Federal authorities establish and enforce:
1. Health and safety standards for import, export, and domestic consumption;
2. Quality standards for inter-provincial and international trade;
3. Requirements for food safety to protect the public from product misrepresentation and fraud in food consumption, packaging, labelling, and advertising.
Table 1: Federal agencies responsible for food safety.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Responsible for enforcing regulations and policies pertaining to the safety and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada, as determined by Health Canada.
Bureau of Food Safety Assessment (BFSA)
Minister of Health
Assesses the effectiveness of the CFIA in ensuring food safety.
Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA)
Minister of Health
Works toward sustainable pest management and responsible pesticide use in agriculture.
Enforces the Pest Control Products Act.
Provincial/territorial authorities establish and enforce health and safety, and quality standards and related provisions for intra-provincial trade. Provincial and territorial governments have legislation for environmental protection governing toxic substances that may end up in food within their jurisdiction. They are also responsible for inspecting food processing establishments that distribute their products locally. For example, provincial inspectors assist the CFIA in the development of national and regional sampling plans. Some provinces publish guides on what freshwater fish are safe to eat. Provincial and territorial governments have increasingly more responsibility for food safety as agreements are signed with the federal government to develop cooperative approaches to food safety and inspection. Such partnerships have been signed with Quebec, Alberta, Ontario, the Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan.
Municipalities (who derive legislative authority and in some cases, funding from provincial ministries), enact and enforce bylaws that affect food inspection. In other cases, municipalities are limited to enforcing standards that have been developed at the provincial level.
The primary legislative instruments setting out the Government’s role in food safety in Canada include:
1. Food and Drugs Act
2. Canada Agricultural Products Act
3. Canadian Environmental Protection Act
4. Meat Inspection Act
5. Health of Animals Act
6. Pest Control Products Act
Much of the legislation provides guidelines for inspection, analysis and testing of food to determine the level of contaminants or additives present in food. An important point to note is that the government possesses the authority to order inspection or testing if there is suspicion that a product is violating the law with respect to the levels of toxic substances it contains. However, the government is not under a strict obligation to do so.
1. Food and Drugs Act (FDA)
The Food and Drug Act (FDA) and Regulations outline the standards and requirements with respect to food that have been established by Health Canada. More specifically, Division 15 of the FDA Regulations outlines the maximum levels of various substances that may be present in particular food products before they will be deemed to be “adulterated”. Section B.01.056 of the FDA and Regulations establishes generally that food may not exceed particular thresholds with respect to the following:
(a) food additives;
(b) agricultural chemicals or veterinary drugs;
(c) ingredients in foods; and
(d) vitamins, minerals or amino acids.
Despite the fact that particular criteria have been established with respect to food, no corresponding mandatory obligation has been established to enforce such criteria to ensure that food is not adulterated. Enforcement is a function of the inspection process, and since the inspection process is discretionary, so too is enforcement.
2. Canadian Agricultural Products Act (CAPA)
Among other things, CAPA governs the marketing of agricultural products in import, export and inter-provincial trade and establishes national standards and grades for agricultural products. The scope of what falls within the legislation is outlined in section 2, which defines 'agricultural product' as:
(a) an animal, a plant or an animal or plant product,
(b) a product, including any food or drink, wholly or partly derived from an animal or a plant, or
(c) a product prescribed for the purposes of this Act.
The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food may designate methods and equipment to be used by inspectors, analysts and graders in carrying out duties and functions under CAPA or the regulations made under CAPA. The parameters of an inspector's authority are outlined in CAPA, such that for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the legislation the inspector may enter and inspect any place, or stop any vehicle, in which agricultural products are reasonably believed to be contained. The powers of an inspector are similar to those accorded an inspector under the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) in that an inspector may examine and take samples of agricultural products. A further similarity with the FDA arises from the fact that an inspector's powers are discretionary under CAPA, and as such, there exists no obligation to test or analyze samples taken during the course of an inspection.
