Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 22 - Evidence - Meeting of October 2, 2012
OTTAWA, Tuesday, October 2, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 5
p.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: I welcome you all to this meeting of the Standing Senate
Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
My name is Percy Mockler, a senator from New Brunswick and chair of the
committee. Before I ask senators to introduce themselves, I want to say thank
you to the witnesses for accepting our invitation.
On this, I will ask senators to introduce themselves, please.
Senator Mercer: I am Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia.
Senator Merchant: I am Pana Merchant from Regina, Saskatchewan.
Senator Robichaud: Good afternoon, I am Senator Robichaud from
Saint-Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick.
Senator Peterson: Bob Peterson from Saskatchewan.
Senator Plett: Senator Don Plett from Manitoba.
Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth from Manitoba.
Senator Demers: Good afternoon, I am Senator Jacques Demers from
Senator Eaton: Nicky Eaton, Toronto, Ontario.
Senator Rivard: Good afternoon, I am Senator Michel Rivard, from the
Laurentides, in Quebec.
The Chair: Thank you, senators.
We continue to study Bill S-11, the safe food for Canadians act. As we are
aware, the Government of Canada introduced the safe food for Canadians act in
Parliament to make our food safety system stronger, as well as reducing overlap
for Canadian food producers.
The act provides the industry with clear, consistent and straightforward
inspection and enforcement rules so they can best meet their responsibility to
put safe food on shelves for consumers.
Honourable senators, we have the pleasure of having with us today two
witnesses for the first part of the meeting. One is Mr. Bob Kingston, National
President of the Agriculture Union, Public Service Alliance of Canada.
Thank you, Mr. Kingston, for being with us today and sharing your comments,
your opinions and your vision.
We also have Paul Caron, a retired inspector with the Canadian Food
Inspection Agency and currently an industry consultant.
I have been informed, honourable senators, that the first presenter will be
Mr. Caron, to be followed by Mr. Kingston.
Mr. Caron and Mr. Kingston, following your presentations the senators will
You have the floor, Mr. Caron.
Paul Caron, as an individual: Mr. Chair, honourable senators, my name
is Paul Caron. As a Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspector with 35 years of
experience, I worked at meat slaughter plants, processing plants in the animal
health program. I spent the majority of my career as a CFIA import inspector and
was inspector in charge of two CFIA-approved import meat inspection
During the last 20 years of my career I worked as an inspector at the
Windsor-Detroit crossing, the busiest commercial land border in Canada. In 2005
I retired, and in that same year CFIA removed all its inspectors from ports of
entry and placed the responsibility of inspection of its regulated commodities
on Canada Border Services Agency officers and created CFIA Central Import
Service Centres. I think I was the last CFIA inspector at a port of entry.
I will speak to you mainly about the importation of food and the effect the
safe food for Canadians act will have. I do not feel the new food act addresses
the problems existing with the inspection of imported foods. Currently only 2
per cent of food products entering Canada are inspected by CFIA or Canada Border
Services Agency officers. The only CFIA inspection at ports of entry is
veterinary inspection of live animals and the occasional import blitz. An import
blitz is conducted by CFIA where they pull in all shipments that they regulate
over a period of time for inspection.
The CFIA import blitz is not effective at land borders. I know this because I
organized and worked many of them. CBSA officers have been given the
responsibility at the port of entry to prevent unsafe food from entering Canada.
The CBSA administers more than 90 acts, regulations and international agreements
on behalf of other federal departments and agencies, the provinces and the
CBSA officers have little time to ensure all food products and other CFIA
regulated commodities entering Canada are safe and free of disease. As with
other government departments, they are understaffed. They, as with other
government employees, have set priorities to get the job done. Their priorities
are keeping drugs, guns and child porn out, screening all travellers entering
our country, and collecting duties and taxes. They do not always have the time
to ensure all food products entering this country are safe. They receive little
training and support from CFIA. I know a lot of these front-line officers, and I
know what they are going through and what they experience and have heard this
During my career I inspected thousands of food shipments in truck trailers
and containers from the United States and other countries. I have seen food
products loaded with toxic chemicals, rat poison, refrigerated food product off
condition, dirty trucks with chemical odours, et cetera. I discovered food
shipments that did not reflect what was described on the CBSA customs manifest
by opening the transport container and physically inspecting it.
Under the authority of the Meat Inspection Act and regulations, I refused
entry of meat shipments that had product off condition, pathological defects,
fecal contamination and product misrepresented by labels. Many food safety
experts claim organoleptic inspection has little value. Organoleptic inspection
is post-mortem examination of various cuts, like beef livers, things along that
line, where you use sight, smell and touch. Many food safety experts claim that
this is of little value, but I can tell you that if you see fecal contamination,
you know there is a possible presence of E. coli in that cut of beef.
CFIA's website makes the claim that Canada has a robust, risk-based, import
control system that is based on internationally recognized standards. They
Our approach is comparable to the import inspection systems of other
developed countries, such as the United States.
This is not the case. All food shipments entering the U.S. are cleared at the
port of entry, while in Canada, for example, meat shipments are released to be
possibly inspected inland.
Shipments going to the U.S. have to be screened by the USDA for animal health
reasons, plant health reasons, then by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,
then Homeland Security, then customs and border services, which directs the load
to a meat inspection establishment located in close proximity of the border.
Only when it completes all this inspection is it released by Customs and
Border Protection in the U.S. Failure to present the shipment for inspection can
result in ``delistment'' of the Canadian exporter and fines up to three times
the value of the shipment.
If, in a situation similar to XL Foods, the U.S. authorities discovered E.
coli in the meat going from Canada to the U.S., I doubt very much that would be
caught by CFIA coming this way, given the way their system is established.
Like many Canadian exporters of food products to the U.S. would claim, this
is an artificial trade barrier due to the time and cost associated with the
release of the shipment. Meat shipments, for example, entering Canada are just
screened. The documents are just screened at the port of entry by CBSA and the
shipment is released, and it is up to the importer on their honour to deliver it
Over the past years, hundreds of import meat shipments destined for CFIA
inspection never arrived at the CFIA inspection establishment, as required by
the Canada Meat Inspection Act section 9(2). To this date, only one importer who
violated this section of the Meat Inspection Act has been prosecuted.
If the CFIA wants to mirror other countries, they should concentrate all
their inspections of imports, verifications and document clearance at major
ports of entry prior to CBSA clearance, as in the United States, instead of
tracking down shipments inland.
Another claim the CFIA makes regarding the new food safety act is that all
food sold in Canada, whether domestic or imported, must comply with the Food and
Drugs Act and regulations and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and
regulations. I found numerous shipments of food products from various countries
not meeting CFIA label requirements, and properly trained CFIA inspectors at
port of entry would discover these shipments, decreasing the number of recalls.
Many of the violations under these acts are found on store shelves and retail
outlets, especially in ethnic food stores. Store shelves or retailers are not
inspected by CFIA as they were in the past.
Another concern honourable senators should consider is the lack of training
being provided to CFIA inspectors today. In 1970, when I started my career, I
was required to undertake a two-year training program before I would even be
considered a fully qualified inspector. Today, an inspector is put on the front
lines with very little training. They are supervised by people who often have
limited training and background in the area of inspection they are responsible
Another issue is that the safe food for Canadians act puts all food under one
act. Food such as meat is much more complex in inspection requirements. It is a
very high-risk product and should not have the same requirements as carrots, for
As a former inspector and now a consumer, I have serious concerns about the
safety of food for my family and other Canadians. Why should CFIA imported food
inspection be conducted in a manner that the CFIA would not tolerate for
domestic or export inspection of meat?
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Caron.
Bob Kingston, National President, Agriculture Union — PSAC: Mr. Chair,
honourable senators, it is a pleasure to be here this evening to discuss Bill
S-11. By way of introduction, the Agriculture Union represents all federal
employees or the majority working in the federal agriculture portfolio. I am a
full-time officer on leave from the CFIA where I have 25 years of experience as
an inspector, including 15 years as an inspection supervisor.
What I have to say is that without a commitment on the part of the government
to ensure adequate resources are available, Canadians cannot expect improvements
in food safety outcomes from this bill alone. Too often, budget has been the
main determining factor in the design and/or delivery of the CFIA's inspection
and food safety program, exposing Canadians to a higher risk than should be the
If we are not careful, the successful enactment of Bill S-11, as well as the
CFIA's new inspection modernization initiative, could fall victim to these
pressures, as did the compliance verification system, or CVS, before them.
