Mr. Speaker, once again, I am in before you in support of our safe food for Canadians legislation. This is a bill in which I firmly believe.
This is also a bill that finds virtually unanimous support among stakeholders. Let me read some quotes.
The Food & Consumer Products of Canada says, “These changes will further enhance Canada’s reputation as a global food and beverage product safety leader”.
Martin Unrau, president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, says, “The CCA commends the government for bringing this ambitious but necessary legislation forward”.
Ron Bonnett, president of the CFA, says, “The Canadian Federation of Agriculture views the introduction of Bill S-11, the Safe Food for Canadians Act, as an important step to enhance and modernize Canada's already reputable food safety system”.
Our government is committed to making food as safe as possible for consumers. As I have said before, Canada's food safety system is world class. However, some of the legislation that governs it needs to be modernized. It is legislation that functions well, but it can be improved.
In this case, change is both needed and good. We must always ensure that the authorities granted by legislation are adequate for our goals of good governance. As well, we must look at our operating environment to see if things have changed so we can adapt and keep pace.
In light of the 2008 report of the independent investigator, Sheila Weatherill, regarding listeriosis, there is a need to strengthen and modernize much of the legislation that governs the activities of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. I should add that when our government introduced Bill S-11, we fulfilled the final recommendation of the Weatherill report. This demonstrates how seriously we take food safety.
I would like to explain how the safe food for Canadians act will strengthen and modernize our legislation. I would like to focus on five main points. The first involves strengthening the ability to trace and recall foods. The second has to do with consolidating our inspection and enforcement authorities. The third point involves providing stronger import controls. The fourth aims to modernize the certification of exports. Finally, the fifth point aims to protect Canadians from things like tampering, hoaxes, and deceptive practices.
First of all, let us look at how passing this bill will strengthen Canada's ability to trace and recall foods. There has been a lot of talk recently about food recalls, and everyone wants to know how products can be recalled more effectively. This bill is designed to fill those gaps.
I would like to ask the following question: who among us has not found some leftovers in the fridge and wondered how long they have been there? Although we know that bacteria attack food before we can taste or smell them, we inspect our leftovers by checking for mould and bad smells. As long as it seems okay, we think about keeping the leftovers for a little while longer.
Of course, cleaning out a refrigerator is one thing and getting unsafe food commodities off the shelves in our retail outlets is something else altogether. Here is how our bill would improve our capacity to recall and trace unsafe food products.
Our proposed legislation would give strengthened authority to the CFIA to develop regulations related to the traceability and recall of food commodities and the appropriate tools to take action on unsafe food as the need arises.
Our proposed legislation also includes prohibiting the sale of food that has been recalled. These new powers would go a long way to strengthening the CFIA's ability to keep consumers safe from potentially harmful food. Also included would be the authority to require regulated parties to establish a traceability system.
However, it is not up to the CFIA alone, and I wish to point out that our food safety system is a partnership between government, industry and consumers. We all have a role to play when it comes to food safety.
This leads me to consolidating our inspection and enforcement authorities. What exactly does that mean?
As I said earlier, Canada's food safety system is world class; however, we must recognize that it is getting old.
Take for example a wonderful recipe handed down by your great-grandmother. Over the years, every generation modified the ingredients and added comments in the margin. It is still a good recipe, but it is kind of difficult to follow.
Over the past 50 years, we amended food safety legislation as the need arose to take into account changes, including changes in technology. It was a good approach in that the intentions were good, but the results varied. I will provide an example.
When it comes to illegally imported food products, meat inspectors do not have the same powers as fish inspectors. A meat inspector can order that the product be removed from Canada, but a fish inspector cannot. It does not always make sense nor is it always practical for different powers to apply to different food products. After all, some companies produce both meat and fish, and there are inspectors in charge of examining a range of products.
Of course, the inspection work gets done, but it could be done more effectively. What we really need to do is incorporate various legislative provisions on food safety into one law, which would establish a subset of rules that everyone could understand and follow easily and that would apply to all food products. This streamlined process would have many benefits.
It would allow the current inspectors to do their job better and it would simplify training for the next generation of inspectors. It would also allow the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to be more efficient and effective and the inspectors to manage risks more consistently, whether we are talking about meat, fish or other food products. That is precisely the purpose of this bill: to establish a subset of powers that will make all food products and regulated parties subject to the same inspection rules.
Since the 1960s, many cooks have changed the recipe to control food safety in Canada. They did excellent work, but the time has come to adopt a new version of the recipe.
Our proposed legislation also addresses strengthening import controls, and here is why.
Thanks to our globalized marketplace, consumers can purchase almost any food they desire in Canadian grocery stores. With so much of our food coming from abroad today, many consumers are asking good questions. At the end of the day, they want to know whether imported foods are really safe to eat.
