Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue 20 - Evidence - Meeting of June 21, 2012

OTTAWA, Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8 a.m. to study Bill S-11, an Act respecting food commodities, including their inspection, their safety, their labelling and advertising, their import, export and interprovincial trade, the establishment of standards for them, the registration or licensing of persons who perform certain activities related to them, the establishment of standards governing establishments where those activities are performed and the registration of establishments where those activities are performed.

Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. I am Senator Percy Mockler, from New Brunswick, and I am the chair of this committee.


This morning, honourable senators, I welcome you to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. We will start by introducing ourselves. My name is Percy Mockler, a senator from New Brunswick and chair of the committee. I would like to have all senators introduce themselves, please.

Senator Peterson: Senator Bob Peterson, from Saskatchewan.

Senator Mahovlich: Frank Mahovlich, from Toronto, Ontario.

Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth, from Manitoba.


Senator Robichaud: Senator Fernand Robichaud, Saint-Louis-de-Kent in New Brunswick.

Senator Maltais: Senator Ghislain Maltais, from Quebec.

Senator Rivard: Senator Michel Rivard, The Laurentides, Quebec.


Senator Plett: Don Plett, Manitoba.

The Chair: This morning, honourable senators, we have the opportunity and honour to have the Honourable Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board.

Minister, to you and your officials, thank you for accepting our invitation to appear here to enlighten us and to share your opinions on Bill S-11.

Honourable senators, the Government of Canada introduced the safe food for Canadians act, Bill S-11, in Parliament to make our food safety system stronger and to reduce overlap for Canadian food producers.

The act provides industry with clear, consistent and straightforward inspection and enforcement rules so that they can best meet their responsibility to put safe food on shelves for Canadians.

In the first hour, the minister will make his presentation, and questions and answers will follow.

I have been informed by the clerk that, accompanying the minister, we have Mr. George Da Pont, President of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency; and Dr. Brian Evans, Chief Food Safety Officer and Chief Veterinary Officer of Canada, also of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Thank you again for accepting our invitation, and we are honoured that you are with us this morning.


Minister, go ahead with your presentation, please.


The Honourable Gerry Ritz, P.C., M.P., Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It is certainly a pleasure to be here this morning to speak to you about Bill S-11, the safe food for Canadians act. I am joined by President George Da Pont and Dr. Brian Evans to speak to all of the issues that you want to go over today. We can all agree that food safety is a high priority for Canadians, as it is for the Harper government. That is why our government continues to work with consumers, producers, industry and our provincial and territorial partners to ensure that our food safety system remains one of the best in the world. The safe food for Canadians act is the latest step in a five-year effort by our government to strengthen Canada's food safety system.

It fulfills the commitment we made to modernize food safety legislation when we introduced Canada's Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan in December 2007.

As you know, our government ordered an independent investigation of the Canadian food safety system following the listeria outbreak in 2008. The government committed to addressing each and every one of the 57 recommendations from that investigation led by Sheila Weatherill. In September 2009, we announced an initial investment of $75 million to respond to the recommendations.

Among other things, we are providing Canadians with the information they need to reduce the risk of food-borne illness, through a new online food safety Web portal and national public information campaigns.

The 2010 Speech from the Throne reaffirmed the government's commitment to food safety, and Budget 2010 delivered an additional $13 million to increase meat inspection capacity. The agency's capacity was bolstered again in 2011, with an additional $100 million for inspector training, technology and science capacity.

This year's budget continued our government's support for food safety by providing $51 million, over the next two years, to strengthen the food safety system.

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to report that the Harper government has hired over 700 net new inspectors since 2006 and has addressed each of the 57 recommendations given to us by Ms. Weatherill.

Canada's food safety environment is constantly changing. We live in a complex and increasingly integrated global economy. Food sources, food production and distribution methods are in a state of constant advancement.

Canadians are buying food that is imported from a growing range of countries, some of which have different regulatory systems to ours. Technology and innovation are changing food manufacturing processes, and keeping pace with the expectation for food safety is a challenge.

Inconsistencies in different inspection methods, with respect to how they address similar risks, must be addressed.

We cannot afford any inefficiencies or gaps in oversight caused by outdated or overlapping legislation. Canadians require a system that anticipates and prevents problems across the import and domestic supply chains, that targets areas of highest risk and that responds rapidly when a problem arises. This is why the government, working with industry, is taking action to deliver a strong, unified food safety system.

The safe food for Canadians act is the linchpin of our efforts to ensure the safety of all food products sold in Canada or exported by Canada, no matter what the source. This new act will simplify legislation, strengthen enforcement powers on imports and exports and will deliver stiff fines to anyone who purposely endangers the safety of our food.

These fines will no longer be a cost of business; they will be strong deterrent for those who are thinking of cutting corners or tampering with our foodstuffs.

Everything that this act does will ultimately make food safer for Canadians. This is our primary goal. For example, the legislation will help inspectors by making their job more consistent and straightforward. Streamlined requirements, in a single piece of legislation, will make it easier for industry to fully understand their responsibilities and to comply. Industry will also have better access to international markets through improved certification and exports.

The new legislation will help align our food safety system with those of our key international trading partners, particularly the United States.

In January of 2011, President Obama signed the new U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act, giving the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. increased authority to prevent food-borne illnesses. The U.S. act also includes provisions for recognizing other countries' systems, which provides an opportunity for us, here in Canada, to seek recognition and to strengthen our agency's close working relationship with the U.S. FDA. Our government will never rest on its laurels. We recognize that strengthening our food safety system is a continuous process, and we are fully committed to it.

We also recognize that an effective food safety system requires collaboration between government partners, industry and consumers. We are actively engaged in working with those partners to prepare for and respond to new and emerging risks to food safety.

As always, our goal is to ensure that our food safety system remains one of the best in the world for our families, for our industry and for all Canadians.

Thank you. I look forward to your questions.

The Chair: Thank you, minister.

Senator Plett: Again, welcome, minister. I look forward to the passage of Bill S-11. I think it is wonderful legislation. One of the things that has been raised in the other place, in the media, in some of the questions I heard when I made my speech the other day and again in my honourable colleague's address to our chamber yesterday, is the concern about budget cuts. I know that whatever budget restraints there are in Bill C-38 are not in this legislation, but I believe that CFIA reductions will total about $56 million, over a time period, and that this is at least largely offset by $52 million in new dollars directly for food safety. The complaints have been that inspectors are being cut, and you already said that there are 700 net new jobs that our government has created — meat inspectors. I am from the province of Manitoba. One of the issues in the provinces of B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba is that federal inspectors were, in many cases, doing the jobs of bureaucrats, and the federal government was subsidizing some of them. I think there are some changes being made.

Can you confirm to this committee, on the issues of provincial meat inspection and labelling, that the opposition is mistaken in some of their assertions and that our provinces will be treated the same as Ontario, Quebec, the Atlantic provinces and Alberta in this regard?

Mr. Ritz: In your outline, you have basically framed the answer. It is a little short-sighted to focus only on the $56 million that we have identified as efficiencies. They are not cuts but efficient ways of doing business. There are new technologies and new innovative ways to administer the same level of service, and we are able to save taxpayers $56 million over the next three years. At the same time, during that time frame, we are injecting $151 million of new money into the food safety system — $100 million from last year's budget and $51 million from this year's. The $51 million will be spent over the next two years and the $100 million over five years, so, at the same time as we are finding efficiencies of $56 million, we are injecting $151 million new dollars over that same time frame. It is more than a wash; there is actually a net gain. The $100 million will be predicated on innovation, technologies, e-certificates and a lot of things to modernize our food safety system and get up to the speed of commerce, which is a good thing. This is what industry has been asking for.

As to the inspector numbers, as I have often said, they do not grow on trees. These are highly intelligent, trained people who do a tremendous job for us. We continue to add to those ranks as the demand increases. Since 2006, we have added 700 net new, front-line people. At the same time, we are looking at changes, as you mentioned, in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. They did not have the capacity to look after their own provincial plants, so we had federal inspectors doing provincial work. We were recouping about 17 cents on the dollar in that work. We gave the affected provinces the opportunity to either pay the other 83 cents or go back to a provincial system. We would either withdraw services or ask for the full cost. They have chosen to move back to a provincial system.

Some of those 56 inspectors doing that job who now are on the federal payroll may choose to put on a provincial coat and stay in their own area. They could have family members in school and those types of things. It will be their decision. We are hopeful that we can recoup those people. If not, we will have to hire replacement inspectors to put them in other logistical areas.

At the end of the day we are not losing inspectors. They will still be there doing the job, but at the provincial level, not the federal level.

Senator Peterson: Minister, thank you for being here this morning to help us through this.

