The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (or CFIA) is a regulatory agency that is dedicated to the safeguarding of food, animals, and plants, which enhance the health and well-being of Canada's people, environment and economy. The agency was created in April 1997 by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act for the purpose of combining and integrating the related inspection services of three separate federal government departments: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Health Canada. The establishment of the CFIA consolidated the delivery of all federal food safety, animal health, and plant health regulatory programs.
The agency is part of the larger federal public service. According to the CFIA statement of values, science is the basis for regulatory decisions but the need to consider other factors is recognized.
The Minister of Health is responsible for the CFIA and is responsible for establishing policies and standards for the safety and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada; the administration of those provisions of the Canadian Food and Drugs Act that relate to public health, safety and nutrition; and for assessing the effectiveness of the Agency’s activities related to food safety.
Through the enforcement of various acts and regulations, the CFIA works to protect Canadians from preventable health risks and provide a fair and effective food, animal and plant regulatory regime that supports competitive domestic and international markets.
One of the main acts and regulations that CFIA uses is the Food and Drugs Act, which was last updated in 1985. There have been ongoing regulatory amendments brought forward with the most recent attempt at modernizing the Food and Drugs Act was the introduction of Bill C-51.
Other Acts and Regulations also specify inspection requirements and for certain trade requirements, the need to register with CFIA to conduct business. Such companies are termed "registered establishments" as opposed to those "non-federally registered establishments" that fall solely under the Food and Drugs Act. While the Food and Drugs Act provide for core food safety standards, many companies opt to use third party standards such as HACCP or ISO in order to meet client specified standards. These standards are closely adhered to due to the potential loss of business.
The Food and Drugs Act does not provide the power to recall food products and all recalls are done on a voluntary basis. However, Section 19 of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act provides authority for the Minister of Agriculture to order a recall, where there is reasonable grounds that the product poses a risk to public, animal or plant health. CFIA rates their recalls in three classifications.
"Class I" is a situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.
"Class II" is a situation in which the use of, or exposure to, a violative product may cause temporary adverse health consequences or where the probability of serious adverse health consequences is remote.
"Class III" is a situation in which the use of, or exposure to, a violative product is not likely to cause any adverse health consequences.
Public notification of Class I and sometimes class II recalls is done by the CFIA. Lower risk recalls are listed in a published database on the CFIA web site.
Recall classifications are conducted by the 'Office of Food Safety and Recall' based on risk advice from Health Canada.
The Food and Drugs Act does not have any requirements for domestic manufacturers to notify the agency of their existence but companies generally require provincial registrations or municipal licenses to operate. Provincial authorities and local public health units carry out inspections and work with the CFIA to manage food safety risks.
There is no requirement in the Food and Drugs Act for importers to directly notify the CFIA of their existence. Import notification is required for other commodities such as fish and meat. All commercial importers must have an import/export account with Canada Border Services Agency who refers food, animal and plant imports to the CFIA as required.
According to the findings of the Independent Investigator that was appointed by the government following the 2008 Listeriosis outbreak, there were 75 confirmed cases of listeriosis and was also the underlying or contributing cause of death for 22 of these individuals. Although most cases were in Ontario, illnesses occurred in seven provinces.
The report identified response actions that worked well at the federal and provincial levels and gaps in the system should be corrected.