If you cast your memories back to the summer of 2008, just months before the
Maple Leaf Foods outbreak, you will remember that the CFIA had just launched
CVS. Without a serious pilot phase and before any lessons learned in development
could be implemented, the agency had no idea how many inspectors were needed to
do the job under CVS or what skills and training they might require. At the same
time, more direct inspection oversight was retired deliberately or because
inspectors, overwhelmed by the paperwork demands of the new system, could not
keep up with their more traditional duties.
Then the perfect storm of the Maple Leaf Foods outbreak occurred, and we all
know what happened. It is worth revisiting some of the observations that Sheila
Weatherill included in her report. She found that the compliance verification
system was flawed and in need of ``critical improvements related to its design,
planning and implementation.'' She also found that the CVS was ``implemented
without a detailed assessment of the resources available to take on these new
In the aftermath, it was discovered that Maple Leaf was under no obligation
to report to the CFIA test results showing contamination in the plant. In a
system that increasingly relies on companies to police themselves, this
shortcoming was addressed. Now all companies have a mandatory duty to test and
report positive results to the CFIA.
Fast-forward to today. XL Foods, one of the biggest meat processors in the
country, has just thumbed their nose at this requirement, and the CFIA did not
have resources in place to fully understand what was going on in that plant at
How could this be, you might wonder? After all, the minister has assured
everyone that there are more inspectors working at that plant than ever. You
will be interested to know that in the XL plant, only a small portion of the
inspectors are actually trained in CVS. That is right; for more than four years
after CVS was introduced, most inspectors there have not been trained in how to
use it. Why, you might ask? The answer is actually simple. The CFIA cannot
afford to deliver training any faster and does not have enough inspectors to
relieve those away while being trained. As well, resources are often diverted to
address crises, which further derails training.
Because of the pace of production and other factors, those with the CVS
know-how at the XL plant did not always share the results of the CFIA-conducted
CVS tasks and tests, so the other inspectors would have no idea if there was a
problem that required heightened vigilance.
This situation is not limited to XL. As a matter of fact, we were just at a
conference this weekend and we found the exact same scenario throughout Quebec.
This is yet another example of industry self-policing gone wrong because the
CFIA is not adequately resourced to verify compliance.
Returning to the matter before this committee, many say that Bill S-11 will
make imported food safer because importers will be required to obtain a licence
from the CFIA. This could be more illusory than real with cuts at the agency
this year. Who will oversee the 10,000 new licensees that the CFIA estimates
will be covered by this new requirement to ensure that they are in compliance
with safety requirements? As a result of the downsizing in the federal public
service, approximately 170 administrative staff positions at the CFIA have been
eliminated. These are the people who would initiate, evaluate, approve and
monitor the performance of these new licensees. With 100 fewer inspectors on the
job — again, as a result of downsizing in the public service — you can see that
the new licensing regime could potentially be little more than a paper exercise.
Going back to Sheila Weatherill for a moment, she recommended an independent
resources audit to ``accurately determine the demand on its inspection resources
and the numbers of required inspectors.''
While the CFIA did not conduct such an audit, it did review the situation in
the processed meat program. The result was that the agency almost doubled its
complement of processed meat inspectors. I hazard a guess that if the CFIA did a
similar review of its other inspection programs, like fish and meat hygiene and
slaughter, they would find that a similar upward adjustment is required to
adequately deliver those programs.
I urge the committee to amend this bill to make such a review mandatory. I do
note that an amendment has been put forward by the government, but it does not
require a resource audit of the CFIA until five years after the bill becomes
law. It is sort of like crossing your fingers and hoping nothing bad happens for
five years. We already know that the CFIA has a problem; do not wait for another
outbreak before addressing it.
The government's amendment does not require the results of the audit to be
made public. The shortcomings should be fixed as well.
As one final point, I mentioned that the CFIA is currently revising its
inspection program, which is likely to involve a reallocation of its existing
resources. I am concerned that executives at the CFIA will see the meat hygiene
and slaughter program as resource rich. In something akin to moving deck chairs
on the Titanic, the CFIA may think they can rob the program that let us down at
XL and reallocate resources to other areas that need to be shored up.
In closing, if Canada's food safety system is to be a true partnership
between government and industry, then self- policing on the part of food
companies must be reined in. To paraphrase the words of Ronald Reagan, which I
do not often do, do not simply trust but verify. It is sort of like with a cop
in the rear-view mirror, people obey traffic laws. The same holds true in the
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Kingston.
Senator Plett: Thank you, gentlemen, for coming out. I am quite happy
to have both of you answer whatever questions I ask. They will not be specific.
In your presentations, you indicated that we have reduced the number of
inspectors that the CFIA has working for them. I would like you to at least
address information I have that says since March of 2006, when this government
came to power, field inspection staff has increased by 711 inspectors, from
2,823 to 3,534 by March of 2012, an increase of approximately 25 per cent. How
do you equate that to when you say we have decreased inspectors?
I think, Mr. Kingston, you said that we had decreased inspectors by 100, and
yet our figures are quite clear that they have, in fact, increased by 711.
Mr. Kingston: The decrease that I just described happened in April
with the announcement of the cuts from the budget.
In terms of overall numbers, to be honest, ever since the government first
started coming up with the big numbers that they say they have increased the
inspectors by, I have been promised meetings where that would be explained. We
have been saying from the beginning that we do not see these people, and I do
know that they hired 200 people for invasive alien species, not food-related. I
do know that as a result of the Weatherill-ordered audit, they did hire 170 in
the processed meat program. There is a net increase there for sure. We are not
The decrease that I talked about with the 100 was what happened in the spring
of this year.
In terms of the 700 or so they say they have increased by, we cannot find
them, and they are certainly not in the meat slaughter plants. I can guarantee
you that. We have asked repeatedly for explanations. For years I have been
promised meetings that would explain these numbers, and I am still waiting for
that meeting to take place with CFIA executives so they can square those numbers
with us, because we do not see these people.
The other thing you need to know is that the number they are referring to is
not number of inspectors. The 700 that they are referring to is a category of
employees at CFIA, and these are technical category employees. They could be
working anywhere. They could be working in offices, labs or literally anywhere
within the agency, but it is just a category of a classification of employment.
It is not an inspector designation. I can absolutely guarantee you that there is
no way that that number represents addition to food inspection.
Senator Plett: Well, in fact, our figures show that of the inspection
staff decreased, it was reduced in areas of laboratories, operation headquarters
Would you not also agree, though, that the 100 people that you are saying the
government has decreased were simply a matter of the government no longer
subsidizing inspectors that were working in the provinces, and that, in fact,
these inspectors are still being employed by the provinces? They have not gone
away. They are being employed; they are just not paid for or subsidized by the
Mr. Kingston: Of the 100, 40 of those were delivering, at least in
part of their job, provincial meat inspection programs. There were 60 originally
to go. Twenty had already left before the 100 that were announced in April.
Therefore, 40 were, at least in part, delivering provincial programs. I do not
know of any of them who have been hired by the provinces who are supposed to
take that on. In fact, we predicted that you are not going to see that because
the provinces would largely have to at least quadruple their budgets to take
that on. For example, in B.C., where they are looking at initiating their own
program, one of the options they posted on their ministry of health website is
the no- inspection option because they do not have the money. They are proposing
putting cameras in a plant, and then if there is a problem, well, I guess they
can review the tapes.
Senator Plett: However, in fact, these inspectors were provincial
inspectors being subsidized by the federal government. They were not employees
of the federal government. They were employees of the provincial governments.
Mr. Kingston: No, that is actually not true. They were federal
government inspectors. They were employed by the Canadian Food Inspection
Agency, appointed by the minister, and what was happening was they were
delivering the program on behalf of the province in provincial plants, but
usually only as part of their job. They were also working in federal
Senator Plett: Mr. Caron, you have suggested — maybe both of you did —
that there have been all these decreases. We all need to try to live within our
means. However, in fact, in the 2011 budget, the government provided CFIA with
an additional $100 million over five years to modernize food safety inspection
in Canada. That is an additional $100 million over five years. In Budget 2012,
the government provided CFIA with another $51.2 million over two years to be
shared with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada. Would you not
agree that those are significant increases as opposed to decreases in budget?
Mr. Caron: I would say they are significant increases, but I think
what I experience through my work and now in industry is what I see going on at
the borders with no CFIA staff there whatsoever.
Senator Plett: However, the increase in budget is significant.
Mr. Caron: Yes, I would say it was significant.
Senator Plett: Thank you.