As I said yesterday, we are happy to see the government moving ahead on modernizing food safety and legislation in Canada, and I trust you are mindful and proud of the work that Sheila Weatherill did in her studies. I believe the shortage of inspection resources emerged as the main theme of her report. If we are not able to enforce regulations to prevent a major outbreak and outbreaks are not reduced, if we do not have the people there to do the jobs, it will not matter how well this bill is crafted. Given this, we have the outline. How do we execute effectively? This is where I hope you can help us this morning.

After the budget cuts, will the agency have the inspection staff needed to make sure the food safety oversight system is functioning properly to ensure the safety of food in Canada?

Mr. Ritz: The short answer is yes. I would like to correct a couple of things in your preamble though.

Sheila Weatherill's report never talked about shortages or lack of capacity. She talked about and identified gaps and overlaps. She said we needed to focus more on communications with our partners at the provincial level, we needed to work more with industry, and that is what we have sought to do with this latest change.

This is actually the fifty-seventh or the last recommendation to be addressed. We have done that over the last three years with budget increases. There are no budget cuts in this budget. This is the deficit reduction action plan, which is separate from the budget. As I have just explained to Senator Plett, at the same time we identified $56 million in efficiencies, we are injecting $151 million in new dollars to bolster and build on the great job that is done by CFIA.

As you will know, this is the third kick at this from a government perspective. The Liberals, in 2005 I believe, had a Bill C-51, if I remember the number correctly, that tried to do this. We took one run at it earlier. This is the third incarnation. I think the third time is the charm and we have it right here. There is a good combination and a good balance in what is required by government, taxpayer money and industry to make sure our food is safe.

Senator Peterson: Minister, I do think the Weatherill report did focus on adequate resources in terms of the people. In that regard, you said on many occasions and replied to questions that the government has hired over 700 inspectors since 2006. How many of these are actually food inspectors as opposed to plant, insect and other inspectors?

Mr. Ritz: Everything CFIA does is risk-based. They focus on the potential problems that may occur and they put resources into that. Much of what inspectors do, whether it is food or front line, is interoperable. This bill seeks to ensure they have the training and capacity to do much of that.

This bill condenses four acts, four directions, to CFIA inspectors into one, which will give them overall training to be more effective and more efficient than they are now. The problems we are running into with multiple food lines through a plant relate to the different protocols for each of those lines. In the case of a company that makes chicken soup with vegetables there are protocols for the chicken and there are protocols for the vegetable, and sometimes they are at across purposes. If there is a recall on that particular product, there are different procedures for a recall for one can of soup. It is the most redundant, arcane system you could imagine.

This seeks to clarify a lot of that so the jobs of our 700 new inspectors, which will give us some 3,500 overall, in rough numbers, will be more predictable and more efficient. There will actually be better quality inspection with the same number of people, and we will continue to add jobs as required.

Senator Peterson: I understand you have audited the meat inspectors but not poultry and fish.

In the 2012 budget, CFIA is left with less money than they had prior to the Maple Leaf Foods' outbreak and there will be fewer people. I am having trouble with the number of inspectors and the fact that about 500 of them are term employees. Are they all going to be renewed? How do we know where these people stand? They really do not show up.

Mr. Ritz: I am not certain of the exact basis on which you are framing that question, senator. We continue to add numbers to CFIA, focusing on front-line inspectors. That is where the work is done. Of course they need support staff, they need science, and they need everything else to bolster them so we continue to build the capacity of the overall operation. At some points we have also continually analyzed the efficiencies and the effectiveness of what is being done. You will see people numbers ebb and flow. You will see resources ebb and flow as we identify these efficiencies and continue to do a world-class job at CFIA.

Senator Peterson: Streamlining is a wonderful thing, but actually being able to do the job is the issue here. For the first time we are going to regulate imports and that is another good thing.

Mr. Ritz: Not for the first time; we have always regulated imports. There has been a misunderstanding that we somehow overshadow domestic a lot more than we do imports, which is absolutely false.

Senator Peterson: We currently inspect only 2 per cent of imports, so it will be increased and will require more people to carry out the actions. This is where we are having trouble determining whether you have adequate staff to do that.

Mr. Ritz: Senator, I am hopeful then that you will support the budget that puts another $51 million into CFIA coffers.

Senator Peterson: Again, that will not all go to CFIA. You can talk about numbers all you want, but it will not all go to CFIA.

The Chair: Question, please.

Senator Peterson: I am getting there.

We have a bill that enhances food safety and oversight, which is good. At the same time we have severe budget cuts, which is not so good.

Mr. Ritz: Senator, they are not budget cuts, they are efficiencies.

Senator Peterson: I am getting to the question. You are getting ahead of me again.

Would the minister agree to an amendment to the bill that would require an annual third-party audit be done each year to ensure that there are adequate resources to enforce this new bill?

Mr. Ritz: I would actually need to see how that would be written, senator. I certainly have no problem, and we have third-party adjudication ongoing. Countries we deal with come in and do those audits. Those audits are then made available to us to see if there are any shortfalls or anything they want done differently. A number of audits are done on CFIA that underscore the value that CFIA produces. Every time we are adjudicated by international groups we come back with A-plus ratings. Therefore I am more than happy to entertain an amendment like that, although it might be somewhat redundant in that we would go through one more audit. Certainly, if that makes you feel safer, put the amendment forward and we will have a look at it.

Senator Peterson: I think it would, and not just for me but also for the Canadian people.

Mr. Ritz: Who would you have in mind to audit?

Senator Peterson: I think it would be an arm's-length third party.

Mr. Ritz: Do you have an idea of who would have the capacity to do that?

Senator Peterson: I am presenting this here and I am glad to hear you are willing to accept that as a future consideration. I think it would be good. The Canadian people would feel assured, and each year we would say we have the resources, we have the money and the job is being done.

Mr. Ritz: Of course our reports to Parliament would give you that as well.

Senator Peterson: I know, but this would solidify it a bit more.

Mr. Ritz: I would certainly entertain the idea. I do wonder who you feel would have the ability to do that, what third party you would have in mind that would actually have the capacity to do that.

Senator Peterson: We will put our mind to that in the next few days. The fact you said you are amenable to this will now give me renewed hope.

Mr. Ritz: Early in the day I am as amenable as hell.


Senator Maltais: Welcome, minister. We are very glad to have you with us today, and we thank you for coming.

Congratulations on cleaning up the food inspection legislation. I think it was about time, especially since Canada is increasingly opening itself up to international markets. Consequently, specific rules must be followed.

Minister, a new culture has developed over the past 20 years — agriculture or a new culture; call it as you like — and I am talking about organics. Consumers seem to have difficulty making sense of it all to ensure that the organic products on the market are genuine and have been checked by your department. Consumers are often very worried about the origin and the quality of organic products.


Mr. Ritz: That is a good question. With a country like Canada that has the ability to produce food far more efficiently and effectively than other countries, we export between 50 and 85 per cent of what we produce. At the same time, we import 50 per cent of our domestic consumption. That speaks to the variety that Canadian consumers are demanding. It is an ongoing job. It is one you will never be done with and it is something that CFIA continues to evolve to do.

On the organics file, we, as a government, have brought forward an organic logo that is now agreed to by our U.S. counterparts and the European Union. We have that in play as well, which gives us the reciprocity and operability to export and import from other countries recognizing their standards. You will always have people who will cheat, and it is sometimes hard to catch them. That is why we rely on consumers at the front line to say, "I bought this. I looked at it. I do not think it is right.'' When they make those claims and give us a call we will follow them up and ensure, whoever is putting that organic label on their product, it is organic.

There are standards. There is a very robust industry. One of our fastest growing agricultural sectors is organic; the demand is there. It is not just a price point. It is people looking for that value in their organic products.

You will often hear stories about how it is more nutrient rich, quality of food and so on. I have never seen science to prove that, but there are people who are assured that when it says organic, they are not getting insecticides or pesticide residue. We have just completed studies on those residues in other food products. We have a 99.6 per cent capacity to have none, so all our food in Canada is safe; the organics just go that one extra step.


Senator Maltais: Thank you very much, minister. That will reassure consumers.

A debate took place earlier this year in Quebec, in the spring. I do not know whether this is your department's responsibility or it only comes under the provincial government's jurisdiction. I am talking about the famous debate on halal and kosher meats. Does the federal government have the authority to inspect those slaughterhouses, and is that done according to the standards prescribed in your department's legislation?


Mr. Ritz: If it is a federal plant, we do. There are a couple that are, and we certainly do inspect them. The only difference in kosher or halal is the actions undertaken in the slaughter of the animal. As far as handling, cutting, wrapping and labelling goes, it is all exactly the same. The only thing is the ritual process that goes through as it is slaughtered.

