasitic diseases related to them. This consolidation of responsibilities in one agency was designed to improve food security systems by integrating the provision of inspection and quarantine services that had previously been provided by other federal departments. They are subject to the control of this agency all those involved in food production or import or export of these, of live animals or plants. To fulfill its mandate, the CFIA administers and applies the following Acts:

- Food and Drugs Act
- Canada Agricultural Products Act
- Meat Inspection Act
- Fish Inspection Act
- Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act
- Plant Protection Act
- Health of Animals Act
- Administrative Monetary Penalties Act
- Seeds Act
- Feeds Act
- Fertilizers Act
- Canadian Food Inspection Act
- Plant Breeders' Rights Act;

▪ Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the Canadian Border Services Agency assists other government departments in the administration and enforcement of their legislation applicable to various imported products;

▪ Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (FATDC), is responsible for issuing permits for goods in a control list, Import Control List and Export Control List of imports and exports under the authority of the Export and Import Permits Act. The following agricultural products are subject to controls of relevance:

-  Chicken
- Turkey
- Broody hens and chicks
- Shell eggs and egg products
- Cheese
- Butter
- Margarine
- Ice cream, yogurt
- Other dairy products
- Barley and barley products
- Products of wheat and wheat
- Beef and veal from non-NAFTA countries (free trade agreement between the USA, Canada and Mexico);

▪ Environment Canada, Canada is a signatory of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This convention, commonly known as CITES, is an international agreement through which over 157 countries exercise control over the import, export and transit of various species of plants and animals listed therein. The assistance in the implementation of CITES restrictions by the CFIA and the CBSA and by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the famous Redcoats);

▪ Fisheries and Oceans Canada, is responsible for the health protection rules of Fish, Fish Helth Protection regulation - FHPR that apply only to salmonidae species (eg Salmon, Trout and Lavaret) belonging to the genera listed in the Annex I of FHPR;

▪ Health Canada, although it is no longer directly involved in the inspection of food products, is responsible for defining the national health and safety policy regarding food;

▪Measurement Canada, is an agency of Industry Canada, applies the legislation on weights and measures, establishes the requirements of the net quantities to be shown on the label;

▪ Provincial and Territorial Governments, provincial and territorial governments have jurisdiction over public health issues, including processed foods sold and manufactured within their borders.


Regulatory evolution

In December 2000, Canada activated the “Canadian Supply Chain Food Safety Coalition(CSCFSC)” officially recognized as a corporation in August 2007, with the aim of updating its food safety legislation. The mission of the initiative was to facilitate, through dialogue within the food industry and with all levels of government, the development and implementation of a national approach coordinated to food security. The Participation in the coalition was open to national, provincial and regional or local associations, including associations representing all segments - from suppliers to final distributors. This Public Private Partnership (PPPs) dealt with various subjects, including classifying Canadian meats, seeds, developing food security, “On Farm” (21 different commodities in agriculture), “Off Farm” (from food products transformed, to distribution to services related to the sector), developing specific Hazard Analysis and Critical Controls Points (HACCP) systems for the “Site specific HACCP” food manufacturing sector, and simpler HACCP-oriented prevention systems for the sector agricultural “HACCP based programs”.

A strong stimulus for this country was received by the United States following the publication of their Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in September 2011, publishing in November 2012 the Food Safety for Canadians Act (FSCA). The FSMA represented for the US a revolution of the entire regulatory framework on food safety, previously regulated over 70 years earlier, by the Food Drugs and Cosmetic Act of 1938. The FSMA regulates food under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), and it was followed by the publication in September 2015 of its implementing regulations called “Seven pillars” (the seven pillars of the US food sector). These are characterized by the introduction of risk-based preventive controls (Preventive Controls).  

Canada as a federation, provides that each province and state has autonomy in the discipline of food security within its borders. When food products have to be marketed externally at an inter-provincial or federal level and in the case of import or export, then federal “Act” and “Regulations”will enter into force. Until the FSCA was published there were 4 macro areas regulated by vertical agreements and regulations at the federal level:

- Meat Inspection Act & Regulations;
- Fish Inspection Act & Regulations;
- Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act & Regulations;
- Canada Agricultural Products Act & Regulations (Dairy, Egg, Fresh Fruit & Vegetables, Processed Products, Organic, Maple and Honey).
There was and still remains, an horizontal regulation, called the Federal Food and Drug Act & Regulations, which applies in the same way throughout the federation, at the point of sale of the food product. The SFCA, incorporates in a single regulatory act the previous n.4 areas regulated by “Act and Regulation”.

