The Canadian government released a draft re-vamp of food safety and labelling regulations today. Sadly, the Health Canada document failed to include mandatory labelling of genetically engineered organisms in its proposed changes. This disappointing omission flies in the face of consistent polls showing widespread support for GE labelling, growing warnings of environmental and health risks of genetically engineered crops and foods, and a Quebec report showing the low cost to government, consumers and industry of changing to a mandatory labelling regime for genetically engineered organisms. Indeed, if the government is changing its food labelling and import regulations anyway, the costs of including a switch to GE labelling would be minimal. At the same time, import regulations should ensure unwanted, illegal genetically engineered organisms do not enter the country . The good news is Health Canada is still seeking submissions asking “is anything missing?” You can help by writing Health Canada to tell them they forgot GE labelling.
To make submissions on the plan, contact:
Canada's Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan
Corporate Consultation Secretariat
Jeanne Mance Building
200 Eglantine Driveway, PL 1904D
Comment sought on federal food safety plan
The federal health and agriculture departments want feedback from Canadians on how the government should carry out its proposed food and consumer safety action plan.
The plan, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Dec. 17, has been laid out in a new overview booklet and discussion document. The two departments have also set up a web page with contact information for Canadians to provide input within the next 30 days.
"Consulting with suppliers, processors, importers, retailers and consumers is a vital part of our plan, as we will need to keep pace with industry challenges, growth in imported products and changes in the global marketplace," said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in a release Tuesday.
Comment is also expected from the provincial and territorial governments as well as affected industries and stakeholders during this period, the two departments said in their release.
The document outlines a strategy based on three key points: preventing problems in the first place (including providing more information to consumers and industries); targeting the highest risk (including stronger requirements for safety testing on new products, broader authority over food imports and setting up food safety systems); and rapid response (including giving government the power to pull unsafe consumer and health products off store shelves and providing better information to speed up food recalls).
The document notes that Canada needs to move to a preventive, rather than just a reactive, approach to food and consumer product safety. It also notes Canada's penalties are "not high enough to provide deterrence."
For example, it notes, the maximum federal penalty under the Food and Drugs Act for violations on health products is $5,000, compared to $1 million in the U.S. and up to five per cent of an offending company's annual revenue in the European Union.
Specifically for food producers and importers, the action plan's proposals include:
- broadening the Food and Drugs Act to cover food at all points along the "food continuum," including at time of importation, rather than just at point of sale;
- setting up a new "enabling authority" to require that "high-risk foods" be processed and stored under a system of preventive food safety controls;
- requiring certain records be kept by importers, processors and others who prepare and sell food;
- boosting federal legislative authority to "effectively deal with" anyone who tampers with, threatens to tamper with or falsely claims to have tampered with food, food packaging or food labels;
- setting up a government authority that would allow for recognition of "comparable" foreign food inspection systems and results as they apply to products exported to Canada;
- requiring regulation and licensing of products, people and establishments under the Food and Drugs Act to identify food importers and the products they bring to Canada;
- new authority for food inspectors to block or restrict movement of food without having to officially seize or detain it; and
- allowing food inspectors to apply for warrants by fax or phone when dealing with food inspection matters in remote areas.
The government noted in the discussion document that it also plans to review its current policies on voluntary "Product of Canada" and "Made in Canada" claims on product labels.