Senator Mercer: Thank you for being here. We appreciate it. The spirit of the legislation is good. I am concerned that you have continued to refer to $56 million in efficiencies within the CFIA. "Efficiencies'' is a euphemism for many other things, and some of us read different things into it. Tell me about these efficiencies. That $56 million is not pocket change. Those are big efficiencies to find within a department that is not that large. Tell me about the efficiencies.

Mr. Ritz: I can tell you overall, senator. We looked at these over the last year, identifying what we felt could be done better by industry, what could be done better by overlaps we are finding between us and our provincial colleagues that do some food safety as well, public health and so forth. However, I think Dr. Evans could probably outline the efficiencies better than I. He is the hands-on guy.

Dr. Brian Evans, Chief Food Safety Officer and Chief Veterinary Officer of Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency: Thank you for the question. Certainly CFIA does not operate in isolation. For example, we are part of a broader portfolio, reporting to the minister with our colleagues at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

In some of the areas, efficiencies are everything from reviewing how we collectively manage the resources at the portfolio level. In that regard, Agriculture Canada had its own oversight for fleet management across the country in the past. CFIA has been recognized by Treasury Board and others as one of the leading examples of management on expenditure and fleet management in the country. As a small example, one area is bringing those two units together under a single management structure.

At the same time, we have had a history at CFIA of collaboration. Government has undertaken the more broad Shared Services initiative, for example, from an information management technology. We, at the CFIA, work with agriculture in terms of common software and our people management systems. We are continuing to expand that level of integration in our informatic services across the country to try to avoid redundancy in key areas in that regard.

Our support in other areas — in terms of our collaboration at legal services perspective — operating at the portfolio level business brings a high efficiency. We continue to look at opportunities with other government partners, beyond agriculture, in terms of shared facilities, such as research and laboratory facilities. We also look to consolidate, where possible, areas of common expertise and maximize those efforts collectively, not just within the federal system, but also using the academic sectors in Canada and the campuses that they bring to the table in areas of our mandate, whether on animal or plant health or the food safety side.

When we talk beyond the Shared Services initiatives, some the efficiencies relate directly to the training aspect of our staff, looking at common ways of utilizing core curricula for day one competencies. This is to ensure what we are doing not only enhances the ability of our inspectors to be world class in their knowledge, expertise and skills, but it piggybacks with those at the provincial level or industry side who provide similar training in quality management systems.

All of this is part and parcel of our philosophy that food safety is a team sport. It is one that involves integrating our efforts with others with the portfolio and beyond, with Health Canada and PHAC and others. A significant portion of our investments that were derived — as the minister talked about in the draft undertaking — as we are trying to look at what we do, what others do, where there are synergies that allow us to do that more cost effectively and, at the end of the day, what can provide us with equal or even better tools and technology for our front-line staff.

Senator Mercer: It would seem to me that $56 million is still a lot of money when talking about rationalizing the service in the sector between what CFIA's responsibility is, industry's responsibility and what the provincial responsibility is. Every time we do that — in anything we do in government at the federal level — we talk about provincial responsibility.

The only thing the provinces hear is more cost to them, although I do sympathize with the minister. He said we only recoup 17 cents on the dollar, if I recall correctly, for doing inspections in provincial plants. I think that is worth noting and if we are doing the work, we should be getting 100-cent dollars.

My more specific question is that you talked about rationalizing facilities. One thing we are beginning to discover — as governments going through this rationalization and trying to get their finances under control — is a lot of building leases. We are consolidating people and moving into one facility, which you referred to.

Are we doing that in facilities that are owned by the Government of Canada, whether CFIA, Public Works Government Services or whoever, or are we moving them into leased facilities? Are we leaving leased facilities — which we have legal responsibility to pay — empty across the country? There are a number of cases that I am aware of where this has happened, not in this department, but in other departments.

Mr. Ritz: I would say a combination of all of the above, senator. We are looking for efficiencies in making use of, and I will use the example of the avian flu outbreak in Lower Mainland B.C. in 2004.

You, as a government at that time, did not take advantage of the provincial laboratory that was right there. Everything came back to Winnipeg and Ottawa, and so on, which cost days of time. There was a world-class facility at the epicentre of the outbreak that was not used. We have identified those types of efficiencies and will make use of those efficiencies, as opposed to double-teaming the ability to do that. We will recognize what the provinces can do and ensure that they are at the standard we expect and make use of them.

Senator Mercer: Will we pay for those services?

Mr. Ritz: Yes, it will be on a user-pay basis, absolutely. It is far cheaper to use that facility than to build another one just like it down the road and have a separate silo. It also gains efficiencies in that you have more hands and eyes on the ground right there. Those are the types of things we have identified over time that we can make use of. As Dr. Evans outlined, the vast majority of these efficiencies we have found have been in office administration and have nothing to do with front-line inspection. That is why the new injection of $151 million goes directly to the front line to ensure that they have the technology and the capacity to do their jobs in a more efficient way.

Senator Buth: It is a pleasure to see you, Minister Ritz, Mr. Da Pont and Dr. Evans. I am interested in the potential trade impacts of this bill. You mentioned the U.S.'s Food Safety Modernization Act. Can you provide an overview or make comments about how you looked at that act and whether you see any issues there that could impact trade, especially considering that the U.S. is our biggest trading partner and we do not want to see any problems at the border?

Mr. Ritz: This is all part of the overall Beyond the Border initiative that the President and the Prime Minister have signed. We are facilitating trade. For years, we created our own science capacity, while at the same time, we recognized the science capacity in countries like the United States; it is similar. Rather than go back to zero on some of these tests, we recognize their science and add a couple more tests, possibly; and that is it. It is far more efficient as you bring that product in or ship our product down. We are working on many more levels of reciprocity like that to facilitate trade.

As you well know, the vast majority of agriculture is best-before dated. Any tie-up at the border will sometimes put a product before that best-before date. That has nothing do with food safety but it has a lot to do with the quality and consistency of supply that our consumers demand. Everything we see in our stores is fresh and clean, and anything held up at the border does not meet that high standard and is sometimes lost.

We are looking at and working toward being able to do these things at the speed of commerce with things like e-certificates rather than the paper we have been using for years. CFIA is one of the last departments to still use a fax, while everyone else uses email. We are trying to stabilize many of the required certificates to ensure that there is similarity so that we are not reinventing the wheel every time a different load of produce comes in from a different area of the United States or Mexico. It is all about harmonization and ensuring that we have the capacity to test a little more, if required, or agree to their testing regime and move their product through.

Senator Buth: What is the current process for moving ahead with the proposed food safety modernization act as they are developing their rules and regulations? What is the process of the consultation that occurs between the two countries?

Mr. Ritz: As Mr. Da Pont was saying, they are just beginning their comment period with industry. The president has given them their direction and the parameters. We are watching that.

As you well know, many multinational companies operate on both sides of the border; and, of course, companies will take the path of least resistance. We want to ensure that our regimen is every bit as robust as that of the U.S., but not more so. We want to ensure that we are offering that high standard and quality we are known for. We will not lower our standard. We are seeking a bridge between the two.

Senator Buth: It is a good combination in terms of protecting Canadians' food safety while ensuring that we are able to export.

Mr. Ritz: Absolutely. We export 50 per cent to 85 per cent of our domestic production; and we import 50 per cent of our domestic consumption. The workload is constantly changing.

Senator Mahovlich: How many people have died of food poisoning in Canada in the past 20 years?

Mr. Ritz: As I understand, the Public Health Agency of Canada is more likely to have those records. Of the roughly 11 million food-borne illnesses that happen in Canada annually, about 99.9 per cent of them happen in the kitchen. They are not caused by anything that we do or that public health does.

Senator Mahovlich: It is how we take care of ourselves.

Mr. Ritz: Yes. For example, you set the chicken out on the counter because you will barbeque it later that day; you are two hours late getting home; the sun has shone through the window; and you have a problem. Another is not cooking hamburger enough and serving it too rare. You are in a hurry and slap it on the bun; in the dark, you cannot see that it is not cooked well enough, and you are in trouble.

Senator Mahovlich: Some people like it rare.

Mr. Ritz: Absolutely, but that is not a good idea with hamburger meat; but steak is fine.

Senator Mahovlich: Canadians travel around the world. We went to Moscow and we were warned to be careful of the food. Some of the food was strange. We did not know what it was; it could have been deer or something else. We came back and a lot of people were ill, but maybe because of the water. The Russians were probably immune to it because they were used to it but we were not. We had to check our stools when we came back to ensure that everything was okay.