It has a preventive and non-reactive approach to the past, it encourages the development by industrial sectors of analysis of targeted threats, introduces new prerequisites called “Preventive Controls” (as in USA), risk-based and involves the development of a system of product traceability to respond more quickly in case of food safety problems or accidents. In January 2017, the Safe Food for Canadians Regulation (SFCR) was published, which will become effective in April 2018.


The regulation of the importation of food and beverages

The Canadian Border Services Agency, Canada Border Services Agency - CBSA, is responsible for the initial inspection of food imports, primary agricultural products (seeds, organic and chemical fertilizers, manure, etc.) and agricultural production. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency - CFIA, establishes the policies and regulations for these imports, which are applied by the CBSA to Canadian entry points. Before importing goods and food into Canada, as a company or individual, you need to obtain a Business Number (BN) issued by the Canadian Revenue Agency, Canada Revenue Agency - CRA, for the activation of an import / export account. The BN has 15 digits: nine numbers to identify the activity, plus two letters and four numbers to identify the chosen import program related to the account. The system includes the main types of programs of the Canadian Border Services Agency for which many companies can be registered, including:

- Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax - GST/HST or Quebec Sales Tax - QST, program account (RT);
- Payroll deductions program account (RP)
- Corporation income tax program account (RC)
- Information return program account (RZ)
- Import-export program account (RM)

For example, an import / export account might look like this:

- BN: 12345 6789 RM0002

Importers will then have to keep records of the distribution of their products, so that the goods can be if necessary, recall efficiently and effectively from the market when a food presents a risk to the health of the population or when a serious violation of the regulations has been verified. Consumer complaints registers and actions taken must also be maintained and all records should be kept for at least two years. Importers are required to keep books and records to prove what goods have been imported, quantities, prices paid and country of origin. The records must be kept in Canada, in paper or electronic format, for six years after the importation of the goods. To keep documents outside of Canada, is required a written authorization from the Canadian Revenue Agency.


General Requirements of imported food

The first impact, as usual, is the obligation of labeling and listing of Allergens, which have different requirements than the EU.

- Peanuts

- Nuts (almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine 

nuts, pistachios) 

- Sesame seeds

- Milk

- Eggs

- Fish

- Crustaceans (crabs, shrimps, lobsters, shrimps)

- Molluscs (clams, mussels, oysters, scallops)

- Soy

- Grain

- Sulfites

- Mustard

The net quantitative declarations on packaged products intended for the consumer must be expressed in metric units (grams or kilograms), volume (milliliters, liters). The declaration of the net quantity and the method for determining the accuracy of the net quantitative declarations for packaged products intended for the consumer, as well as for commercial and industrial products, are based on the average system “Average system”. Procedures for compliance with the average system are described in the Weights and Measures Act and Regulations.

Some agricultural products are subject to tariff quotas, Tariff Rate Quotas - TRQ and some require an import permit issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. The agricultural products included in the import control list, Import Control List - ICL, are regulated by the Export and Import Permits Act - EIPA.

Imports of these are subject to Within Access Commitment rates, up to a predetermined amount; Imports beyond this limit are subject to high tariff rates, called Over Access Commitments. The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, together with the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), administers the TRQs for margarine, wheat, wheat products, barley, cut roses from Israel and frozen pork meat from the European Union. For margarine and frozen pork meat by the EU, a specific import permit is required issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development for each shipment. The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development also manages the TRQs for hatching eggs and chicks, chicken, turkey, eggs and egg products, non-NAFTA beef and veal, cheese, butter, milk and cream, buttermilk, yogurt, ice cream, and other dairy products. 

To import the aforementioned products, importers must have a specific import permit issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. These import permits are issued on the basis of import quota assignments to Canadian residents only.


*Lawyer International Consultant, Equity Partner at NCTM, 

Vice President ICCCW, 

Director Centro Studi Italia Canada