I have a last comment, chair, if I could, before I wait for the next round,
Mr. Kingston. I am assuming that you will provide this committee, through the
clerk, with the deficiencies that you say there have been in the government
implementing the Weatherill report. My information is quite clear that the
government has, in fact, implemented all 57 of her recommendations, and you seem
to indicate that that is not the case. If that is not the case, I would
appreciate it if you would provide, through the clerk, the recommendations that
have not been there, and if that is not the case, then I expect that will be
Mr. Kingston: Glad to.
Senator Plett: Thank you.
That is fine for now, chair.
The Chair: Senator Peterson to be followed by Senator Rivard.
Senator Peterson: Thank you, chair, and thank you, gentlemen, for your
presentations this evening.
One of the overriding concerns that we have had is that there is not
sufficient funds or front-line inspectors to deal adequately with the food
safety as outlined in this bill, and you seem to have confirmed that. However,
you have numbers, we have numbers, and they have numbers. We are all tossing
numbers around. We are talking about the safety of Canadians and their lives.
Would it not behoove us to have a third-party audit at the passing of this bill
to determine exactly where we are and what the baseline is so that Canadians
would know what we have or do not have as we move forward?
Mr. Kingston: I would strongly recommend that. As a matter of fact, I
want to make one thing clear.
From the beginning of the entire debate concerning numbers, our focus has
never been on cuts or reductions. All we have ever asked is that an assessment
take place about what is needed, given how you design your programs, and then
make sure you have it. That is all we have ever asked, and that is what we are
still asking for. Whether that results in their staying the same and perhaps
just a reallocation, we do not know.
As far as increased budgets go, I do not have any say in where that money
goes, so I cannot say whether it is adequate or not. To me, the more important
thing is do exactly as you described: a thorough and objective assessment of the
programs, the resources needed to carry them out, and then figure out what you
have got on hand. That is all we have ever asked for.
Senator Peterson: You are saying that, certainly, in view of the
recent situation in Alberta, we have to get proactive here, not reactive. We are
talking about safety. Therefore, it would appear more important now to have this
initial third-party audit done right after the passage of the bill and then
every five years.
Mr. Kingston: Absolutely. As an example, in the XL situation, the
government has stated, quite rightly, that there is a large number of inspectors
on site. I think there are misperceptions accompanying that because of the fact
that such an assessment has not happened.
In fact, that plant is a huge factory covering several city blocks, and
having 20 inspectors on a shift with the volume that goes through there and the
speed of production, the inspection staff, as numerous as they were, were not
able to keep up with their traditional inspection duties in that type of
environment, to the point where the agency is forced to make a decision about
what parts they can parcel off and have the plant look after themselves. In this
case, a very significant thing happened. The plant is responsible for sanitation
monitoring, not CFIA. CFIA has an oversight role to try to ensure that they do
what they say what they will do, but, in fact, it is the plant that has that
We all know where E. coli comes from. It is in fact that part of the program.
It is the plant's own oversight that really let us down here. CFIA, for whatever
reason, did not have the capacity to pick it up as early as it should have.
That is where this assessment process would be invaluable, because what seems
like a large number might not be adequate or might be put in the wrong place;
who knows? Until we have that assessment, we do not know.
Senator Peterson: On the matter of self-regulation by industry without
CFIA oversight, could this have been a factor in what happened?
Mr. Kingston: It certainly could have. As I said, that part of the
operation was the plant's to look after and it obviously was not looked after
adequately, so self-regulation would be a problem in this particular case. To
what extent a change in CFIA's processes would have picked it up faster, I am
not sure, but it is the part of the operation the industry is self-regulating at
Senator Peterson: Mr. Caron, for imports of foreign products and the
numbers of new licences that we are talking about, which is a staggering number,
is there the capability under the present system to come anywhere near handling
Mr. Caron: No way; it would be difficult. As Mr. Kingston said,
possibly 10,000 people will be applying for this. For the staff to handle it,
you have to establish a database and then various import systems would have to
be updated with customs and various other government agencies as well. There is
just no way they could handle that volume with the current staff they have.
Senator Peterson: Doing this would take front-line inspectors away
from their inspection jobs to deal with these licences. Could that happen as
Mr. Caron: It depends what their functions are. It would be a large
clerical and administrative undertaking. Inspectors will be probably involved in
this if they do not have the clerical staff to do it because there will be that
big a demand from the industry to be on that list and to be eligible to import
into Canada. CFIA will have to pull resources from probably many different areas
to do this.
Senator Peterson: We know their budgets are being reduced year after
year after year, in the next three years, up to $56 million in 2014-15. It seems
to me that this is an impossibility, trying to do this when your budget is going
the other way.
Mr. Caron: Currently, I would agree with you.
Senator Rivard: Mr. Caron, since I did not have your text, I have to
ask you if I understood correctly. You said that all Canadian food exported to
the United States was fully inspected by the Americans, whereas barely two per
cent of American products that we import are. Is that really what you said?
Mr. Caron: The current system now for all commercial food products
going into the U.S. is that they have to give two hours advance notice and then
the U.S. customs border service takes the information about this shipment, who
the exporter is, what the commodity is, what food product it is — meat,
vegetable or a processed food — into consideration. They even take in the
trucker, the trucking company, the transport company or the logistics company.
They will take in many different aspects — the exporter, the importer in the
U.S. — feed that information into a database and then establish a risk
assessment. On that basis they determine whether the load is to be presented for
The current figure I heard was about 70 per cent of loads are going for
inspection. Meat products, though, are a little different. Each meat product
load goes for inspection — every single load. Each shipment going into the U.S.
first has to go through the customs people; then it goes through the Food and
Drug Administration, which has a look at it; then it goes through the USDA,
which is concerned with animal health diseases; and then from there it is
directed to an inspection facility located within close proximity of the border.
It has not yet been released by customs. It goes to that inspection facility and
every load is opened up, every truck is opened up, every container is opened up
and the Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors will get a computerized
program of inspection. They will possibly offload the truck and then examine
samples from that truck and take samples from it, which is how they caught the
XL shipment. They opened that truck and took samples. They have a program that
is networked and it dictates to them what they have to do — the inspector.
Every truck of meat going into the U.S. is inspected. I would say 70 per cent
of food products are inspected. They have to go through a rigorous screening
right at the port of entry. All this activity is at the port of entry.
For shipments coming to Canada, it is all just ``wanded'' through at the port
of entry, and then CFIA tries to track it down inland if they determine it needs
Senator Rivard: I accept what you are telling me, but I am very
surprised that more precautions are not being taken on the Canadian side with
respect to American products. I in no way doubt anything you are saying, but
this needs to be verified because I would be surprised if it turned out that you
are right about American food imported to Canada and the fact that there is
apparently so little inspection. You still say that barely two per cent is
Mr. Caron: That is the figure I have been told. I have read that
Meat shipments coming into Canada, as I said, are cleared at the border, and
the onus is on the importer to present that load for inspection at an inland
facility, which could be hundreds of miles inland. There they have to present
the load for inspection and they have to go on to a CFIA website to see what the
status of their shipment is, whether it is an inspection, what they call a skip
lot; one in 10 lots coming into Canada has to go for a full inspection. If a
full inspection is determined, they are obligated to present that load for
In the last 10 years, I think we are in the thousands of loads that never
went for inspection that were supposed to. There was only one prosecution for
that. This has been a contention I had when I was working with CFIA, and I still
have it. I do not know why they do not do more to enforce that. The system is
flawed in that regard.
The Chair: You said one in ten, Mr. Caron, for the record, is being
Mr. Caron: Yes.
The Chair: That is 10 per cent. Where is the 2 per cent coming from?
Mr. Caron: The 2 per cent I have read on various websites. Mr.
Kingston could probably attest to that, but that is a figure I have read
The Chair: You have read that?
Mr. Caron: Yes.
Mr. Kingston: Where the 2 per cent figure comes from is all
agricultural commodities and, in fact, forestry commodities if you include wood
trucks. Some commodities such as meat have a higher inspection rate and other
commodities are simply never inspected. The 2 per cent is an overall average and
it is a pretty accurate average. Many of the inspection programs, including the
numbers, frequency of inspection that comes in, I was involved in designing at
CFIA, so I know where that figure comes from. I know the compromises that came
along to settle on that figure.
The Chair: Where do those sources come from?
Mr. Kingston: They come from the program design and CFIA itself.
The Chair: Can you please provide that to the clerk, Mr. Kingston?
Mr. Kingston: Yes.