How does Canada rate? Do people have the same problem here, for example if they visit here from Russia? Are we concerned about our water?

Mr. Ritz: I am not aware of that. Certainly, over the course of a summer you will see boil water advisories in communities across the country, depending on where they draw their water from and whether there has been good runoff with some of the wells, et cetera.

Overall, every time we have been adjudicated by third parties from other countries, the OECD and different groups that come in, we always rate right up near the top, if not at the top.

Senator Mahovlich: Is Canada right at the top?

Mr. Ritz: Absolutely.

Senator Mahovlich: When I think of the word "consolidation,'' I think of mines amalgamating and becoming stronger. Will our food inspection be stronger here? There is a concern about job losses. When you amalgamate the mines, you get rid of a lot of the miners as jobs are lost. A lot of people are concerned about job losses here. Should we be concerned?

Mr. Ritz: No, not at all. As Dr. Evans outlined, as we find these efficiencies there is the need to move people and readapt them into other positions. The vast majority of what we are proposing in the $56 billion in efficiencies will be found through attrition as people retire or change job descriptions. We are constantly upgrading our inspection forces and adding numbers to that end. As we find efficiencies, they are predicated more on the ability of an inspector to do the job in a more efficient way but to still do it with boots on the ground.

At the same time, as we have shifted from a paper economy to more of an electronic economy, there is less need for 57 people to sit at a typewriter. There are efficiencies to be gained in that area. There will always be changes in job capacity throughout the government, not just through CFIA. We want to ensure that the focus is always on the front line and on the job that needs to be done on the food supply.

Senator Mahovlich: Change is inevitable.

Mr. Ritz: That is probably an over arching philosophy.


Senator Rivard: Minister, with the exception of the budget bill, the statute that affects Canadians the most is Bill S-11, which deals with food safety. We may think that many people listen to our proceedings, but for the benefit of those who may not be following, could you tell us where the work of a federal inspector begins and where the work of a provincial inspector begins?


Mr. Ritz: It would depend on the classification of the processing facility that an inspector is working in. If you are to trade it interprovincially, then a federal facility and a federal inspection are required. If you are to sell it at the local farmer's market, then a provincial inspection will probably do it for you. That is the first indication.

At the end of the day, there is a shared jurisdiction between CFIA and public health at the federal and provincial levels, all focused on different aspects of food safety. Public health at the provincial level will concentrate more on restaurants, kitchens and those preparations. At the federal level, we do it more on the processing side, distribution, traceability capacity, et cetera, should something go astray.


Senator Rivard: The bill establishes an appeal board for complaints in response to a request by farmers and processors. Do you think that appeal board will be able to process complaints quickly enough without stopping or slowing down inspectors' work? Can you assure us that complaints will be processed quickly?


Mr. Ritz: That is the overall underlying direction that we have given to the folks at the call centre. They will have a list at their disposal as to who called, what they called about, whether it is a provincial or a federal issue, and then they can send them in the right direction or continue to follow it through.

We are hopeful that this will be one of the underworked agencies of the department, but certainly there are times when consumers spot something that looks amiss or that does not feel or sound right. This will give them an opportunity to call and say, "I have a problem with Joe's Can of Beans. Is there something you can do with it?'' We will certainly follow it up. Those issues then can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Right now, other than using snail-mail and other, different venues are a lot slower, and sometimes it is impossible to follow up on a cold trail. When you work at the speed of commerce and with websites and so on, you will be checking those on an hourly basis and can follow up a lot faster.


Senator Rivard: In the case of consumer complaints, the appeal board will have to decide. However, if a processor or a farmer determines that their product is unsafe, will they be able to turn to the appeal board?


Mr. Ritz: They can, but most processors will actually have people on the ground in the plant on a day-to-day basis, so they would be able to sit down and discuss it with whoever is dedicated to that plant. Alternatively, they can use the call centre if they do not feel secure in the person they are dealing with at that point. Absolutely.

Senator Seth: Thank you, minister. Listening to you, I have gained a bit of knowledge about the food that we eat every day.

I am not member of this committee, but lately I have been watching American television and I have heard concern about the safety of Canadian food products, with their causing the listeriosis outbreak, mad cow disease, et cetera. I have heard it all.

Can you educate me about it with Bill S-11? How will it help to reduce this bad publicity and strengthen our trade partnership with the U.S. and with other places?

Mr. Ritz: If I knew how to reduce bad publicity, I would probably be in a different line of work.

We always love to read the negative; no one likes to read the positive. For every listeria or E. coli, there would be a million tonnes of product that was not a problem. When I talk about importing 50 per cent of our domestic consumption, we are talking about millions of tonnes of food. When we export, we are talking way beyond that in raw product and some processed product.

Canada has a tremendous batting average when it comes to getting it right. Can we stop everything from happening? No. Nature intervenes. There will be a bit of dirt left on lettuce as it comes in and it creates problems as it moves through the chain. You will never hit 100 per cent; there is that much variation. We strive to be proactive as we possibly can and not reactive.

The CFIA used to focus on the after-the-fact issue of how we clean it up. With Bill S-11, as well as other budgetary issues and monies and inspector numbers that we have added, we are being proactive and ensuring we have the capacity to search out and find them before they become a problem.

Bill S-11 allows us now to hold imports before they get to the store. We used to have to wait until they got to the store to begin a recall. We can now do it right on the container, right on the boat and not even allow it to get into our lines at all. It is much more proactive, and Canadians can be assured that we are doing everything we possibly can to ensure that everything they buy and take home is as safe as it can be.

Senator Seth: Thank you. The concern was that when this type of publicity is going on, our television should give reassurances to the public, because the public gets really nervous hearing all of this. That was my point.

Mr. Ritz: I do not disagree with you. Dr. Evans is probably our foremost expert on this, but we as an agency have people that try to get the message out with what the reality of what the situation is.

During listeria, we did a day-by-day press conference to say what was going on. We were trying to be as open, accountable and transparent as we could be. The media would fixate on a certain point and forget to talk about the good stuff going on. It is tough. Websites come into play then. Consumers are knowledgeable and will go online to check things out. That is where they can find out from us exactly what the story is.

The Chair: Honourable senators, before we go to round two, Senator Robichaud has a supplementary question.


Senator Robichaud: Witnesses have told us about imported fresh products. They said that, once the test results for insecticide or pesticide residues are revealed — whether we are talking about strawberries or other fresh products — everything has already been sold and no action could therefore be taken with regard to those products.

Will we manage to make the system is more efficient and acquire the means to detect those residues as quickly as possible in order to pull the products from the shelves? It was said that this happens often because some countries may not apply the insecticide and pesticide standards as rigorously as we do.


Mr. Ritz: We have increased our testing. We specifically target incoming product from countries where we feel their food safety system is not as robust as ours. That is why I say we are being more proactive and reactive.

We just recently completed a number of tests. As you correctly pointed out, these are sort of after the horses have left the barn. However, at that point, we can constantly double-check to ensure that our front-line testing is accurate. We do much more in-depth testing after the fact to ensure there is less residue than our tolerances call for. We found a 99.6 per cent compliance rate. It was absolutely astounding at how good the product is.

One of the things that we also strive to do in working with our friends at the Pest Management Regulatory Agency under health is to ensure that our farmers have access to the newest product, with a lighter environmental footprint, less harm to consumers, and so on. We constantly adjudicate those types of things.

CFIA does it on the fertilizer side — on the input side with seeds and fertilizers — to ensure that what they are putting in the ground is absolutely the best it possibly can be. We do not test the efficacy or the value of the product to the crop as much as we test any type of residual or harmful effect that could be generated from that. We do both. We test at the front end to ensure what is coming in is safe, but then we also do more in-depth analysis to ensure our front-line testing is still accurate.

Dr. Evans: As the minister has alluded to, so much about this legislation is to enhance our prevention and our anticipation. I think you raised a good point relative to the application of testing on imported product.

Part of what this legislation does for us is the reality of importer licensing, which is one of the provisions that is considered within the enabling authorities. Those licensing provisions potentially place obligations on the importer to demonstrate that they have a preventative food safety program related to their import supply chain.

From a responsive, anticipation perspective, when violations are found — and you have alluded to circumstances where the product is no longer in the marketplace because it is perishable — knowing the importer and the source of that material, we can then target and require 100 per cent hold and test, if necessary, on subsequent imports in order to demonstrate that the problem that may have been detected has been corrected at the front end, at the source.

By being able to adjust our inspection frequencies, including on import, to be responsive to a finding after the fact allows us to further increase prevention from that thing happening again.

