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Comment: Grading changes still on hold

On January 21 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) published its proposed Safe Food for Canadians regulations for public comment. The overall aim is to streamline and tighten up on the regulation of Canada’s food supply.

CFIA’s current food safety program is managed under 13 different regulations spread over five pieces of legislation covering nine food commodities: dairy, fish and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, honey maple products, meat, processed eggs, processed fruit and vegetable products and shell eggs.

Currently the agency operates separate food safety and inspection programs for each of these, often under different rules, using different bureaucracies. As a result not all imported food or food prepared in Canada for export or interprovincial trade is subject to the same regulatory requirements.

The new rules will usher in a more consistent inspection process across all food commodities along with tougher penalties for infractions.

When these regulations are accepted, the Safe Food for Canadians Act, which received royal ascent in 2012, will repeal and consolidate the Canada Agricultural Products Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, the Fish Inspection Act and the Meat Inspection Act so all food in Canada covered by the mandate of CFIA will be governed under the Safe Food Act and the Food and Drug Act.

With that will come the power to license food importers and Canadian companies preparing food for export or interprovincial trade and slaughter plants and processors. CFIA will also gain the authority to apply an international standard for traceability on licensees and require companies to establish food safety controls, which are already common practice in beef slaughter plants.

Most of these new rules will be aimed at the packers and processors in the beef sector but there are bound to be some ripples that affect cattle operations. Traceability, for example, has been in the wind for years, and producers now have a pretty good idea of how it will roll out after years of negotiating back and forth with CFIA.

Another you might not be as aware of is the change to Canada’s beef grades that will show up after these new regulations come into force.

The Safe Food regulations include a provision to incorporate documents by reference to the regulation, which is a nifty way of giving an industry standard the force of a regulation while allowing it to be changed without going through all the red tape needed to amend the regulation itself.

Since beef grading is incorporated in the Safe Food regulations, the Canadian Beef Grading Agency has gotten the agreement of CFIA to reference a revised version of the grade standards for beef, bison and veal carcasses to the regulation.

This is one of the ways CFIA has come up with to streamline its enforcement of regulations, which is also going to be available to the Health of Animals Act, Feeds Act, Fertilizers Act, Seeds Act and Plant Protection Act.

There are safeguards built into this process to make sure any third-party document allows Canada to meet its international obligations, and other stakeholders have ample opportunity to review and comment on any change to the document before it is made by CFIA.

The Canadian Beef Grading Agency document proposes to change Canada’s Yield Grade classification from three to five classes to harmonize it with the current USDA standard.

This is not a sudden decision. The agency has been trying to get a similar regulatory change through CFIA for years up to 2012 and the introduction of the Safe Food Act. A discussion paper done soon after looked at four alternative approaches that ranged from scrapping a regulatory grade in favour of an industry standard to the status quo with full government control of the standard.

In the end the agency and its industry-driven board settled on the current proposal which had the benefits of a government-backed standard plus the flexibility to make amendments so the industry could adapt to changing market conditions or take advantage of newer technology.

It also seemed like a faster track to making changes to the grading standard back in 2015 when the proposal was first put together, and the Safe Food regulations appeared imminent.

Yet here we are in 2017 waiting for a 90-day comment period to end on April 21 and possibly facing another year after that before the comments are reviewed and the final version approved. Regulation making is a painfully slow business which, when you think of it, is how we got to this point in the first place.

By the way, these grading changes are part of the new regulation and subject to comment, as well. So if you have any concerns about moving to a U.S. yield grade you’ve got another month or so to make your case at www.inspection.gc.ca.

About the author

Editor

Gren Winslow is editor of Canadian Cattlemen.

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