This bill and our government's planned overhaul of our food safety system would address some gaps in our legislation with regard to food imports. First, a specific clause in the legislation would prohibit the importation of unsafe food, thereby stopping it before it makes it to the marketplace. Second, we would licence importers. We need to ensure that we sustain the parity that exists, in terms of standards and compliance, for both domestic and imported food commodities, and that is what we plan to do.
These are just some of the tools we can use to do that: keep unsafe food out of Canada more effectively; track food importers and remove unsafe imports from our shelves more efficiently; and impose tough new penalties on importers who break the law. Together, these measures would better protect the health of consumers and would give Canadians greater confidence in the safety of imported food.
Let us now talk about export certification. While the bill is geared towards import, or keeping unsafe foods out of Canada, it is also geared towards export or certifying that Canada's products leaving this country are of the highest quality.
I have noticed that, when Canadians talk about food safety, they often ask questions about what is coming across our borders from other countries. But, frankly, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If we demand high standards in food safety from our trading partners, then they have the right to demand the same of us.
That is why, around the world, the idea of food certification is taking hold. Many countries, including Canada, have been insisting that food imports be certified to give consumers an added layer of confidence in the safety and quality of the food they are buying.
Some of you might be thinking this is one more burden on the food industry. The fact is, despite the high quality of our food, some foreign markets have been closed to Canadian producers. Armed with an official seal of approval, our food exporters may finally be able to pry these markets open. So certification will heighten our capacity for food exports, not hinder it.
But there is a major stumbling block to certification. At the moment, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency can only certify some foods for export. We need to expand that authority to encompass all food commodities. In this way, all Canadian food exporters can get the edge they need to go after new foreign markets.
The proposed legislation would allow the CFIA to certify all food destined for export. Essentially, this would create a level playing field and show potential export customers that the food we are offering them is every bit as safe as what we consume ourselves. In so doing, we could be helping more Canadian food producers to gain a foothold in international markets.
Last, but definitely not least, let us have a word about protecting the Canadian public from food tampering, deceptive practices and hoaxes.
Canada is blessed with one of the world's best food safety systems, but the confidence of Canadians is based to a certain extent on faith. We trust that the system works effectively and that our food is safe to eat. When Canadians hear that someone has tampered with a food commodity, it can cause alarm. We worry not just about the product or the brand in question; we start to think that if it could happen to this brand, it could happen to any brand. Even if the threat turns out to be a hoax, the damage is done. Our faith in the food safety system has been called into question.
Until now, in Canada, tampering with food, threatening to tamper with food or falsely claiming to have tampered with food was dealt with through the Criminal Code. However, we think there is a better way. Passing the bill would mean that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency could act immediately when there are reasonable grounds to believe that this type of activity has occurred. That could save time and potentially lives.
We need to update and modernize food safety in the country. I am proud to say that our government is taking action. This new food safety legislation would allow the CFIA to go after those who put hazardous foreign objects into food, those who threaten to tamper with it, or those who knowingly or recklessly communicate false or misleading information to strike fear into the hearts of consumers. Those culprits could face prosecution. The proposed legislation would provide new authorities to address immediate food safety risks and would build additional safety into the system, from the producer or importer to the consumer.
We need to work together. That includes making Bill S-11 into law. Previous governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have tried to enact legislation with similar aims. The NDP recently voiced support for what the bill strives to accomplish. At agriculture committee, and during previous debate in the House and in the other place, both opposition parties made a point of voicing their support for our legislation.
During an agriculture committee meeting, the member for Welland said: “...hopefully, it will become a standard across the country for food safety”. At another meeting, the member for Guelph exclaimed: “...everyone around this committee table supports Bill S-11”.
I now call on the opposition members to make good on their word and help pass this important bill.
Some have claimed that because this important legislation was dealt with efficiently at the House of Commons agriculture committee and no amendments were made to the bill there, the government has not done its due diligence. However, the fact is that this legislation has been debated numerous times in both the other place and in the House of Commons.
Bill S-11 has been studied in both the Senate and House of Commons agriculture committees for over 20 hours during which 46 witnesses appeared, including the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food on two occasions. Both the Senate and House agriculture committees have, indeed, done their due diligence in their study of the bill.
While journalists and opposition members are entitled to their opinion as to whether proposed opposition amendments to Bill S-11 would improve the bill, the expert legal advice offered to our government was that these amendments were not necessary at best and would be an encumbrance to the CFIA and the food safety system at worst.
When it comes to the safety of Canadians and their food, our government listens to the experts.
The changes we are proposing would go a long way toward strengthening and modernizing our already robust regime. Passing this bill would give Canadians even more confidence in the safety of the food they eat.
With so much good will and good intention from my honourable colleagues, I see no reason why we cannot deliver on this bill to provide Canadians with a modern food inspection system and the protection they deserve.