Canada is also very much part of the international network called INFOSAN through the World Health Organization. Where there may be detection is not just because of product coming into Canada; we may not be the only country receiving fresh fruits and vegetables from that source. If other jurisdictions have detected a problem, or if the country itself has detected the problem, we are immediately notified. We can take preventative actions, then, knowing on that basis that a product has been recalled by another jurisdiction or in the country of origin to continue to trace and monitor that product in a different way on the go-forward.


Senator Robichaud: You say that you can store fresh perishable products. However, by the time you obtain your test results, the products are worthless, are they not? Are you not facing a dilemma?


Dr. Evans: No. The reality is, in an after-the-fact circumstance where there has been detection, that allows us to enhance our preventative activities. We could move to hold and test if we wished to, but we are also in a world where the testing methodologies continue to evolve as well. We are getting to points now where we can do rapid turnaround testing that in the past may have taken us seven to 10 days to do. With some of the newer technologies, analyses and multi-platform testing technologies, we are getting to points now where we could turn around tests within 24 to 48 hours, and it would still cover the shelf life of that product.

All I was trying to address, senator, was the fact that what we are trying to achieve through this legislation is a much greater emphasis on anticipation and prevention where we get new intelligence and new information, and this enables authorities to prevent further product coming in until that country or importer can demonstrate that appropriate preventative activities have been introduced into their system to ensure that Canadians will not be adversely exposed in the future.

Senator Robichaud: You mentioned the importer and then the country. Which comes first? Where do you begin?

Mr. Ritz: We know what is coming, senator, because of import certificates. We know exactly which importer has ordered what product from what country days in advance of it landing on the shores. If we get a red flag from, say, the U.S. that has had a container of strawberries come in from Country X and they found increased pesticide residue, we know we will have a container that will show up in two or three days and we will test that whole shipment. We are in that loop as well.

Senator Robichaud: I was just looking at the responsibility of the importer versus the country and where you begin. Thank you.

Senator Plett: I want to continue a bit along the line of imports, if I could, minister.

The PSAC union representing CFIA inspectors has been fairly critical of the import regime. In testimony in your house, they asked for food inspectors at every border crossing and said that we cannot trust food coming in from the United States or other countries. Meat is obviously a higher risk food than some others, and I know that under your leadership, minister, CFIA removed advance notice of imports of meat inspections.

I would like you to elaborate a bit on the things that we have done to keep bad food imports out. For many of us, there is a large concern about what is coming into our country, and I know you have made some good moves. Could you elaborate on that, please?

Mr. Ritz: As I said in answer to the last question, we know ahead of time what is coming in and at what point with the certificates that are forwarded to an importer.

We have done away with the forehand knowledge an importer will have that says, "We know you have a load of meat coming in; we will inspect it on Tuesday.'' A lot of times it did not show up on Tuesday, so they ran it through a different way. Now they have no idea what we will test or when. We do what we call "border blitzes,'' I think about 480 last year. They are unbeknownst to the importers. We are double-checking them. It is like knowing what is on the test before you get the test; we do not do that any longer. We actually hit them with it the day of. Those have been very good. We have had a tremendous success rate. Our importers are world-class. They know there is a price to pay if they bring in bad product and that they will face some terrible hurt.

We have an arrangement with Canada Border Services Agency. Through this certificate operation, they know what is coming because we let them know we are coming and will inspect certain things. Other than that, they are our eyes and ears, our first line of defence in the reciprocal agreements we have with them. That is working extremely well. We will continue to harmonize the silo at border services and the silo at CFIA with much more electronics and technology so that we can do the job in a more efficient way than before in streamlining how that information flows back and forth so that we are not operating in the dark at either end.

We continue to build a robust border services system. We are not just talking about land borders but about anything coming in by air freight or by ocean. A lot of product now comes in by air freight and it is ready to go. Where there is a higher risk, we have stepped up the oversight on those types of products. There is a lot more focus on ready-to-eat meat than anything coming in that needs to be cooked or has secondary processing applied to it.

Senator Plett: When I tabled this legislation in the Senate a few weeks back, we were at a news conference later and you mentioned the issue about tampering. I am impressed about how this legislation will directly benefit consumers and put their minds at ease. Senator Seth alluded to fear out there.

At the news conference, I was quite surprised when you spoke about the lack of tampering laws. Someone can call Safeway one day and say, "We stuck a needle in one of your turkeys, but we will not tell you which one and what store.'' We do not seem to presently have laws on that.

I would like you to perhaps assure us here and consequently the people watching on television what this legislation will be doing for tampering and for scaring, even if there is no needle, and what fines we have in place now. You spoke a bit about that in your opening comments. Could you talk about fines and penalties with regard to tampering and scaring people?

Mr. Ritz: Sure. Fines are put in place as a deterrent, Senator Plett. The fear of getting caught and being fined for someone who really does not have anything does not matter; it does not make a difference.

We have, however, increased the potential fines for a judge to apply from a maximum of $250,000 to $5 million plus depending on whether it is done purposefully and how egregious the situation is. Hardly a Thanksgiving goes by without a call that someone has put cyanide or needles in a turkey. It is absolutely ridiculous. It creates a problem for the stores involved and for the turkey farmers, if they are the targeted audience, and the economic hurt is quite substantial. It takes time to buy back that market share and ensure that people are not concerned.

We have increased the fines, the jail times and those types of things to act as a deterrent and we will be very public in ensuring that people understand what they face if they do these types of things.

The problem will probably never go away. All you can do is assure Canadians that we are serious about getting ahead of these types of things. It is one of those situations of chasing ghosts, but at the end of the day we have to assure Canadian consumers that we are doing everything possible to ensure their food is safe from any type of assault.

Senator Plett: Thank you for your good work, as well as the officials.

Senator Peterson: CFIA has advised me that no food safety related programs have been cut as a result of the budget reductions. This is in spite of operations people saying, "I do not know how you can take 10 per cent of your budget and not deal with the front line.''

CFIA says there are 3,500 front-line employees including 500 term employees who could be released without notice. Can you confirm here today that the contracts for the 500 term employees will be renewed?

Mr. Ritz: I will let Mr. Da Pont talk to the administration, but as a government, we want to ensure that everyone out there has the tools to do their job effectively and efficiently, and we will continue hiring front-line people.

George Da Pont, President, Canadian Food Inspection Agency: We have the resources in our budget to hire and pay a little over 3,500 inspectors. At any given time, a certain number will be indeterminate, a number will be term, but we have the base budget to cover a little over 3,500.

Senator Peterson: Let me get this straight. The budget is cut by $56 million. Minister, you have said you will put $51 million back in.

Mr. Ritz: I said $151 million.

Senator Peterson: Okay, $151 million, back in to front-line workers. Would it not be better to announce there will be no budget cuts to CFIA period?

Mr. Ritz: Senator, as you pointed out earlier, governments should always look for efficiencies on behalf of taxpayers, and that is what we have done. These are not cuts; they are efficiencies ongoing. We found efficiencies in the administration side, and as Dr. Evans lined out, a lot is captured by aligning some of services with Agriculture Canada and other departments so we do not overlap.

The changes to the provincial inspection that we talked about in the three provinces are worth $2 million in and of itself, so it is not hard to find those efficiencies. It is sometimes politically difficult to sell them. When we get people talking about budget cuts instead of efficiencies, it makes it tougher; and when you only talk about the efficiencies and not about the $151 million going back in, it does make it more difficult. However, at the end of the day, as we found $56 million in efficiencies over the next three years, during that same time frame we are injecting $151 million to build a stronger food safety system.

Senator Peterson: Minister, for all our sakes, I certainly hope this is all correct.

Finally, how does Health Canada interrelate with the CFIA in these matters? Do they come in after the fact when there has been a major problem? Do they work with you before?

Mr. Ritz: Health Canada works with CFIA predominantly before, senator. Some of the changes in this food bill will allow Health Canada to have powers to work with us on the recall side that they did not have before. There are some provisions here that will strengthen some of their oversight as well, more on the fortified foods side than on food safety.

The Chair: As outlined by the chair at the beginning of the meeting, we would have an hour with the minister. Minister, as you have seen from the senators' questions, food safety is a high priority for Canadians, and we will be asking the second panel another series of questions. On behalf of the senators present, we thank Minister Ritz for accepting our invitation this morning and sharing his views of his department and our government on food safety and traceability.

Mr. Ritz: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: Honourable senators, we will now hear the second panel of witnesses on Bill S-11. I am informed that we do have the following witnesses, and I see that we have Dr. Brian Evans, Chief Food Safety Officer and Chief Veterinary Officer of Canada of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.


We are also hearing from Neil Bouwer, Vice-President, Policy and Programs, Canadian Food Inspection Agency.