Senator Merchant: In a study that the University of Regina, in
Saskatchewan, did in 2010 on food security, they found that Canada ranked
fourteenth in traceability. You have spoken about the problems with
traceability. I am not sure what other 13 countries are ahead of us. Perhaps you
could tell us. Have you some suggestions about things that should be added to
this bill to improve our ability to trace?
Mr. Kingston: To trace back product? On a number of issues, including
traceability, I think the bill is pretty good. As a matter of fact, I have
stated publicly that, overall, I think the bill is good. My concern is more
along the lines that there is no point in having good legislation if you are not
intending to enforce it. That is where most of my criticisms come from.
A number of pieces of regulation about traceability are being gazetted as we
speak, and they will go a long way to enhancing CFIA's ability to trace back
food as well. I am not too sure what would need to be in this legislation to
improve on that, especially short of seeing how those regulations end up, but I
do know they have been gazetted for a number of different products that CFIA
controls. I would have to take another look at that. I am not sure there is
anything I would suggest to improve it.
Mr. Caron: In regard to the import side, there was a problem over the
years when I was working at a border crossing and tracing foods inland. I would
put products under detention, and then they would disappear. The importer could
not be found and the address I was given to direct the load to would be missing,
and things along that line. That was an issue back then for tracking down
shipments that were even put under detention. Meat shipments currently that are
consigned for inspection are being lost in the system. Many times CFIA cannot
find out where those meat products went.
I think industry is doing a pretty good job on tracing food products. They
have done their coding systems, in what I have seen. When you are developing
your HACCP plans, you have to indicate to CFIA that you have a system in place
that can track shipments. They can do it right to the hour of production now —
the day and hour of production — and they assign lot numbers and things along
that line. There are always other ways, and the experts might be able to
discover better ways of doing it.
Senator Merchant: We were fourteenth, so I am thinking that there are
areas where something is not working.
Mr. Caron: One thing that happens with a meat product is that as soon
as you take it out of the box, you lose the tracking ability for that product.
That box has all the information that can track that shipment, and once that
product is removed from the box, it loses its identity to it.
Senator Merchant: On this latest problem with the plant in Alberta,
what do you think about the response time? People are now asking questions about
the response time. There were 12 days between the first positive tests and the
recall. Do you feel that they responded in an appropriate length of time?
Mr. Caron: I do not think it is fair for me to answer that question. I
do not know all the details of the plant and what steps CFIA took. I have no
firsthand knowledge of that.
Mr. Kingston: It will depend on a few key pieces of information. At
the beginning, given the positive finds obtained by both CFIA and USDA, it
appeared to be a reasonable approach because they thought the product of concern
was contained. Once they started looking at paperwork in the plant and doing an
investigation, they realized that there were spikes in bacteria prior to that
that had not been reported, so of course now you end up with ever-increasing
recalls going on.
That begs the question about whether they should have erred more on the side
of caution at the beginning and put everything that XL produces under detention
until the investigation, or do you go with what you know at the time and limit
your enforcement activity to that product? They chose the latter. Until the
investigation is complete, it is hard to second guess that.
There is an issue there in terms of the documentation they got about the
earlier problems and why that was not brought to the attention of CFIA, or why
did CFIA not have the capacity to know that XL was not behaving well. Those are
questions that I am sure will be better answered as the investigation comes
along. It certainly is a good question at this point. For CFIA to say they did
everything perfectly at this time I think is highly questionable and at least
Senator Plett: I was going to ask this question later in the second
round, but it is related so I will ask it as a supplementary.
We are all so sorry about what is happening with XL, and I certainly concur
with what Senator Peterson said before. We are all concerned about safety. Would
you not agree, Mr. Kingston, that this bill would speed up the recall process?
Mr. Kingston: Having read the bill, I am not quite sure how that would
happen, because the recall process is determined by a very quick risk assessment
based on the test results they had. They made the assumption that everything
affected was either at the plant or had been shipped to the U.S. and therefore
detained by the USDA, and it turned out that that assumption was wrong. I am not
sure that more powers would have changed that decision-making process. It is not
a lack of authority that led to the current decision making.
In fact, they went to a voluntary audit. CFIA very rarely uses the mandatory
audit process. They want the plants and companies to do it themselves. They
adopt that approach for a number of reasons philosophically, and some of them
are problematic. There is a perception in senior executives at CFIA that when a
company does a voluntary recall, it is truly voluntary and they want to do the
recall. That is not the case. Most companies do a voluntary recall because,
first, if they do not, they will have to do a mandatory one, and second, by
agreeing to do a voluntary recall, not only do they benefit from the PR that
goes along with it, they escape any regulatory consequence. When you agree to a
voluntary recall, if you totally mess it up, all you get is a letter saying,
``You kind of messed up this recall. This is what went wrong. You need to fix
this.'' If they are doing a mandatory recall and totally mess it up, there are
legal consequences that go with that. The people in the field completely
disagree with the belief that somehow voluntary recalls are always better.
However, those authorities are already there. I cannot quite see how this
bill would change that. It is just the reactions and the awareness and the
vigour with which some people are ready to carry out enforcement actions and
others are not.
I am glad you asked that, because one of the issues here is not just about
capacity in numbers but about capacity in terms of a culture shift at CFIA.
Managers at CFIA are, by and large, very reluctant to come down hard on the
industry. Of course, we all want the industry to succeed, and that is a given,
but there are times when there are obviously bad actors, and CFIA is still
extremely reluctant to take any kind of hard action against them. For this bill
to really succeed, I am hoping there will be a bit of a culture shift there as
Senator Eaton: You talk about a culture shift in CFIA. Reading The
Globe and Mail this morning, they had a long article on XL and problems on
the line. No matter how well intentioned a bill and regulations, does it not
boil down to the management culture, line worker culture and the whole culture
of the place to make it work? Will not the much heavier penalties force people
to have a culture shift, if they are imposed? Is that not an incentive?
I am thinking of Maple Leaf Foods, for instance, with which we are all
familiar. I do not know if it was spin, but all the ads in which Mr. McCain
appeared seemed to be leaning over backwards to make sure that it was contained
and that their food was safe, when they had that incident last year.
How much emphasis do you think we should put on actual culture in our meat
packing and inspection and our fines? Do you think a heavier fine will have an
Mr. Kingston: First, I agree completely with your first point. As far
as the second point, I agree completely there, too, and I think that that change
in culture is essential to this bill making a difference.
In relation to the increase in fines, I am optimistic that the passing of a
bill like this will send a message just by passing it. I am hoping that message
is related to the regulatory body as well because to date no one has ever been
fined the maximum. This bill increases the fine 20-fold, yet the maximum in the
old legislation has never been used.
As I said, they are very reluctant to carry out enforcement actions. It is to
the point of great frustration with field staff: inspectors, veterinarians and
agriculture officers. In the field where they have amassed evidence in cases,
basically a case is signed, sealed and delivered, ready to go to prosecution,
and someone somewhere decides they will drop the case.
The message that sends to staff is not to waste their time. The message it
sends to the good actors in industry is, ``Why follow the law?'' When we have
spent a lot of time and resources putting strong cases together and just have
someone in management say, ``Maybe we should take it more easy,'' when the field
staff have seen these people be bad actors for a very long time, that is
extremely depressing. As I said, no one knows better who the bad actors are than
their colleagues in the industry. Believe you me, when they see us about to
prosecute someone they are hoping it will happen too; and when it does not,
basically that is worse than having no law at all.
Senator Buth: You have primarily focused on resources and I am not
surprised. Clearly, there will always be tensions between union and management.
Your presentations and your comments were not unexpected. However, I was
interested in the comment you made, Mr. Kingston, that the bill is good. I want
to pull this conversation back to Bill S- 11 and get your comments in terms of
the bill. The focus has been on resources, but I would like the focus to be on
the bill in terms of traceability and the increase in fines, which I think you
have already covered.
In terms of the prohibitions regarding deception and tampering, the importer
registration, you have talked about the resources in terms of that and the
consolidation of inspection powers. Could you both comment on what you see in
the bill that is good and what you would support?
Mr. Kingston: In terms of the traceability, the licensing of importers
is a good thing, as Mr. Caron mentioned, as long as it is actually done. Ten
thousand licences will not just fall into some kind of filing system on their
own, so we all would have to agree that it has to be more than just something
that exists, but that is a good thing.
The consolidation of powers under the various pieces of legislation so that
they are now uniform is a good idea. In the past, every different commodity
group had a different way of doing everything, from detentions to releases from
detention, to whether or not to allow items into the country. The other thing is
now they all have the authority to actually prohibit items from coming into the
country if they are bad. Those are all good things.
