Food regulatory modernization has been underway in Canada for the past several years. The Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) came into being in 2012, and since then a push to create the Safe Food for Canadians Regulation (SFCR) began in earnest. The roots to all this however, go back to the early 1990s, when ideas about consolidating federal inspection under one agency lead to the creation of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in 1997. That early vision also aimed at the consolidation of the federal food legislation, something that is happening now.
On Jan. 21, 2017, the SFCR made its appearance as proposed regulations in Canada Gazette I. The scope of the SFCR’s impact is enormous. It will function as a catalyst bringing into force provisions within the SFCA that will repeal many federal food laws, like the Meat Inspection Act, Fish Inspection Act and the Canada Agricultural Products Act, and withdraw foods from the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act. The SFCR will also replace the multitude of food regulations under previously mentioned Acts.
Once finalized, the SFCR will significantly redefine the role of the CFIA and industry in managing compliance. As part of this a new licensing regime will be established, traceability will be enhanced, and preventative control plans will become mandatory for much of the food industry. The goal is essentially to prevent food safety issues and allow the CFIA to operate more efficiently and strategically toward that goal, by removing obligations placed on it by existing legislation that has little or no significant impact on food safety.
The proposed SFCR is not, however, the end game for food regulatory modernization. It includes food labelling requirements that for the most part have simply reconsolidated the labelling requirements in the legislation that will be repealed. Beyond that, the CFIA is looking at making further amendments to Canadian food labelling in the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) as well as the SFCR.
The timeline was set when the starter’s pistol was fired on Dec. 14, 2016 with the publication of final regulations in Canada Gazette II amending the FDR regarding nutrition, ingredient, allergen and precautionary allergen labelling, and granting a five-year transition period. Food labelling modernization is like a complex jigsaw puzzle that is being taken apart and reassembled. Old worn pieces are being culled, while new ones are being introduced. What we have in front of us are the borders that are defined by the FDR and SFCR. We are beginning to see the shape of the new puzzle with more clarity, and have a sense of timing on how this will unfold.
The various elements of food labelling modernization include amendments to nutrition, ingredient, allergen and precautionary allergen labelling already finalized in December 2016. Health Canada, among its many initiatives, is also looking at front-of-packaging nutrition information related to sugars, sodium and saturated fat. In addition, the CFIA is looking at modernizing date labelling and storage information; how the dealer name and address is to be declared; country of origin labelling; quantitative ingredient labelling in cases where ingredients are highlighted by words or pictures; labelling of represented flavours; ingredient class names; food compositional standards; and enhanced legibility and placement of information.
The five-year transition period is tight in view of the changes that still need to happen. Working backwards from Dec. 14, 2021, and considering that it is customary to provide at least a two-year transition period for significant label changes, it will be around December 2019 when we have final regulations on all this. If this is true, and it takes about a year and half to go from proposed regulation to final regulations, we are looking at mid-2018 for proposed regulations on the outstanding food labelling modernization elements. The currently proposed SFCR must then be finalized by or before mid-2018, before any amendments can be proposed thereto. What this demonstrates is that regulatory reforms must move ahead. The timeline also exposes certain milestones that could help industry make a more efficient transition to the many food labelling changes coming. Ideally, we only want to do this once. It is unlikely that early participation in the changes finalized thus far will be efficient. That does not mean that ignoring this or sitting idle is a great strategy either. Have a plan!
Gary Gnirss is a partner and president of Legal Suites Inc., specializing in regulatory software and services. Contact him at [email protected]m