We also have Ms. Colleen Barnes, Executive Director, Domestic Policy Directorate of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Witnesses, thank you for accepting our invitation to appear in order to enlighten and share with the committee your vision and also your consideration for food safety, Bill S-11. I am informed that Dr. Brian Evans will make the presentation, to be followed by questions.

Dr. Evans: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me say at the outset, honourable senators, that as someone who has been with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency since its inception in 1997, this bill is both a very important piece of our continuing to serve Canadians well, and I think it strongly supports the vision that the government considered when the agency was brought together to ensure that we were responsive to an ever-changing risk circumstance in Canada and beyond.

Today, I believe our system of ensuring food safety is among the best in the world, but food safety is not something that we at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or anyone else should take for granted. There is a clear need to continue to strengthen and modernize Canada's legislation regulating food safety.

The bill, as you will noted, has three main objectives: First, to improve food safety oversight for both imported and domestically produced food to better protect Canadian families; second, to streamline and strengthen legislative authorities; and third, to enhance international market opportunities for the Canadian food industry and Canadians who derive their economic livelihood from that sector.

The first of these objectives is clearly our primary focus at CFIA. It is about assisting us to maximize the opportunities for prevention while maintaining the responsiveness necessary to address hazards and issues when they do arise. Food safety is a priority for Canadians, we believe for the Government of Canada and certainly for the CFIA, but the other two areas are also important and will benefit Canada and our food industry.

I am sure you are now familiar with the proposed legislation, but please allow me to take a few minutes to outline the chief benefits.

First, the proposed bill will protect both consumers and industry from food tampering, deceptive practices and hoaxes. This is a new provision that fills a gap in our current authorities. It will also increase related penalties and fines to deter willful or reckless threats to the health and safety of Canadians, which is consistent with the international best practices.

Second, it will strengthen our ability to track, trace and recall foods. The ability to trace food from farm to fork, or from its source outside of Canada to the marketplace, is essential in dealing with food-borne illnesses and the globalization of the food supply. Current acts do not provide the government with the authority to require manufacturers or importers to have tracking and tracing systems. The proposed legislation will establish required authorities to develop regulations related to tracking, tracing and recalling food and the appropriate tools to take action on risky products when needed. This will include a prohibition against selling products that might risk the health of Canadians or that have been subjected to recall.

Third, it will strengthen import controls to even more clearly ensure imported foods are safe. Imported foods are required to meet all the same standards as foods produced in Canada, but imports are more difficult to control because we have less hands-on information about them and less control over foreign manufacturing processes and products. The new bill will introduce powers to licence importers, prohibit imports of certain foods when a risk is detected or known and stop unsafe imports at the border so they do not enter into commerce of the marketplace in Canada. It will a also allow the CFIA to suspend or revoke the licence of an importer instead of prosecuting for noncompliance, which is the process now. It is always better to have preventive measures in place rather than having to deal after the fact when it comes to food safety.

Fourth, it will align inspection and enforcement powers across all food commodities. The current acts that we operate under contain inconsistencies in inspection and enforcement authorities. This means that similar risks for different foods are treated differently. For example, a meat inspector can order the removal of a product that was unlawfully imported, but a fish inspector, under similar circumstances, cannot. The new legislation will align inspection and enforcement powers, making them consistent for all meat, fish and agricultural food products. Creating one standard set of inspection powers and authorities has a number of benefits. It will assure Canadians that all foods are subjected to the same strict requirements. Our inspectors that cover multiple commodities will find it more efficient to work from one set of regulations. Aligning inspection and enforcement powers will also benefit Canadian food exporters by ensuring that all exported foods meet the same stringent standards as those consumed in Canada.

Fifth, it will give the CFIA authority to certify all food exports. The new legislation will allow us to treat exported foods consistently across all food commodities and attest to their safety. This is important, because more countries are requiring food imports to be certified, reflecting an international effort to ensure food safety. Currently, the CFIA has the authority to certify some federally registered foods for export, such as fruits and vegetables, but the new legislation will provide the authority to certify all food exports, if needed. This will help expand international market access and economic opportunities for the Canadian food industry.

Sixth, it will create an internal review mechanism that regulated parties can use to seek review of certain inspection decisions or deal with complaints. This mechanism will be much faster and less costly than the current judicial review process.

Senator Peterson: Thank you, witnesses, for being here this morning.

Dr. Evans, as we indicated earlier, we are supportive of this bill and what it intends to accomplish. As we have also indicated, our only concern is that the necessary financial support is there and the professional service is there to ensure you can carry this out.

Are you satisfied that you have the necessary resources and money to effectively administer this new bill?

Dr. Evans: Certainly it is our belief that the government has made consistent investment in the agency over the past several years to enhance our inspection capacity. I believe we have struck the appropriate balance at the agency between that which is the front-line inspection capacity which is necessary in terms of the direct interface with food processors and others.

It is important to recognize that food safety does not just happen and it does not start at slaughter or at food processing. Food safety is a continuum of activity that includes much of what we do in our animal health programs to have direct food safety outcomes. We produce safe food because animals are healthy. What we do from a disease control perspective is also a food safety outcome. The control of materials that could enter into the food supply through the animal feed supply and what we feed animals that could ultimately end up in meat or other products is part of a food continuum of activity.

At the same time, we do recognize that the risks associated with food continue to evolve as well. Where we may have been several decades ago in issues of tuberculosis or dealing with a number of circumstances with obvious lesions that could be seen by an inspector standing on the line, or doing what we refer to as organoleptic, or sight, taste or smell type testing scenarios on the fish side, today many of the risks we are dealing with cannot be seen at the point of inspection. Therefore, when we talk about having the resources necessary it involves front-line verification of compliance and sampling as necessary, but also it involves having the resources to conduct the diagnostic tests, whether it be for antimicrobial resistance or residues, as you talked about previously, as well as chemicals, pesticides and those types of circumstances.

In answer to your question, I do believe the agency has a capacity now that it did not previously have, that that capacity goes beyond what is actually done at a single point of inspection, and takes into account our assessments of the water quality issues, that the water used in processing plants and is consumed by the animals is safe, so that we are not transmitting bacteria or other things through that food production system. Equally so on the plant side, that what is ultimately cultivated at the field level in terms of inspection activities, funguses and moulds that could create toxins if they are incorporated into flour.

The point I am making is one that I believe food safety requires us to be a resource not simply at the point of inspection but also that all the supporting elements we do in the other programs that lead to food safety elements are also similarly aligned. The agency, in its current construct, has worked hard to create the balance necessary.

We are well supported as well, from the standpoint that we, as the agency, are part of a broader system of food safety in the country. The Food and Drug Act is quite explicit that the direct responsibility for producing safe food rests with the industry. Having an industry that is equally committed to food safety, having producers who are stewards of the food safety system at the ground level, at the farm level, is equally part of having a robust food safety system in the country, as well as having retailers who are intimately interested in ensuring that the products on their shelves are safe and are part of our consumer education outreach.

While we have a set of resources that are very much in line with the work we are being asked to do, we will only be effective if we can align ourselves with all the other players in the food safety system as well and that they bring the same culture of prevention and the same commitment of capacity to getting the food safety outcomes that Canadians expect and deserve.

Senator Peterson: I will take that as a qualified yes.

On the front-line inspectors, right now you have three areas of meat, poultry and fish. Will the inspectors who continue under this act be specializing in each area, or will an inspector have to cover all areas?

Dr. Evans: At this point in time there are opportunities presented by this legislation with appropriate training and with appropriate tools for inspectors to do more than single commodity inspection. It would be our hope that both through our strategic recruitment and work in terms of inspector qualifications that we can maximize the capacity of an inspector to work in more than one commodity.

I would not want to leave the impression that every inspector will be responsible for all types of foods. There are very explicit differences between how various foods are produced. In the vernacular of the food inspection side, for example, if you are working in the dairy program we benefit from the reality of pasteurization, which is an important kill step for dealing with issues or bacteria that could move through the milk supply and affect food safety.

We want to ensure that not everyone will be a thermo-processing specialist or a food-processing specialist. That would be unrealistic in terms of that expectation on the entire inspection workforce. However, we believe that this legislation, in conjunction with the inspection modernization efforts that we are doing, will allow us to use inspectors on a multi-commodity basis. However, as I say, I would not want the impression to be left that every inspector will be inspecting in all eight food programs.

Senator Peterson: How long would it take to qualify an inspector for different jurisdictions?

Dr. Evans: Currently we have both a set of enhanced requirements in terms of at point of hire and recruitment. We are working closely with our Canadian agricultural and veterinary colleges at the universities to continue to develop a public health and food safety based teaching curriculum. The more qualified someone is at the point of hire, the more rapidly we can bring them up to speed with individual training programs targeted to the programs that they work in to make them familiar with the legislation and with their inspection authorities.

