Evidence of meeting #42 for Agriculture and Agri-Food in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was products.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Brian Evans  Chief Veterinary Officer and Chief Food Safety Officer, Canadian Food Inspection Agency
  • Paul Mayers  Associate Vice-President, Programs, Canadian Food Inspection Agency
  • Cameron Prince  Vice-President, Operations, Canadian Food Inspection Agency
  • Martine Dubuc  Vice-President, Science, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB

Great. Thank you very much.

I have a question for Mr. Mayers. The last time you were here before the committee, your response to a question from Mr. Allen was as follows:

The U.S. posts their audit of us. We post our audit of them.

In terms of the issue, which is food safety, any audit process will of course identify any issues. We respond to those issues just as we would if an audit weren't happening. It's our inspection staff who take the action--and when they saw issues, they did--because our inspection staff accompany the U.S. auditors. They report on the actions and findings. That's why, in their report, they directly indicate that the Canadian authority responds appropriately to these types of events.

Indeed, plants were delisted. They were issued corrective action requirements, which they promptly responded to, and they were then re-listed. That's the same as would happen if, absent an audit, we found a problem. We would similarly take direct action and issue a corrective action requirement, which we would expect them to respond to immediately.

So essentially what you're saying there is that not only do we fix any problems we see at home, but we also audit U.S. plants and identify any problems that need to be fixed there as well.

I know that Mr. Hoback's questions touched on this a bit already, but can you tell me what work you might do in conjunction with countries other than the United States? What other aspects do you undertake to ensure that food coming into Canada is safe?

10:10 a.m.

Associate Vice-President, Programs, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Paul Mayers

Thank you very much for the question.

Indeed, the approach we take with other countries is similar to that with the U.S., where we undertake formal audits and assess the ability of the competent authority in that country to provide an oversight that we consider to be equivalent to what we undertake in Canada.

But our approach does not stop at audits alone. Where there are specific questions we will pursue bilateral arrangements with other countries. For example, we developed a memorandum of understanding with Thailand on seafood safety, because we were experiencing some problems there. I spoke of the example of cyclospora in raspberries and the approach we took with Guatemala.

So in working with other countries we seek to assure ourselves that their systems of oversight and the controls they put in place can provide a reasonable assurance, before products reach Canada, that those products are of the quality and safety we expect of products produced in Canada.

We further assure ourselves, by using the verification approach of our own inspection and testing here, that those controls have been robustly employed in that country of origin. It is a comprehensive approach that takes account of the circumstances in other countries and works with their competent authorities--our regulatory partners in those countries--to provide that ongoing assurance.

As Brian has said, you can't just inspect and test your way to safety. Just as we depend on a system here, we hold others to account to provide that same systematic demonstration of control in other countries.

Thank you.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Larry Miller

Thank you very much.

I'll now move to Mr. Storseth for five minutes.

December 7th, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much for coming, witnesses.

I have a quick follow-up. When we're dealing with exports and this stuff, how important is it that we continue to do it through a science-based approach rather than, say, an economic or a political approach?

10:10 a.m.

Associate Vice-President, Programs, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Paul Mayers

I can start, and Brian might wish to add.

The science-based approach is critical, because countries may take different views in terms of their trade policy, but the science is the science. When we found our decision-making on the science, we establish a basis of communication that is consistent across borders. It then allows us, in terms of that conversation, to focus on understanding what is demonstrated, where there may be uncertainty, and how we might measure and address any uncertainty that exists.

In the sanitary and phytosanitary sphere there's Codex Alimentarius for food safety. Its actions are based in science. In terms of animal health, there's the World Organization for Animal Health, the OIE. Again, it founds itself in the science. The same holds true in terms of plant health through the International Plant Protection Convention. We have a very solid international framework to facilitate the interaction between trading partners, and it is grounded very solidly in science because it serves as an equating consideration.

Brian, would you like to add something?

10:15 a.m.

Chief Veterinary Officer and Chief Food Safety Officer, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Dr. Brian Evans

I would add two points in terms of the merits of the science approach.

In all real terms, in the absence of a science approach we would have no recourse mechanism. Under the World Trade Organization, in fact, because the WTO recognizes the science-standard organizations that Paul referred to, it is through that WTO process that the science foundation becomes the merit of a WTO challenge. Of course, that's not Canada's preferred approach--we would prefer to deal with these issues bilaterally whenever possible--but in those cases in which Canada has engaged with the WTO, whether it was the salmon case with Australia or the hormone case with the EU, in all circumstances it has been the science foundation that dictated the outcome of the WTO process, and when we were found to be in compliance and others weren't, those decisions went in our favour.

There is the recourse reality of having a science foundation. It is vitally important, as Paul says, to make sure there is a sound foundation.