When you harmonize as much as practical among the programs, you also make
training easier and more cost effective. Instead of having five bookshelves of
manuals, maybe there will only be three or four, but it is definitely an
improvement. There are many good things.
Again, we are pointing out our concerns, but definitely we said from the
get-go that there are definitely some good things in the bill.
Mr. Caron: I agree with that. When I was an inspector, I would see
flagrant violations of food safety in regard to processed foods. However, under
the food and drug administration, I never had the power to refuse entry. All I
could do was put that load under detention and it could proceed inland. Like I
said, it proceeded inland and then there could be a fictitious importer or
someone using someone else's name. The product could be destined for an empty
lot, so I would lose track of that shipment and I could not follow through on
the detention. It was a food safety risk. That is a good area too. If there is a
licensed importer of record, I know the contact, the address and how to get hold
of them so that CFIA can go after these people and say, ``Where is that food
product? Present it to us; we have to inspect it.'' That is the good part of the
On the enforcement end, CFIA needs to put the resources into enforcement.
Similar to what Mr. Kingston was saying, I wrote countless non-compliance
reports on products coming into the country. I got tired of doing it because
nothing happened with those. They just disappeared and no one followed through
on them, so I thought it was useless to make all the effort and take time to do
these things. It was discouraging and demoralizing for a front-line inspector to
be going through this.
Senator Buth: I just wanted to clarify that because we get into this
business of duelling numbers and whether inspectors are actually there or not,
or what is happening. I wanted to focus back on the bill, so thank you very
Senator Mercer: I want to state from the get-go that I have 100 per
cent faith in the farmers producing good quality products in this country. I
think Canadians need to be assured, though, that we have something wrong in the
system between the farm gate and the grocery store shelf. Something has gone
wrong here, and we need to find out how to fix it and if this bill is helpful in
Mr. Kingston, you are a union president. I have great respect for what you
do. Let us talk about the numbers, though. We have heard the numbers and that
there are 700 new people in the system. If I understand correctly, when you go
to work for the Government of Canada and you become a permanent employee at
CFIA, which is a union shop, you would probably become a member the PSAC. Has
your membership increased by a number? It seems that the math would be easy
here. If there are supposedly 700 more people in the system, give or take some
people who might be excluded, you should have a fairly hefty increase in
membership, should you not?
Mr. Kingston: Funny you mention that, because when we were working out
the essential service agreement and those figures were being tabled with us we
asked where the dues were that we were supposed to be getting.
There are some numbers that are not quite right and, as I said, I have been
waiting for a meeting where we can work that out. I know that when that meeting
finally happens we will be able to work it out. When we argued about numbers
during the McCain issue, when we finally sat down and compared notes, it took us
about 10 minutes to reconcile the numbers. It turned out that only 225 were
delivering that program. They were actually out by 2.
There is a problem with the way the numbers are being reported. I am not sure
where the problem is. Like I said, I have been asking for a while to get it
sorted out. You are quite right that we are not getting the dues those numbers
would reflect. I do know that when we did an analysis of some of their numbers
through their software programs, we found out that some names appeared twice,
some people had died and some people had retired who were still in the system. I
am not sure how much of that is at play here.
I do know there have been increases in numbers, but to be quite honest, we
have seen more of that at the headquarters level than in the field. They have
created whole new branches, new vice-presidents and all the associated
management regimes that come along with that. I just have not seen any
additional numbers in the meat plants.
Senator Mercer: I do not know that we need more management. We have
listened to Mr. Caron's frustration of being out there doing his work. I assume
that all food inspectors are out there doing what they are supposed to do. There
is an issue of whether they are trained properly. It is a question of capacity.
Are we asking them to do more than they have the capacity to do?
We have had the frustration from Mr. Caron that he has written up reports
time after time, and they go for naught. He has put shipments on hold. I forget
Mr. Caron: Detention.
Senator Mercer: They have been detained and then suddenly they are
missing. One would assume that if they are missing, they did not go back.
Mr. Caron: No.
Senator Mercer: They went ahead. We heard your concerns about the
safety of that food. It ended up somewhere. I do not suspect that their first
stop was the local city dump.
Are we asking too much? Are Canadians expecting too much of the system that
we have in place? If so, how do we fix the system?
Mr. Caron: Speaking from the import side of it, I think CFIA, by
removing all their inspectors from the borders, have created a real problem.
In the documentation regarding the new bill on their website, they discuss
how they mirror the U.S. in their inspection and how they do things. They are
not even close to what the U.S. does on imports. Imports, as I said, have to go
through the Department of Homeland Security, customs, FDA and the USDA. If it is
a meat product, it then must go through full inspection and every load is
examined. We do not do that here. The load comes to the primary line of customs
and then they release it.
Senator Mercer: If I were a suspicious man, and I am not, I would say
that there must be something very wrong with the system in that potentially
tainted products are getting across the border. I am shocked by the fact that
you say that under the current legislation the maximum fines have never been
levied. I do not understand how we can expect that these new, bigger fines will
be of any help if we have not used what is already in place.
Both of you have talked about the fact that recommendations have been made to
go ahead and then, as it goes through the system, suddenly someone says, ``Let
us back off of it.'' Who is that someone who is telling that somebody to do that
backing off? That is what I want to know.
Mr. Caron: I am not sure of the question, senator.
Mr. Kingston: I am.
Mr. Caron: Are you? Okay, you go ahead.
Senator Mercer: I thought Mr. Kingston would be.
Mr. Kingston: I do not think you want actual names or anything, but I
can think of one big case where there was evidence sitting in a warehouse for
the better part of a year. The enforcement section in Ottawa started putting
pressure on the local management to make a decision and asking if we are
prosecuting or not. Quite honestly, local management was a little flustered.
That was not the program they came up through. They were not as familiar with
the program as the people in the field doing the enforcement. The pressure got
to them. They said let it go, so the product was released.
A lot of were upset about that. That kind of thing happens more often than it
should by a long shot.
Senator Mercer: I can understand why you would be frustrated. You are
doing a good job. You make a recommendation that the law be enforced as it
exists, and then someone comes along and pulls the plug or puts you in a
situation to do something that you are not trained to do.
Mr. Kingston: Yes.
Mr. Caron: I explained to you about all these meat shipments that were
supposed to go for inspection but never did go for inspection. I wrote
compliance reports. I went to management. I complained vigorously about this. I
got lip service saying, ``Yes, we have to do something about it.'' However, I
know there has only been one shipment out of all those thousands of shipments
that was prosecuted out of failure to present. That was about two years ago and
that happened at a plant in Quebec. That was only one case and they had two
counts against them. Nothing has been done to anyone else. The industry says why
do we even worry about it? They just thumb their nose at it. They figure that if
they do get caught, the fine is only minimal and is just a cost of doing
Senator Mercer: If we pass this bill and try to implement it as the
government says they want to do, we will have quite a time getting people's
Mr. Caron: Yes.
Senator Mercer: The system — not the individuals — has lost a lot of
respect from the players, if I interpret this correctly.
Mr. Caron: We talked about the culture within CFIA. My experience with
the culture is the people setting the policy and making the final decisions do
not consult enough with the front-line people. They ignore them. They are not
listening to them. I think people should be brought in and consulted. These
people in management positions should go to the front line and visit these sites
to see exactly what is going on. They are not doing that, as far as I can
Senator Demers: I am replacing Senator Duffy.
There seems to be lack of structure. It seems that everyone is doing whatever
they want to do. There may be some fraud in there.
Your presentation was great. I know you are trying to protect certain things
and that, in a way, you cannot say certain things, but there seems to be no
structure. Everyone does what they want to do. There are connections and clicks
and all that. Am I right by saying that? I see your frustration, and I respect
that because I think you are both very honest in the way you presented. However,
it gives me the impression that if everything were to be discovered, there could
be a major scandal here in the way things are operated. I do not know if I see
it the same way everyone does who has spoken here so far.
The Chair: A comment from Mr. Kingston and Mr. Caron, and then we will
go to Senator Robichaud.
Mr. Kingston: One thing I want to make clear is this: If you spend
time with the agency, CFIA, you will find that as a group they are highly
idealistic and very dedicated to the point where they will take on more than
they can handle with a smile on their face. That is the kind of environment that
is there, which can get them into trouble sometimes. They are an extremely
idealistic group of people who believe in what they do.
Over the last couple of decades, a lot of government organizations have taken
on this philosophy that you do not really have to know something to manage it.