Currently, it can vary, depending on the food commodity in which they are working. We have collective training that can take up to three to six weeks for someone to be certified in certain activities for food inspection. We operate a mentoring program where younger inspectors are paired with more senior inspectors so that there is on-the-job oversight and enhanced training.

Depending on the food area, for example, it can take up to six months from someone at point of hire to be a fully qualified inspector and be operating without supervision.

Senator Peterson: We understand that CFIA has eliminated the unit that tracks and targets unsafe food from the United States. Is that correct?

Dr. Evans: No, that is not correct.

Senator Patterson: That is not correct? Okay. Good.

Ms. Barnes, you had indicated that in the food products end we had some problem with milk coming from China. You indicated that this is being expanded and it can also show up in cookies and candies and that sort of thing. You have expanded it to cover that; is that correct?

Ms. Barnes: Yes, senator, the reason we have improved the import provisions in the bill is in response to the melamine example. What happened before is we have a set of dairy regulations. It was easy to direct CBSA at the border to stop product coming from China that we knew had melamine in it, like baby formula or something like that. It was a dairy product and it was against our regulations. That was clear. As we were watching what was happening in Asia, we noticed that cookies and candies made with melamine products were headed our way as well and countries around the world were doing recalls.

In this case we told CBSA to put a lookout at the border and let us know if it arrives and they did, but we could not tell them to stop it. We did not have authority. It had to come in and then we worked with importers to do a voluntary recall in that case. Therefore it took a bit longer and it was more labour intensive for everyone.

With the new authority in the bill to just say unsafe food cannot be imported, now we will be able to say to CBSA that we know, there is evidence internationally that that is not safe and it is not allowed to be imported into Canada.

Senator Buth: Thank you for still being here, Dr. Evans. I am interested in the traceability, when you take a look at some of the issues that we have seen, and the importance of being able to trace back if there are issues in the food supply. I see that the proposed amendments to the Health of Animals Act in this legislation will strengthen our regulatory-making authorities and expand our existing traceability requirements.

Can you speak to that in terms of how it will be expanded? Also, have you had any feedback from stakeholders and provincial governments in terms of the traceability expansion?

Dr. Evans: In fact, this food bill contains two elements of traceability. It actually has a provision in terms of traceability as it relates to food. I believe clause 51 deals with food explicitly around food traceability provisions that would allow us to require — in the case of importers licensing or registering processes domestically — that the manufacturer or importer would be required on a food basis to have information available to point back, point forward. Where did it come from? Who were the suppliers and where did it move from them? It is to enhance our ability to rapidly remove risk product from the marketplace and deal with the source issue at the same time.

As you have alluded to, there is a second area of traceability in the bill that deals with the Health of Animals Act. We currently have authorities that provide for animal identification. However, this would provide for a broader suite of traceability tools that would allow us to move forward in the area of promulgating regulations on other attributes of the animal, for example, the date of birth.

This was a significant issue for us in dealing with the mad cow BSE issue at the international market level because certain tissues that could harbour it are related to the age of the animal. Some countries have operated on a less than 30-month or over 30-month opportunity for trade. Introducing a provision that would allow us to require date of birth information to be available at the point of slaughter or export certification to meet the importing country's requirements would be helpful.

In addition, there are provisions for movement of animals. Of course, in our production system in Canada, a breeder may not necessarily be the person who supplies the animal to slaughter. On the beef side, it may go to a backgrounder and a feed lot and then ultimately to a slaughter plant. That animal, from its birth when it left the original birth farm which is our current ID program, may enter into contact with other animals making its way through its lifetime and ultimately becoming food.

Having that mobility information becomes quite important, particularly in disease outbreak circumstances, in knowing where animals have come from and where they have gone to if it is not directly to slaughter. That becomes an important attribute that we see in some of the best international practices.

The opportunity to have premises ID as a requirement is equally an option, in terms of enabling authority. This is an issue that has been broadly discussed by federal, provincial and territorial ministers in their meetings over the past several years. Many provinces are actively moving forward at the provincial level to put in place premise ID information gathering processes.

This would bring a national perspective to it so that we are uniform across the board. Again, in our normal production systems, animals can move inter-provincially. Having the premise ID is important from that perspective and it is also important when we get into major disease outbreak scenarios. Being able to know the population of animals and where they reside becomes important when we try to set limits on the disease control activities to minimize the disruption of commerce or the impacts on producers.

There is a broad suite of enabling authorities that derive that on the traceability side which, again, we believe align well with international best practice. I believe it will be important to demonstrate to our trading partners at the global level that our system is robust, has a high degree of integrity and will continue to meet their needs to have Canada as a preferred supplier.

Senator Buth: When you mentioned "premises ID'' what are you talking about? Are you talking about farms, feed lots, slaughterhouses, everything?

Dr. Evans: Yes, any premise in which livestock could reside could fall under the provisions. Since it is enabling authority under the regulations, the regulations themselves would provide further definition subsequent to broader consultation with the affected stakeholders.

Senator Buth: Thank you very much.

Senator Mahovlich: You mentioned what qualifies an inspector. He has to be trained five or six months. Does he also have to have a degree in agriculture?

Dr. Evans: Thank you, senator. When CFIA was brought together, it brought together the inspection programs from three different departments as it related to food inspection. There were different requirements at that time. Since the inception of CFIA, we have been trying to move to a more uniform approach in terms of these competencies for inspection staff.

Suffice it to say that not all of our inspectors have university degrees, looking at the age demographic and how the agency came together. Certainly the norm today is that not only do a number of inspectors have bachelor degrees in various health sciences, but in fact, we are increasingly finding inspectors that even have post-bachelor education, masters and other degrees. We find currently that as we are going through our inspection model, inspection modernization process we are redefining what those front end requirements and day one competencies would look like.

We enlisted the aid of one of the faculty members from the University of Calgary, a former international expert with the U.S. on meat inspection — who has been doing a benchmarking exercise in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and others — to look at the best training programs that exists at the global level in food safety and to help us benchmark that activity.

Again, we have a diversity of inspectors with skill sets. For example, on the meat side they may well have a bachelor's degree. On the dairy side, I talked about people with thermal processing knowledge around heat treatment et cetera. In the past, it has not been a prerequisite to have a set degree, but we are evolving to that process as we go forward.

Senator Mahovlich: We are not there yet.

Dr. Evans: We are not there yet, but we are redefining the needs given now the inspection systems are changing to ensure we hire the people that can deliver those inspection activities.

Senator Mahovlich: My wife and I often like to go to local markets on Saturdays. If you go up to Kitchener and you can get cuts of meat that you cannot in grocery stores, so we like to go up and visit. I can get blood sausage and things of that nature that you cannot buy every day in the grocery store. Are those local markets inspected at all?

You can get fresh fruit and vegetables. Everything is fresh at these markets. They are quite popular because I can never find a parking spot, so they are quite active.

Do you ever inspect them or is it just by reputation they that become popular? There is no problem, but I do see a fly flying around every once in a while.

Dr. Evans: I am sure you would.

As indicated by the minister previously, our inspection activities on a prevention basis are largely directed in federally registered establishments. Those would be the larger packers, processors, food processing groups that move product inter-provincially or across international borders. That is the federally registered sector.

However, at the same time, we work in an integrated way with the provinces. The inspection of farmers' markets would normally fall under provincial and/or municipal legislation by public health inspectors. Suffice to say given how food is produced, as we talked about earlier, the animals that produced the sausage that you would be purchasing there would be subject to our animal federal health requirements and dealt with accordingly.

We may be engaged with those types of markets if there is a consumer complaint or if there is an illness reported with purchase. Part of our investigation would be to work with local and provincial public health back to determine the root cause and to address that on go-forward basis. In an investigation role, we may be engaged, but on a day-to-day market operation, those are jurisdictions delivered by our provincial or municipal counterparts.

Senator Mercer: I will follow Senator Mahovlich's line of questioning about inspectors' qualifications. In his testimony, the minister used the example of chicken soup being produced; and I hope there is chicken in this soup. He also said that perhaps the soup may have some vegetables in it. The training that you need to be an inspector of meat products is different than the training you need to be an inspector of fruits and vegetables. The minister indicated that he hopes that instead of having an inspector of the vegetables in the chicken soup and an inspector of the chicken in the soup, we would have one inspector for both.

How easy will it be for you to deliver that request for the minister with respect to finding qualified individuals? Not all of your inspectors have degrees. I understand historically where many of them have come from. However, in the future it will become more and more difficult for you, I suspect, to meet that demand. Have you consulted with agricultural colleges and other post-secondary education institutions to tell them what you will need in the future?

