Mr. Speaker, I want to inform you that I will be splitting my time with the member for Kildonan—St. Paul.
I am pleased to rise in the House today to talk about the important work that this government has promised to do to ensure and protect food safety.
The health and safety of Canadians have always been a priority for our government. This is reflected in the work that we do to protect and promote our health. It is also reflected in our investments in food safety. These investments were done with the intention of strengthening our ability to reduce food safety risks. That means better surveillance and early detection and improved emergency response.
As a government, we have acted on all 57 recommendations in the Weatherill report and have funded improvements to the food safety of Canadians. Budget 2012 contains a commitment of more than $50 million to be invested over the next two years. As a result, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and CFIA will continue their ongoing support to strengthen and make more effective our food safety system.
I would like to inform members of this House of the role that Health Canada plays in food safety.
Our government recognizes that a safe food supply is a major contributing factor to the health of Canadians. We all know that safe food and good nutrition are important to all Canadians and their families.
For that reason, Health Canada works closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the provincial and territorial health departments to ensure food safety in Canada. It is important that we all co-operate in order for the work to continue.
Together with our partners, industry and consumers, Health Canada works to establish policies, regulations and standards related to the safety and nutritional quality of all foods sold in Canada. Today I will speak about some of the key changes that our government is making to food regulation in Canada while continuing to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
Health Canada's food scientists conduct detailed and rigorous evaluations that focus on safety. Our safety assessment of food is internationally recognized. In fact, our government scientists are leaders and regular contributors in international discussions related to food safety and standards.
Underpinning all this work is the Food and Drugs Act. This is our primary legislative framework for foods, drugs and cosmetics, and it has served us well. Its solid foundation has helped to protect the health and safety of Canadians for over 50 years, but we recognize that modernization is needed if we are to continue to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
Specifically, our food regulations need to keep up with the advances made in science and technology. We need to keep up with consumers' interests now and in the future.
Finally, we need to be able to respond quickly, efficiently and effectively to current and emerging food safety challenges. Modernization is needed to respond to these changes. In particular, updating the tools available to implement food safety decisions has been identified in the Red Tape Reduction Commission's work. As part of our ongoing discussion with stakeholders, the need for updated tools has also been identified as a priority area for modernization.
I would like to explain how these changes will maintain the scientific rigour with which our government approaches its work while making key changes to reduce red tape.
Currently, once Health Canada scientists have made a safety decision, be it about the safety of a new food or additive, setting the limit for a chemical contaminant or approving a new health claim on a food, it can take many months and sometimes years to implement that decision through a change in the regulations. The current lengthy and cumbersome process causes long delays in the approval of some products that are scientifically proven to be safe. Many of these scientifically proven products have a potential beneficial impact on the health and safety of Canadians. These delays affect our ability to update food safety standards quickly when new science emerges. For consumers, these delays limit their access to innovative and safe products.
That is why our government introduced targeted amendments to the Food and Drugs Act to reduce these delays and cut red tape while protecting the health and safety of Canadians. The targeted amendments to the Food and Drugs Act are included in the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act, which was tabled just last week. Including these amendments, the act will allow us to move forward quickly to address these delays while maintaining the science related to this very important work.
Specifically, targeted amendments to the Food and Drugs Act include a new authority for making authorizations and a broader authority for incorporation by reference. These changes will shorten the time it takes for some safe food products to be put onto the Canadian market.
I will take a few minutes to describe each of these new authorities and how they will work together to continue to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
I will start by describing marketing authorizations. Marketing authorizations will be regulations made by the Minister of Health. They will exempt products from specific prohibitions in the Food and Drugs Act and the Food and Drug Regulations.
The marketing authorization will give the Minister of Health an improved ability to act on certain food safety decisions—for example, the approval of some serious health claims for foods or setting safe levels of substances used in food production, such as food additives. The minister will be able to set conditions on the approval of a product or substance, providing more flexibility to address particular risks. This will allow Canada to make these safety decisions at a pace similar to that of our major international partners.
Marketing authorizations must follow an open and transparent process. They will also be subject to the same provisions as other regulations under the Statutory Instruments Act, ensuring such things as review by the Department of Justice and publication by the Clerk of the Privy Council.
It is also important to note that the marketing authorization does not change the scientific process or review. This will be done with the same rigour as our scientists have always used and with the priority to safeguard the health and safety of Canadians.
The marketing authorization only changes the way the decision is implemented after the scientific assessment is completed. By using marketing authorization for these decisions, the government will be able to continue to focus its efforts on safety, while reducing delays in implementing those safety decisions once they are made.
There will also be a second authority, which will allow more flexibility in the use of incorporation by reference. Currently tables such as approved food additives or authorized food health claims must be written word for word into the Food and Drug Regulations. Consequently, if a change to the list is needed, a regulatory amendment is required, a time-consuming and resource-consuming process that adds no benefit to the safety of Canadians. This regulatory process does not allow Health Canada to respond quickly to updates and advances in science and technology, market trends and/or emerging food safety risks.
This authority will allow Health Canada to incorporate by reference standards and methods, guidelines or other documents into the food and drug regulations, including documents developed by the government.
This could include a list of permitted food additives, certain substantiated health claims or testing methods that were proven to be effective in detecting harmful pathogens in food. Changes will be able to be adopted as soon as the scientific assessment and related comment periods and notifications have been completed.
In addition to continuing to protect food safety, these amendments will also help address the recommendations of the final report of the independent investigator into the 2008 listeriosis outbreak. In the report, Sheila Weatherill noted the need to expedite approvals of food additives when appropriate. These two new authorities respond to Ms. Weatherill's recommendations.
Let me illustrate the importance of these changes by providing an example. Health Canada received an application for a new food additive that could be used in certain processed meat and poultry products to help control the growth of harmful listeria. Health Canada undertook a scientific assessment and determined back in December 2007 that this additive could be safely used.
However, it took another 36 months for the required regulatory changes and approvals to enable this product to be used in Canada. Under the proposed new process, which will include a period for public comment, approvals could take as little as six months after the safety decision is made.
We have a solid foundation that will help protect Canadians' health and safety, but the tools needed to support this foundation are outdated and rigid.
The targeted amendments to the Food and Drugs Act introduced last week through the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act will help update the tools we need to help protect the health and safety of Canadians.
These changes demonstrate the commitment that our government has made and continues to make to protect the health and safety of Canadians. The changes put forward will help the government to maintain our high level of scientific rigour but will allow our decisions to be implemented faster, cutting the red tape and delays for the approval process and providing Canadians with safe products.
We will continue to engage and consult stakeholders during the decision-making process. The government's commitment to consultation, transparency and openness will remain. Ultimately these amendments will help the government to respond more rapidly to the pace of change in science and innovation and to play its role in continuing to protect the health and safety of Canadians.