It took hold in CFIA in a large way. At senior management levels, it was
explained just like that: ``You do not really have to know something to manage
it.'' That is fair enough. We all accept that at senior levels.
The second president was a lawyer. All of a sudden, CFIA was hiring lawyers
left, right and centre. The last one before the current one was an economist.
All of a sudden, they were flooded with economists running every branch in CFIA.
You had an economist running the program branch, which was always held by
someone with a science background, and an economist running the operations
At the senior levels that was okay. That has started now to happen at the
lower levels, too. We are finding that at the lower levels you have supervisors
who are the first line of contact for industry when they have a complaint. You
will have someone who came up through meat inspection who is now in charge of
plant protection or vice versa; that is, you will have someone with a plant
science background who is supervising fish inspection. Personally, I think that
is taking that philosophy a bit too far.
We have spoken to the agency about that, but you do end up with people
struggling with decisions about enforcement when they do not have the
appropriate background in the section that they are supervising or managing. I
think that is one of the factors. I do not think it is because anyone is
corrupt. I think it is a fine group of people.
Senator Demers: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Kingston.
Mr. Caron: In addition to these managers that Mr. Kingston described,
who have no knowledge of the program they are administrating, you now have
people in those programs with inadequate training and they have to go to these
supervisors as well for guidance and instruction on how to do things. That
creates problems, too.
Senator Robichaud: In this bill, will we put in place a system that
requires a lot more paperwork? We have heard that some inspectors are
overwhelmed with paper and that it takes them away from the job they should be
doing. Would this bill create such an environment?
Mr. Kingston: I can say that, for example, on the import licensing
aspect, that will require a lot more paperwork. I do not see a plan to bring in
the support structure for that program. If that falls to the inspectors, that
would be a problem. If they actually have administration staff, as Mr. Caron
mentioned earlier, to look after the licensing functions, then I think it would
be good. I do not think it would necessarily add to what inspectors do
paper-wise. It depends how they choose to implement it.
Mr. Caron: There is a lot of paperwork when you are an inspector,
auditing plants and things along that line, HACCP programs. There is a vast
amount of paperwork involved, and they spend a vast amount of time going through
those documents. They spend more time doing that than actually going through the
plant. The paperwork is overwhelming in terms of the number of forms that these
companies create that inspectors have to audit, verify and go through. It is all
paperwork now. There is no on-the-line inspection. There is no front-line
inspection to see what is actually going on in plants. A lot of the inspectors,
because they are not out in the plants, do not understand the full concept of
how plants work, what happens in those plants, and things they could look for.
Just going through paperwork is not the whole answer.
Senator Robichaud: On the issue of paperwork, I think Mr. Kingston
mentioned the problem we are faced with right now with the mass recall. It is
self-regulating. When it came into the plant, something that should have
happened did not happen, through no ill will, I am sure. Will this do anything
to prevent that? We are talking about fines to the industry. The whole industry
will pay dearly with what is happening now, will they not?
Mr. Kingston: That is probably the saddest part of it all. You are
right; not only is this costing CFIA and the government a fortune, but it is
costing the whole industry a fortune.
In terms of what effect this bill has vis-à-vis increased fines, if having a
broader range, a higher range, encourages more judges to impose fines in the
middle, ``in the middle'' of this legislation would be way higher than the top
of the old legislation. Maybe that could be a good thing, if they prosecute and
if they go ahead with that kind of stuff. Short of that, I do not see this
legislation impacting what happened at XL.
Senator Plett: Actually, Mr. Kingston, you somewhat addressed the
question I had on the last answer to Senator Robichaud, but I do want to follow
up on that very briefly.
First, I certainly appreciate as well your support of the majority of this
bill, that you are supporting it. It is good to see that you are supporting it,
and we recognize some of your concerns.
However, you did comment that this government is a bit of a law-and-order
government. As such, I think you suggested that if judges give fines in the
middle, then we have done something because the fines have gone up.
In your opinion, is that not generally what judges have been seen to have
done? They are afraid to hand out maximum penalties, and so that is one of the
reasons we sometimes have to create legislation for minimums. Would you not
agree there is a good chance that judges will increase the fines as a result of
the maximums being as high as they are?
Mr. Kingston: Over the years we have seen a bit of that. However, I
would add that even more important is that CFIA proceed with prosecutions more
often. Quite honestly, when I started, which was back in 1978-79, there were
almost no prosecutions taking place at all. At the time, it was the Food
Production and Inspection Branch of Agriculture Canada. When we first started
introducing into courts the idea that producers, processors and shippers needed
in some cases to be prosecuted, the fines were almost non-existent. It was
laughable. As the courts had more experience with it and got to understand the
issues better, the penalties became more serious.
Again, a very important part of it is that they will have to follow through
with more vigorous enforcement. I think that, combined with a bigger range of
fines, might achieve what we are trying to do here.
Senator Plett: I know this government agrees with that, which is one
of the reasons they are creating the legislation and the opportunities. I think
the indication is there that we certainly agree with you. Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you, honourable senators.
To the witnesses, thank you for sharing your comments with us.
Honourable senators, we now have before us Mr. Mel Fruitman, Vice-President
of the Consumers' Association of Canada. We also have with us Ms. Elizabeth
Nielsen, a board member of the Consumers Council of Canada.
Thank you for accepting our invitation. I am told by our clerk that Ms.
Nielsen will make her presentation first, followed by Mr. Fruitman.
Elizabeth Nielsen, Board Member, Consumers Council of Canada: Good
evening, Mr. Chair and honourable senators. I would like to thank you for
inviting the Consumers Council of Canada to participate in these hearings on the
proposed act that deals with one of the most important necessities of life, and
that is the food supply and its safety. The council is a non-profit organization
that works collaboratively with consumers, business and government to establish
a fair, equitable and safe marketplace. We are very concerned about the food
consumed by Canadians and that it is safe, that it is affordable and that it is
available, and that the information on or accompanying the products is accurate,
accessible and easily understood.
Canada, for the most part, has created a good food safety system. However, it
has also experienced a number of serious food safety incidents, such as the E.
coli on produce from the U.S. and now the hamburger from Alberta and the
listeriosis outbreak resulting in the deaths of 22 people.
As a result of these incidents and Sheila Weatherill's investigation, the
government drafted this bill to improve Canada's food safety regime and make it
We are fully aware that the provisions within the acts enforced by CFIA are
not consistent, and this creates severe problems for the inspectors who have to
carry through on the enforcement of these acts, industry that has to meet the
acts, and many of the enforcement criteria are out of date.
Thus, the council supports many of the changes being proposed, such as having
inspectors with up-to-date enforcement and inspection powers, the same across
all food commodities, and those powers are really no different than are present
in other acts that I have worked with.
There is search and seizure power, same as with what is presently under the
Canada Consumer Product Safety Act; tougher fines and penalties; prohibition
against tampering or threatening to make a product injurious to health, which is
excellent; registration and licensing of importers; and prohibition about
importing unsafe food, which is going to give them a very useful tool.
They also will have the authority to make regulations for the recall of
products, the traceability of any food items, for quality management and control
programs and preventive control plans.
Although the council supports many of these provisions, we also have a number
of concerns. One is the capability of CFIA to actually implement the provisions
of the bill. A decrease in its budget will come at a time when new licensing
procedures will identify thousands of new importers with quality management and
preventive control plans that CFIA staff will have to evaluate, they will have
to audit them and they will have to inspect the facilities as a result.
Moreover, many of the new inspectors hired are on term contracts, raising
concerns about the sustainability of the inspection system over the long term.
The modernization of inspection envisaged by this bill includes nine
functions, five of which are new. It is not clear who will manage and resource
these new functions and what impact that will have on the structure and
operational costs of CFIA. Having worked in government, I can see five new
empires being developed there. This raises the question of whether or not CFIA
can do the job and whether Canadians can be confident in the safety of the food
they are feeding their families.
The E. coli problem illustrates what happens when there is an incident. The
U.S. bans the import of suspect products, consumers stop purchasing, resulting
in serious implications for farmers, who will bear the brunt of this, and for
We are concerned about the changes being made to the enforcement of
labelling. Clause 81 of the new safe food for Canadians act makes the following
change to the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act: ``(3) This Act does not
apply to any food commodity as defined in section 2 of the Safe Food for
Canadians Act,'' which is just about any type of food.
