Gary Gnirss looks at the CFIA’s latest step away from the status quo
In January Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will establish 16 sector specific “centres of expertise” across Canada. This step is touted as one that will provide a more consistent approach to how the agency exercises its jurisdiction over its wide range of responsibilities. It will also shape the way the agency will interact with industry and other stakeholders, as it will leverage its focused expertise though these centres. It’s another bold step away from the status quo for the CFIA, and a step towards its inspection vision that has been evolving over the past few years.
The CFIA’s portfolio of responsibilities is large and broad, covering feeds, fertilizers, plant protection and food. Just about everything at the end of your fork is under its jurisdiction. The new Safe Foods for Canadians Act (SFCA) will place additional responsibilities on the CFIA’s plate. For example, most food in inter-provincial and international trade will be subject to licencing or permits, or both. Today only certain types of commodities are captured by the agency’s trade- and commerce-type legislation. The SFCA will repeal the Fish Inspection Act, Meat Inspection Act and the Canada Agricultural Products Act, which will untether the CFIA from the administrative “partitions” that came along with such legislation, which were created decades ago and then inherited by the CFIA. The vision of the agency when it was created in 1997 was that it would eventually be working under legislation that would be consolidated, and that it would provide a unified approach to regulating foods.
The new sector-specific centres of expertise are all geographically situated near academic and provincial expertise. Within the original grand vision for the CFIA was the idea that there would one day be greater collaboration by all levels of government in managing food safety, with the agency playing the key role. So while the strategic locations of the centres of expertise are mindful of the CFIA’s relations with its provincial counterparts, this is not new. The agency’s regional office in Guelph, Ont., for example, is already centred around the University of Guelph and the provincial offices of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. What the new centres might provide is the next stage in bridging even closer relationships.
Of the 16 CFIA centres of expertise, Ontario has done well. Three centres will be in Guelph – Agri-foods and Non-federally Registered Products, Import/Export of Animals and Horticulture. Two – Labelling and Claims and Animal Feed – will be in the National Capital Region. Finfish and Forestry are in Burnaby, B.C. Poultry Slaughter, Processed Meat and Poultry, and Domestic Animal Disease and Animal Welfare are in St-Hyacinthe, Que. Red Meat Slaughter and Foreign Animal Disease and Emergency Management will be in Calgary, Alta. Shellfish and Aquatic Animal Health will be in Moncton, N.B. Saskatoon, Sask. gets Grains and Oilseeds, Seed, Plants with Novel Traits, and Fertilizer. Finally, but not surprisingly, Potatoes and Soil will be in Charlottetown, P.E.I. These new centres will be established over the next few years, during which a great deal of transition will also occur concurrently as the provisions of the SFCA start to take effect, including new regulations.
These new centres are being promoted as single-window service stations for industry and other stakeholders. They will also serve to a great degree as support for the CFIA`s own inspection activities. It’s predicted that this will be a key role of the new centres. As the SFCA starts to consolidate various pieces of legislation, the agency will also be able to restructure its inspection service from a single food platform. There will be a new breed of CFIA inspector coming soon, the super inspector who can look at dairy in the morning and poultry in the afternoon, supported no doubt by the sector specific “centres of expertise” cognoscente (a fancy word for expert). It’s shaping up to be a very interesting next few years.