Dr. Evans: Yes, absolutely. In most circumstances, as you have described, when you are dealing with a food processor of multiple food commodities, such as pizza or soup, in all likelihood the chicken, for example, was inspected previously at the point of slaughter by a CFIA inspector in a federally registered plant. It would have been inspected as meat at that plant. It then moved to a further processing circumstance. The desire there, as we have talked about, is to have, where possible, multiple commodity inspectors. In that circumstance, it would be someone familiar with thermal processing time temperature and the management of the ingredients in the soup. As you say, it may contain much more than just chicken, such as fruits, vegetables and spices — all of the ingredients that go into that type of activity. The intent is to not duplicate the inspection at that particular location. We have multiple commodity opportunities to ensure that there is only one inspector in that plant to look at all of the commodities that come in and the processing controls of that company. Their activity at that level is looking at the processing controls and not at the individual commodities. Those commodities may have been inspected before they were purchased as ingredients by the soup maker. A chicken inspector inspected the meat but not necessarily at that facility. It was pre-purchased for that facility. In that processing facility, we would move to having only one inspector.

Senator Mercer: At the time of slaughter, in the case of the chicken, and at the time of harvesting the vegetables, two different things happen to those products. I am not an expert, obviously, but I am not as concerned about what happens to the vegetables after they have been harvested as I am about what happens to the chicken after it has been slaughtered. As we know, if chicken is not properly maintained, it can deteriorate and health problems, such as salmonella and others, can occur. That is why I ask this question. I see the need for different types of inspectors.

Dr. Evans: In that type of food processing establishment, the skill sets of the inspector would be to verify how the product was handled from its point of slaughter until it is incorporated into the soup. They would verify the company's process controls and quality assurance to ensure that the chicken has not lost its safety, if you will, during transport and that there has been no temperature abuse, et cetera, in that plant when producing the soup. We refer to it as "kill step'' when the product is produced and heated to an appropriate temperature to ensure that there could be no carry over in bacteria. That is the type of work that an inspector in such an environment would undertake. Their training allows them to do that type of assessment to ensure that those process controls are operating and that food safety has not been compromised.


Senator Maltais: Mr. Evans, I think that harmonizing the three inspection services — meat, chicken and fish — in the legislation is an excellent initiative. Those three specialized services will be able to share their expertise. You have to have visited specialized centres like those I visited in Quebec to realize the extent of new inspection technology on the market. So many new technologies are available to inspectors. Things are no longer done like they were in 1940.

Unlike Senator Peterson, I am not worried about the number of inspectors because new technologies are available, and food is no longer inspected like it was in 1930 or 1940. There are some new technologies, and it is a fascinating thing to see. So we are talking about a good development. Various experiences will be combined and will help in training new inspectors who are not novices after all.

There is still a question I have not dared to ask any of the witnesses we have heard from since February. What happens to the products that are seized and removed from supermarkets? For instance, if a ham or ground-meat product is considered to have gone bad, who is responsible for destroying it? People are wondering about that. Does the supermarket recycle it into sausages, pâté or something similar? Or does the department destroy it? Here is your opportunity to clearly explain to Canadians how that food is destroyed safely, so that it does not reappear on the market.


Dr. Evans: Once a recall has been issued when a threat or risk has been identified in food product, the CFIA works to validate the effectiveness of the recall. They verify this at various points, often with public health at the provincial level and other jurisdictions. We work collaboratively to validate that those products have been removed from retail commerce. The company is responsible for providing the issues around volumetrics — the quantity of product that has been recovered and is required to be recovered based on the production lot or identification of the risk product in the recall.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the company to destroy or dispose of the product in a way that is agreed to or approved by CFIA. In most circumstances, we work with the company to validate that element of their plant and to ensure that the product does not re-enter commerce in an inappropriate way.


Senator Robichaud: Further to what Senator Peterson said, we basically agree with this bill. Of course, passing the amendment proposed by Senator Peterson could greatly speed up the process.

My question is about traceability. I know a bit about it. Back home, those who work in shellfish processing have a very rigid traceability system, which keeps track of where the shellfish was caught or gathered, and by whom. It also keeps track of who bought it and who transported it, all the way to processing. Of course, the system is very rigid because it concerns health. Where do things stand when it comes to agricultural products? Is a similarly rigid system already in place? If so, does it need improvement?


Dr. Evans: Thank you, senator. As you have alluded to, there are traceability systems that exist in the country among the various food commodity groups. Some are more advanced in certain areas, as you have described. Crustacean, mollusk and seafood have a very good traceability system, as you have indicated, from the harvesting site through to retail.

In other areas, the traceability system has largely progressed up to the point of slaughter. For example, in the live animal circumstance, we have had in place since 2001 animal identification requirements for traceability in cattle that require an animal to be tagged and identified on its birth farm. That identification stays with the animal up until its retirement of that identification at a slaughter point, or until the animal may be exported from the country. The Canadian Cattle Identification Agency is a third-party agency that maintains that information in terms of the trace components.

In the swine sector, it has been long standing that they use slap tattoos. Poultry are identified by production lots, because you are not dealing with individual animals; you tend to move them at a set weight or point in production.

We do have traceability in various livestock sectors, but it is not uniform in terms of all the information and data that are available. As we responded to Senator Buth, we are looking to try to achieve through this act to make the link between the commodity at the point of harvest or production till it is food. We do recognize in many countries in Europe and in South America that consumers like the fact that they can go into a supermarket and not only does it say "product of'' in terms of country of origin, but through various means, bar codes and other things, they can scan the product right there in the marketplace and it gives them the information of where the animal was born and where it was slaughtered, et cetera.

For example, Uruguay, a country very like Canada, exports a significant percentage of its agricultural production, I have had the opportunity to sit in a restaurant there when the steak is brought to the table. As we have in Canada, you may have a little plastic animal that shows whether it is rare, medium or well done, but there is a bar code on that. The waiter can bring to your table a scanning device and it will show you a picture of the farm, the animal and where it all came from.

That level of identification and traceability is becoming the norm in many countries internationally, and that is the type of standard that we in Canada want to be able to provide to our trading partners because of the importance of that element in their import requirements.

Senator Peterson: What is the relationship between CFIA and CBSA, and will this act strengthens that?

Dr. Evans: We have a very interoperable relationship with the CBSA. As was alluded to in previous questions and discussions in the first hour, we have aligned our import certification programs with the CBSA platform so that our National Import Service Centre is connected with CBSA on all importing information that comes into the country as it relates to agricultural products.

You made reference in one of your previous questions to the issue of pre-import review of meat from the United States, as an example, where that responsibility now is with the National Import Service Centre. Due to all of the incoming shipments, those documents are reviewed by the National Import Service Centre and a decision on reinspection — to "reject'' or "allow'' for import without reinspection decisions are taken — and that is an integrated process with CBSA.

We do conduct border blitzes, as I believe the minister also alluded to. Those are based on our ongoing activities to continually improve food safety. We will identify certain products or certain product country combinations at various points in the year based on new information from international audits, information based on analysis of other countries' food safety performance, or even history of their previous imports into Canada.

Therefore, we do coordinate with CBSA blitz activities at the border where we will concentrate on certain commodities for a period of time. We test and hold, or use other verifications, to augment the other activities that are being done.

We have a shared training program with CBSA using their facility at the college in Rigaud, Quebec, where we provide training to CBSA agents on our control programs as they relate to animals and food and plants. At the same time, as we were talking about with Senator Mahovlich on the recruitment aspect requirements, we have been working very closely with CBSA in looking at day one competencies and what makes a good inspector in terms of their interpersonal skills, their ability to communicate clearly, their ability to work under stressful circumstances with someone who has been stuck in a line at the border for an extended period of time and allowing us to do our work.

We have a very good relationship with CBSA at the operational level. As has been discussed previously, as well, we continue to go forward with Beyond the Border and Regulatory Cooperation Council efforts with the U.S. and aligning our regulatory approaches there. CBSA is part of that dialogue with us in terms of what it would mean on primary inspection at the border.

The Chair: Honourable senators, this brings our presentation to a conclusion. From the minister's statement to the official's statement, Dr. Evans, we want to thank you, as you are aware that no doubt food safety is a high priority for our government and also for Canadians. That said, Canadians are keen to know more about the food they eat, what it contains and where it comes from. As a result, consumers are demanding safer food and want to know whether it is produced domestically or internationally. On this, sir, you can share with the minister that we have appreciated your comments — they were very informative and enlightening.

(The committee adjourned.)