In addition, the recent budget stated the government is going to change how
CFIA enforces non-health and non- safety food-labelling regulations. Nobody
knows really what this means. Does it mean that CFIA intends to stop policing
information and claims on food labels? From past surveys of labels that it
carried out, CFIA found a 75 to 85 per cent non-compliance rate in the products
that they surveyed, and this is from their studies. For consumers suffering from
diseases such as Crohn's disease, diabetes, cardiac problems or severe
allergies, accurate labelling of nutritional information and ingredients is
essential. Hopefully that will not be affected. Other types of labelling, such
as place of business, manufacturer, date of production, et cetera, are needed in
order to identify recall products. Of the thousands of products that are now
being recalled, you can understand how important having that sort of information
For these reasons, we strongly oppose any changes to the requirements and
enforcement of all types of labelling on food.
We are also concerned about the potential increase in the cost of food. At
the present time, industry pays substantial amounts of money to CFIA to cover
the cost of inspection of their plants. CFIA staff at a recent consultation on
modernization of inspection stated that CFIA obtains $45 million each year from
industry to pay for inspection. CFIA staff, during the consultations on the
modernization of inspection related to this act, stated that they had not
carried out any analysis of the impact of what is being proposed on the cost of
food. We are talking about the new systems and preventive control plans that
will have to be put in place. If the new licensing system or added requirements
raise industry's costs, the increase will be passed directly on to the price of
food for consumers.
We are also concerned about the reliance on industry to regulate itself. In
the recent E. coli incident, it became evident that there was a problem that
test results with respect to E. coli contamination were not being reported, and
they were not being assessed by any central agency, as occurs in the United
States, to detect trends that are occurring so that action could be taken.
We therefore recommend that the act be amended to include such a requirement.
We would also like to see some type of audit carried out on CFIA to make sure
that it is actually doing the job it is supposed to be doing.
We are concerned about the involvement of consumers in policy and regulatory
development under the new act. Part of it is due to the mission of CFIA when it
was initially put into play. There was a conflict between the concept of helping
the industry and the concept of safe food, and this was a dichotomy for a long
period of time.
As far as involvement of consumers, the proposed act, like all enabling
legislation, creates a framework, and the details of how it will be implemented
will be drafted in regulations. That is where the details will come.
!! The cabinet directive on streamlining regulations requires that an
assessment of the impact of regulations on all stakeholders, including
consumers, be carried out. The resources for consumers to actively participate
are not usually available. Industry can go and meet with the president of CFIA
while this legislation is being developed, but you did not see any consumers
there visiting in that same way.
Not only is it important to engage consumers, but it is also necessary to
take their views into account when deciding how to develop and manage
legislation so the benefits are maximized and risks minimized. This is what is
included in the cabinet streamlining regulation directive. All too often public
involvement means communicating the final decision or trying to educate
consumers in order to promote a particular position.
Involvement should really start at the beginning of the decision-making
process, identifying the issues and helping to set priorities. The council would
ask this committee to encourage the CFIA and the government to ensure that
consumer representation is included in this decision-making process,
particularly for the regulations, and that it is funded. The consumers'
organizations do not have the funding to be able to do that.
I would like to thank you for the time this evening, and I look forward to
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Nielsen. It is well said, and no
doubt well documented.
Senators, we will start with Senator Plett to be followed by Senator
Peterson, but first we will hear from Mr. Fruitman.
Mel Fruitman, Vice-President, Consumers' Association of Canada: Thank
you. The Consumers' Association of Canada is very pleased to have this
opportunity to present our views here, and your review is obviously extremely
timely given the events over the past few weeks, of which we have heard quite a
bit about in the last hour and a half.
For 65 years, the Consumers' Association of Canada, which is a
volunteer-based organization, has represented the interests of ordinary
Canadians in their role as consumers of goods and services as provided by both
the public and private sectors. Our mandate is to inform and educate consumers
on marketplace issues, to advocate for consumers with government and industry
and to work to solve marketplace problems in beneficial ways.
We commend the government for its recent actions to help improve the lot of
Canadian consumers when they deal in an increasingly complex marketplace. The
Canada Consumer Product Safety Act was a huge leap forward in providing
mechanisms to ensure that customers would not be harmed by the non-food items
they purchased and finally allowed for the mandated recall of items deemed
unsafe. It is hoped that Bill S-11 will also provide significant improvements in
the matter of food safety.
We were pleased to note Minister Ritz's comments when he appeared before you
recently regarding ``the efforts to ensure the safety of all food products sold
in Canada . . . no matter what the source'' and that the act ``will strengthen
enforcement powers on imports . . . and deliver stiff fines to anyone who
purposely endangers the safety of our food.'' It has long been a puzzlement that
there was a possibility that imported foodstuffs would not necessarily receive
the same scrutiny as did domestic products. That now appears to be something
that will no longer be a problem.
Even though deliberate food tampering is rare, new prohibitions and strong
penalties should dissuade most mischief-makers and make it easier to prosecute
miscreants. Hopefully, it will also help to deter those sick individuals who do
things such as putting razor blades in apples handed out to kids on Halloween,
which is coming up in a few weeks.
The increased traceability requirements should make it easier to determine
where foodstuffs came from and where they are at any time in the distribution
system. This will enhance the capability to enforce the provision prohibiting
the sale of food that is the subject of a recall order under section 19(1) of
the CFIA Act. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be clarification on what
is meant by a ``recall order'' beyond the fact that ``the product may be
recalled or sent to a place designated by the minister.''
Consumers interpret the term ``recall'' to mean that if they have in their
possession the offending product, they are supposed to return it, presumably to
where it was purchased. Consumers also expect that they should not have to
suffer financially as a result of having purchased a food commodity that is
subsequently recalled. It is unacceptable that consumers should be expected to
throw it out, as has been suggested by a CFIA official. We have also wondered
about why, as a previous witness mentioned, we have only had voluntary recalls,
given that the capability has always been there to have a mandatory recall.
The CAC definitely supports Bill S-11, but we do have a few not insignificant
concerns. The first is about the efficacy of the act. Minister Ritz has stated
that ``everything the CFIA does is risk-based.'' We presume he is referring to
what is usually known as a risk management system, in which the probability of
an undesirable outcome is measured against the cost of producing a desirable
one. This is consistent with the CFIA's vision to excel as a science-based
Such a system can be cost-effective and result in infinitesimal risk to
consumers. However, it is dependent on those entities that handle vulnerable
food commodities to have in place a system of controls, checks and balances to
ensure that contamination does not occur anywhere within their processes,
supporting documentation to show their procedures and confirmation of their
efficacy. It is then incumbent on the regulator to ensure that all of these
requirements are being met and to verify that they are having the desired
outcome. It is the latter stipulation that we fear may be overlooked; to put it
quite bluntly, whether they are actually testing product or not.
In the ongoing XL Foods case, it appears that the CFIA was not conducting the
proper oversight of the system, not necessarily considering whether or not the
procedures were adequate or were having the desired effect. Apparently, the E.
coli contamination was discovered as the result of supplementary testing the day
after the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service found a positive E. coli
The CFIA then issued a ``corrective action request'' and ``inspectors also
continued to supervise ongoing operations at the plant, including: Verifying
that carcasses are clean prior to processing; continuing to verify that the
facility is operating and the processing environment is clean; checking daily
that all positive lots are diverted to rendering and/or cooking; verify that the
company is developing and implementing action measures related to the corrective
actions requested by the CFIA.'' They have also stated they were conducting ``an
in-depth review of operations . . . focused on . . . preventive control measures
and food-safety policies and procedures.''
It appears to us that all of this oversight was directed to confirming or
improving the system, not to ensuring that the meat was not tainted; that is,
showing that there is in place an elegant procedure or system rather than
checking for the actual contamination to reduce the current risk to consumers.
This is akin to trying to put the lid back on the petri dish after the bug has
This bill clearly strengthens CFIA's ability to track, trace and recall
foods. However, we think it would be appropriate to have a means of monitoring
the CFIA to determine if their procedures will result in the desired outcome:
safer food. We do not know whether or not the CFIA has sufficient resources, but
we do support Senator Peterson's proposal that the bill be amended to require an
annual third party audit to ensure there are adequate resources to enforce this
bill. We suggest that they also include an efficacy audit: Are they actually
accomplishing what they have set out to do? That is a huge missing element in
all of this, as far as we are concerned.