Again, as with the regulatory authority granted under the FDA, CAPA's regulatory authority is discretionary. As a result, there is no obligation on the Government or its agents to establish standards or limits with respect to toxics in food. In addition, where standards and limits have been prescribed, there is no corresponding mandatory requirement to enforce such requirements.
Several regulations have been made under CAPA, including the following, which outline particular requirements with respect to certain foods:
3. Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA)
The fundamental purpose of CEPA is to prevent pollution and encourage the protection of the environment and human health as a means of contributing to sustainable development. The promotion of this objective involves controlling the release of toxic substances into the environment. While CEPA does not explicitly refer to food, it is arguable that food falls within the scope of section 2(1)(j) of CEPA, which includes among it primary goals the following:
Protect the environment, including its biological diversity, and human health, from the risk of any adverse effects of the use and release of toxic substances, pollutants and wastes.
In light of the relatively broad definition of 'environment' contained within CEPA, it is arguable that the food which humans will ultimately consume may fall within its scope. If this is so, and impermissible levels of contaminants are found to be present in these products, then section 64(c) may apply such that the substance will be deemed to be toxic as it constitutes a danger to human life or health in Canada. In this case, the manufacturer of the product would likely be subject to the enforcement measures found in Part 10 of CEPA
An enforcement officer may enter and inspect any place if the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a substance to which CEPA applies or a product containing such a substance can be found there. An enforcement officer has the authority to examine any substance or product that is relevant to the administration of CEPA, and may open and examine any receptacle that the officer reasonably believes may contain such a substance or product. The officer may take samples of anything relevant to the administration of CEPA, and conduct tests as he or she deems necessary.
4. Meat Inspection Act (MIA)
The objective of the MIA is to control the import, export and inter-provincial trade of meat products, by establishing a defined set of standards for the slaughtering of animals and the preparation of meat products. Meat products do not comply with the prescribed standards if they fall within the definition of 'adulterated' substances, as defined by section 2(1) of the Meat Inspection Regulations, 1990, which stipulate that:
"Adulterated" means, in respect of a meat product intended for sale, use or consumption as an edible meat product in Canada:
- containing or having been treated with
(i) a pesticide, heavy metal, industrial pollutant, drug, medicament or any other substance in an amount that exceeds the maximum level of use prescribed by the Food and Drug Regulations,
(ii) an ingredient, a food additive or any source of ionizing radiation not permitted by or in an amount in excess of limits prescribed by these Regulations or by the Food and Drug Regulations, or
(iii) any poison, decomposed substance or visible contamination.
Meat inspectors are granted a range of discretionary enforcement powers. They may enter any place or vehicle in which they believe, on reasonable grounds, that there is a meat product to which the MIA applies and may open any package that they reasonably believe does not comply with the MIA or its regulations. Additionally, inspectors may inspect and take samples of products suspected to be in non-compliance with the prescribed standards, and may require the production of records which they reasonably believe may contain information relevant to the administration or enforcement of the act.
5. Health of Animals Act (HAA)
The HAA seeks to control the spread of diseases and toxic substances that may affect animals, and which may ultimately be transmitted to humans through consumption. Inspectors have a range of discretionary powers with respect to carrying out the objectives of the HAA, which include inspection, testing and analysis.
HAA accords the Governor in Council the discretionary authority to make regulations for the purpose of protecting human and animal health, including regulations
(a) prohibiting or regulating the importation, exportation and possession of animals and things in order to prevent the introduction of any vector, disease or toxic substance into Canada or into another country from Canada;
(m) for causing or requiring notice to be given of the appearance of any disease or toxic substance among animals;
(t) prohibiting or regulating the feeding to animals of any thing that could introduce or spread any disease or toxic substance to animals.
6. Pest Control Products Act (PCPA)
The purpose of PCPA is to regulate the products used for the control of pests. These products are commonly referred to as pesticides. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency administers the PCPA. The PCPA and other policies affecting pesticides recognize and consider the environmental risks in addition to the human health risks and value of each product. The Act requires all pesticides to undergo extensive and transparent health, environmental and value studies.