April showers bring May flowers. This May the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) did a bit of pruning in its own garden, cutting out the pre-market registration of labels and recipes (formula and processing procedures) for meat and domestic processed fruit and vegetable products subject to the Processed Products Regulations. This took effect May 1. Amendments to Meat Inspection Regulations 1990 and the Processed Products Regulations were registered April 24, and the amended regulations were published May 8. There was an obvious eagerness on the part of the CFIA to exercise their legislative pruning shears.
In past years there have been several attempts to do away with label registrations, and each time that activity was saved at the last moment. This time was obviously different. There is a reshaping happening with the CFIA’s inspection model. This change would have eventually come about with the CFIA’s inspection modernization and the repeal of the Meat Inspection Act and the Canada Agricultural Products Act, which are in the direct weed whacker path of the Safe Foods for Canadians Act.
This remodelling was also specifically targeted by the federal government’s “Red Tape Reduction Action Plan,” which started to take shape in 2011 and for which a final report was issued in October 2012. This is a broad based plan affecting not only the CFIA, but all other federal sectors of responsibility as well. It builds on the “Cabinet Directive on Streamlining Regulation,” introduced in 2007, by placing further agency responsibility on streamlining regulations and on how these agencies may better relate to stakeholders and deliver services. It is a very bold plan.
Cutting the red tape
The specific recommendations of the “Red Tape Reduction Action Plan” related to the CFIA were to: improve the agency’s performance; reduce compliance burden; improve co-ordination with other regulators; improve transparency and predictability; and improve service responsiveness. One small step has already been taken – the elimination of label registrations. The plan also expects the CFIA to work more closely with other federal agencies and the province. Greater streamlining of meat hygiene requirements, as well as recognizing dairy equivalency with provinces, is another focus. In addition, the CFIA is expected to work with U.S. authorities to develop sanitary standards for dairy products.
Regulatory simplification is another key feature of the agenda. This not only involves regulatory reform, but the provision of consistent interpretations and guidance. The latter has been a struggle for the CFIA. Simplifying the underlying regulations might just help everyone in that regard.
One of the more fascinating concepts of the plan is the “One for One” rule. In simple terms this rule means that when an agency (regulators) introduces new regulations that create administrative burdens on business, it will need to offset those burdens by removing others. To ensure the “One for One” rule is respected, the government will pin bonuses for senior government officials to compliance with the rule. Extra bonuses might be available where reductions beyond the “One for One” rule are implemented. By eliminating label registrations, someone is looking good for a bonus!
So now that label registrations are history, how will this affect food safety? While for years the CFIA has touted label registration as an important part of food safety, it now says safety is not affected. The truth is that if this was a safety issue, all labels should have been registered. The lack of effectiveness of label registrations in view of food safety was finally realized, and as a result no longer had a contemporary purpose.
Now industry is responsible for the compliance of their labelling. The truth is that this was always the case. A label registration was never an official approval of a label – that has and remains the responsibility of industry. The only big difference is that companies now have no affirmation that they are on the right track of compliance. That rests now on their sole expertise. The CFIA will expect labels to be compliant and will use the appropriate enforcement where non-compliance occurs.
This is the first of many changes that will be coming over the next few years. There is more pruning, seed planting and, of course, bonuses up for grabs.
Gary Gnirss is a partner and president of Legal Suites Inc., specializing in regulatory software and services. Contact him at [email protected]