Another of our concerns is that this bill covers only those entities that are
under federal jurisdiction. While this does not encompass the bulk of food
commodities, all Canadians, no matter where they live or who regulates their
food safety, should have the same high level of assurance and confidence in
their foodstuffs and encourage the federal government to in turn encourage the
provinces and territories and, where appropriate, municipalities to adopt
The last item of great concern is that the legislation continues to give the
minister power, through regulation, to set compositional standards for foods. In
light of the trend toward specifying desired results rather than defining how
one gets there, this appears to be an anachronism. While this ability ostensibly
protects consumers, we have a fear, based on past events, that this ability can
be perverted to provide economic protection to some producing sectors to the
disadvantage of Canadian consumers.
In summary, I would say that Bill S-11 provides new and enhanced tools to
protect Canadian consumers, but — particularly after listening to the previous
two witnesses — it does not appear as though the agency tasked to implement this
legislation has the capability to do so.
Thank you for listening, and I would be pleased to expand on any of these
points. I have tried to be somewhat diplomatic in my comments, but I have much
more to say.
The Chair: If you do have additional information you want to share
with the committee, please do not hesitate to send it to the clerk.
Thank you both for presenting these documents. They will be part of the Bill
Senator Plett: Thank you both for coming out. I have two questions
that are very general in nature.
You suggested in your comments, and I will read right out of your document:
It is then incumbent on the regulator to ensure that all these requirements
are being met and to verify that they are having the desired outcome.
Then you say:
It is the latter stipulation that we fear may be being overlooked.
Do you have evidence it is being overlooked, or is this just something you
think might happen?
Mr. Fruitman: Just about everything the CFIA has said with respect to
this XL fiasco suggests that they are putting a focus completely on the system
that XL presumably has in place to ensure that they have the desired outcome,
and they are not actually testing some of the product to see whether that has
resulted. They are looking at whether their documentation is right, whether the
system is right and whether they are doing the right things.
As far as we have heard, there has been only that one supplementary test, and
they are not testing product. That is perhaps why there has been such a long
delay from the initial finding and that it just keeps spilling out over time. It
has been three weeks now since the initial finding, and it seems like every day
they add something else to the list of banned or contaminated products.
There is no excuse for that. Canadian consumers should not have been at risk
during the period of time they were investigating whether the paperwork was
Senator Plett: Of course, as sad as the whole situation is, it is all
Mr. Fruitman: Although it does raise questions about what is post
Senator Plett: The other question may be a comment more than a
question. You say another of your concerns is that it covers only entities under
federal jurisdiction, and although we can certainly recommend to the province,
the federal government can deal only with what is federal jurisdiction.
Mr. Fruitman: We understand that.
Senator Peterson: Thank you both for your presentations. I will be
brief as well.
It is fair to say that the confidence of Canadians has been severely tested
in the past few days with our food safety situation. One of the criticisms that
has come out of the XL crisis is that the industry is too close to the watchdog,
or CFIA. Because we are tending or trying to go down the road of more industry
self-regulation, it would appear that without sufficient oversight by CFIA, it
will not work. In your opinion, does Bill S-11 exacerbate or improve this close
Mr. Fruitman: It does not improve it.
You have touched on something that has been a major concern of ours for many
years since CFIA came into being in 1997, that is, that it reports to the
minister or through the Minister of Agriculture, who is responsible for
promoting the sale, export and economic development of food stuffs in Canada. On
the one hand, we have an agency that is responsible for regulating and ensuring
that the food is proper and safe reporting to the same person who is responsible
for promoting the product and while promoting the product should include the
safety. Unfortunately, we see that there is a tension between the two
Ms. Nielsen: I can see the points you are making. We have a bit of
concern about it. Putting into place quality management systems, quality control
systems and prevention control plans should help with respect to the safety of
the food, depending on how they are implemented and ensuring that they are
audited carefully with a lot of oversight by the regulatory agency.
In many ways, it is much more effective than having an inspector at the end
of the line who is able to sample only a few products here and there. Much of
the problem here had to do with communication between the industry and CFIA.
This is, I think, a cultural problem to some extent that goes right back to 1997
when we were involved in putting CFIA on the ground. Their mandate was confused;
they had both a safe food mandate and also a trade mandate. I think that has
caused a lot of the problems.
It can be done effectively, but there needs to be oversight. In the United
States, all test results from microbiology testing, for instance, that are
carried out by the firm — they can carry it out just as well as anybody else, as
long as CFIA is auditing it — are sent to a central organization, and those are
assessed. Right now, those types of tests are not being assessed here in Canada.
I think it is possible for CFIA to set up that sort of organization within
itself to be able to do assessment so that it can figure out trends with respect
to contamination in the various plants and various places across the country.
Mr. Fruitman: In my mind, it raises a question of who oversees the
Senator Robichaud: Ms. Nielsen, you cite clause 81 in this bill, and I
would like you to explain to me your preoccupations with that clause. It says:
(3) This Act does not apply to any food commodity as defined in section 2
of the Safe Food for Canadians Act.
Ms. Nielsen: The Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act sets out
labelling requirements for all pre-packaged products, including food products,
or it has up until this particular point. It is a lot of basic information, for
example, about the quantity and where it is being produced, and that is also the
information that consumers want now. This provision changes the Consumer
Packaging and Labelling Act to take food out of it. No longer is there the
requirement under that act to put this information on the product. It would fall
under this new bill, and we do not know what CFIA will do with that information
now. Some of it, they say, is non-health or non-safety; therefore, it can all go
on a website. That is fine and dandy if you have a computer and if you can read.
Will you, before you go to the store, check a website and where would you go?
Forty per cent of the people in this country are illiterate in English or
French. Who and where will they get the information from? They need that
information if a recall comes up. Am I supposed to check every time there is a
recall and go to the website to ensure that the label is correct? Right now, we
know from CFIA's work that there is a massive problem with incorrect labelling.
Senator Robichaud: Will this bill not do anything to address it?
Ms. Nielsen: It depends. We do not know for sure. That is the problem.
If I had the answer, I would be able to give it to you, but we just do not know,
and as a result we are concerned. Much will come in regulations. We are sort of
the last ones to be asked to provide information or even to get to the
consultations. I have been going to the ones on the modernization of inspections
for the council, and many times I do it because I am here in Ottawa. I used to
work for Health Canada in the Health Products and Food Branch, so I know
something about the legislation, but it is very difficult.
Senator Robichaud: You are hoping that somehow you will be able to
contribute to the putting in place of the regulations.
Ms. Nielsen: Yes, because the thing I do know is legislation and
regulations. I teach it over at the Canada School of Public Service. All my
life, I worked with the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act and did all the
policy work for it, also the Food and Drugs Act and the radiation protection. It
is the one thing I feel I can contribute, namely, my going and taking part in it
because I helped develop regulations and legislation previously. I would like to
be able to do that. I would like to have the opportunity. I am a pensioner. I
have a decent pension, but it is out of my pocket whenever I do this.
Senator Robichaud: Thank you for doing what you are doing.
Senator Mercer: I want to follow up on this discussion about the
regulations. We pass legislation, and then there is a clause that allows the
government to put in place regulations, and the devil is in the detail. I share
your concern about labelling. I have been on a low sodium diet for a number of
years. I am also the principal grocery shopper in my family, so I read a lot of
labels, and I know what you say. On the front of the can or label there is a
great advertisement that it is sodium-reduced, but when you flip it over, on the
back you see that the reduced sodium is now 39 per cent instead of 42 per cent.
A consumer has to be extremely careful. The monitoring of my sodium intake is
not as serious as some other Canadians have in monitoring their intake of other
I do not want to let the government off the hook, but I also understand the
problem. You cannot put everything into a piece of legislation. There has to be
Do you think it is wise if we came back and looked at the regulation at some
future date and said, ``We have had this act in place now for X number of years;
let us look at how the regulations fit with what Parliament intended the bill to
Ms. Nielsen: Many new regulations now have sunsetting clauses in them.
I was quite surprised that in some pieces of legislation now they require the
regulations to be there before the legislation is passed. I think they did that
with the new citizen's act. I think there is nothing wrong with that and it is
an excellent idea. In this bill there is a provision that it would be reviewed
after five years, which is an excellent chance for people to look at it and
evaluate it. There are some excellent provisions in this bill, if they are
implemented properly and if the regulations are developed correctly.
Senator Mercer: We will count on you to come back in five years and
tell us whether the regulations have worked and what needs to be changed in
Ms. Nielsen: I would love to, if I am still around.
Senator Nolin: A witness can be reimbursed for her expenses coming to
the committee, right? You can ask for your $2.
Ms. Nielsen: I do not think I will. That, I can afford.
The Chair: Witnesses, on behalf of all senators, thank you for sharing
your documents and your comments with us.
(The committee adjourned.)