The other component, though, which is equally important for Canada in terms of our exports, is the fact that it does allow for reciprocity. If we jointly recognize the science, it gives a predictable competitive market for our industry because they understand the requirements that will be placed upon them and they can then bid and develop their programming accordingly. I think it enhances the competitiveness and the predictability of the international marketplace to some extent, and from an import perspective it also allows us to demonstrate, as we've talked about earlier today, that the standards we're going to apply for you to get in to Canada are the same standards that we're applying within Canada. It is a level playing field.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Westlock—St. Paul, AB

In terms of the 57 recommendations from the Weatherill report, CFIA was given until September of next year to implement them. Are we on track for getting those 57 recommendations implemented in time?

10:15 a.m.

Chief Veterinary Officer and Chief Food Safety Officer, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Dr. Brian Evans

Yes, absolutely. As you pointed out, in her report Ms. Weatherill provided a two-year window in which to achieve that, and I think we have made significant progress, as was demonstrated in the October report this year. We will be on track to achieve all the implementation that was expected in the Weatherill report, but I'd like to re-emphasize what I said to an earlier question: I would not want anyone to think that, having achieved the parameters of those recommendations, we just turn around and stop. That's not how we operate. That's not how we will operate in the future. We will continue to use Weatherill as a guiding approach to ensure that we can continue to deliver a food safety system that is as good as any other in the world.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Westlock—St. Paul, AB

My last question for you is about front-line inspectors. I think we sometimes get bogged down with front-line inspectors and think front-line inspectors are the only mechanism we have. Could you talk about the role of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's science branch in backing up the front-line inspectors and what they do, and could you perhaps use the example of listeriosis?

10:15 a.m.

Chief Veterinary Officer and Chief Food Safety Officer, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Dr. Brian Evans

Thank you very much, honourable member.

Mr. Chairman, I'd like to ask Dr. Dubuc to supplement my answer.

I would just lead by saying that certainly I do believe, as I've stated on a number of occasions in this committee and elsewhere, that the work of food inspection and food safety is a team sport. Certainly the front-line inspector is a very important tool for us in terms of achieving food safety, but in the absence of those behind them.... They can draw a sample, but if there's no confidence in the testing program behind them, if there's no risk assessment process that helps prioritize and define those areas where we should be focusing our resources, then the program will not be nearly as effective.

I would ask Dr. Dubuc to talk about the very important role that our science professionals play in food safety, and in animal health and plant protection as well.

10:15 a.m.

Martine Dubuc Vice-President, Science, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Indeed, Mr. Chairman, there are various measures which contribute to food safety. Inspectors do their job, but they are supported by an entire team of professionals who aim to provide the best scientific advice possible, the best lab results, based on internationally-recognized and validated methods.

The agency has a network of 14 labs throughout the country, including 9 that carry out food sector analyses. The network is made up of experts, researchers and lab technicians who carry out food analyses according to various inspection programs to detect a number of pathogens such as bacteria, salmonella, listeria, E. coli, as well as viruses, toxins, parasites, pesticides, chemicals and allergens. All of these analyses are carried out according to nationally and internationally developed, validated and recognized methods.

The government's recent investment in the Food Safety Action Plan has allowed for a considerable increase in the monitoring of food safety and imported goods through a targeted sampling program which aimed, among other things, to ramp up the monitoring of imported goods in the agency's unregulated sector. In other words, over the last few years, the agency has carried out monitoring programs through its registered institutions. The Food Safety Action Plan's main purpose is to increase the monitoring of imported goods.

Allow me to tell you a little bit about the progress the agency has made over the last few years.

Under the Food Safety Action Plan, that has been in place since 2008-2009, a number of samples were tested including imported vegetables, imported ingredients, dairy, bottled water, and products that were processed prior to coming to the country, which were tested to detect the presence of allergens, microtoxins, bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and pesticides. During the first year of the program, the agency carried out seven targeted studies on vegetable products. Further, we tested for salmonella, listeria, shigella and E. coli 0157:H7, pathogens which are very well known within the sector. We took close to 2,000 samples within the first year, 6,800 tests were carried out on these samples, and we obtained satisfactory results in 99.9% of cases, which is very good.

In the second year, 2009-2010, we doubled our monitoring of imported goods, carrying out 14 studies on targeted products including, in this case, spices, fine herbs, products like peanuts, and again, we tested for the presence of bacteria and viruses on close to 8,200 samples. So, we more than doubled the number of samples collected and carried out over 24,000 tests in our labs. Again, we obtained satisfaction ratings of 99%. In the second year, we also tested for chemicals and allergens in over 22 monitoring studies, and again, achieved satisfaction rates of 98%. This year, we will be testing over 25,000 samples throughout our lab network. We have developed methods to support these analyses. Over the last two years, the agency and its lab specialists have developed over 19 new methods to monitor the safety of imported goods.

In closing, the agency also created a service to improve the efficacy of our food analysis; this service is offered seven days a week. So, the labs which provide food analysis services are now available seven days a week to ensure that analyses are done within the shortest timeframe possible. Through these various measures we feel that we can reassure your committee: we have increased the monitoring of imported goods.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Larry Miller

Thank you very much.

I'd like to thank our witnesses for coming today. That was very informative and very detailed.

I would just take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. Have a good one, and thanks again.

Members, we now have to go in camera to take care of some business.

[Proceedings continue in camera]