An improved understanding of the risk based approach and growing awareness about the impact of food safety on public health and national economies, has led many countries, to make significant changes to their food control systems, in recent years. This response to the need for consumer protection against newly identified food hazards, coupled with the need for efficient use of public resources have practically forced national authorities in many industrialized countries to give priority to this task.
The current food scenario, particularly the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the comparatively recent WTO Agreements on SPS and TBT, have reinforced the need for appropriate scientific inputs in food control decision-making processes and accelerated the review and reorganization of systems in many countries. While this is an on-going exercise and several changes are still in the offing in many countries, it is useful to study a few newer models or approaches that are emerging in the important area of strengthening food control infrastructure.
All countries that have revised or updated their food control systems expect benefits in terms of increased efficiency, greater ability to provide farm-to-table oversight of food safety, and enhanced international market access. Apart from enhanced objectivity in protection measures and consolidation of their activities, there is a move by governments to shift the responsibility for ensuring food safety to the food industry, with governments assuming an audit or oversight role.
Case study - Canada
Food safety in Canada is a shared responsibility between the Federal Government (Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)), provincial/territorial governments, the food industry and consumers.
The Canadian food safety system has been developed in a way that enables it to keep abreast of rapid changes in the nature of food, increased globalization of the food trade, and changing public expectations of food safety. Three fundamental principles underpin the food safety system:
(a) the health of the population must remain paramount;
(b) policy decisions must be grounded on scientific evidence; and
(c) all sectors and jurisdictions must collaborate to protect consumers.
The Food and Drugs Act is the principal federal legislation covering food safety, and it prohibits the manufacture or sale of all dangerous or adulterated food products anywhere in Canada. The Act derives its authority from criminal law, and is supplemented by regulations designed to ensure food safety and nutritional quality.
Other federal trade and commerce legislation references the Food and Drugs Act and imposes additional requirements e.g. Canada Agricultural Products Act, Meat Inspection Act, Fish Inspection Act, Feeds Act and Pest Control Products Act, etc.
At the local level, provinces and territories are responsible for public health, including food surveillance, investigations and compliance. Therefore, provinces and territories also enact legislation to control foods produced and sold within their own jurisdictions. These laws are complementary to federal statutes. As legislative power cannot be delegated from one level of government to another, governments collaborate in areas of shared jurisdiction, such as food inspection, and establish partnerships to ensure effective and efficient program delivery. Provinces and territories legislation also authorize municipalities to enact by-laws on food inspection.
Development of standards and policies
Health Canada sets standards and policies governing the safety and nutritional quality of all food sold in Canada. Government has the primary responsibility for identifying health risks associated with the food supply, assessing the severity and probability of harm or damage, and developing national strategies to manage the risks. Canada has adopted a risk analysis process that provides a common, consistent, comprehensive and scientifically sound mechanism to identify, assess and manage potential risks to public health. Accordingly, all food-policy decisions are made in a transparent and rational manner.
Health Canada also carries out foodborne disease surveillance activities providing a system for early detection and a basis for evaluating control strategies.
To ensure the federal system is one with checks and balances, the Minister of Health has responsibility for assessing the effectiveness of the Agency's activities related to food safety.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency - enforcement and compliance
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for enforcing federal food safety policies and standards.
Mission and Objectives
In order to fulfil its mission of Safe Food, Market Access and Consumer Protection, the CFIA has adopted the following objectives:
(a) to contribute to a safe food supply and accurate product information;
(b) to contribute to the continuing health of animals and plants for protection of the resource base; and
(c) to facilitate trade in food, animals, plants and their products.
The CFIA was created in 1997 and delivers federal inspection services to food safety as well as plant protection and animal health. The agency operates under the authority of 13 federal acts and 34 sets of regulations, and meets it responsibilities through 14 distinct programs.
CFIA is responsible for all federally mandated food inspection, compliance and quarantine services. Prior to 1997 these activities were undertaken by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Health Canada, Industry Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. CFIA develops and manages inspection, enforcement, compliance and control programs and sets service standards. It also negotiates partnerships with other levels of government and non-government organizations (NGOs), as well as industry and trading partners, with respect to inspection and compliance programs; and supplies laboratory support for inspection, compliance and quarantine activities. CFIA also issues emergency food recalls, and conducts inspections, monitoring and compliance activities along the food continuum. The Agency is supported by a national network of service laboratories.
The CFIA is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the following acts: Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act, Canada Agricultural Products Act, Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act, Feeds Act, Fertilizers Act, Fish Inspection Act, Health of Animals Act, Meat Inspection Act, Plant Breeders' Rights Act, Plant Protection Act, and Seeds Act. The Agency is also responsible for enforcement of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and the Food and Drugs Act as they relate to food, and the administration of the provisions of the Food and Drugs Act as they relate to food, except those provisions that relate to public health, safety or nutrition which remain under the responsibility of the Minister of Health.
Food safety partnerships
Coordination of the activities in Canada's food control system is exercised through a number of committees and established Memoranda of Understanding. For example, both Health Canada and the CFIA are involved in international activities related to food safety. Coordination of these activities is achieved through a Health Canada/CFIA Committee on International Food Safety. The Canadian Food Inspection System (CFIS) is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative to facilitate national harmonization, streamline the inspection process, and reduce regulatory pressures on industry. This initiative is managed by the Canadian Food Inspection System Implementation Group (CFSIG) which has membership representing the federal government (Health Canada and CFIA) as well as the governments of the provinces and territories."
There are several mechanisms for facilitating cooperation among governments, industry, academia, consumers and NGOs in Canada. Through an Integrated Inspection Systems approach, the CFIA works with food manufacturers and importers to develop and maintain a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. The goal of the CFI's compliance and enforcement activities is to move away from dependence on government inspections to increased use of government audits of industry activities. The audits are based on risk, supported by strong compliance and enforcement tools. The degree of ongoing government oversight and intervention depends on each company's history of compliance and the risk associated with its product.
The CFIA also facilitates the development of safety programs along the entire food continuum through programs such as the Canadian On-Farm Food Safety Program.
The Federal Provincial Territorial Committee on Food Safety Policy, under the leadership of Health Canada, develops, co-ordinates and provides leadership on food safety policies and standards, educational programs and the exchange of food safety information on issues of regional, national and international importance.
The Canadian Food Inspection System (CFI) is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative to facilitate national harmonization, streamline the inspection process, and reduce regulatory pressures on industry. Harmonization with international standards is an objective of all CFIS initiatives.
The Food-borne Illness Outbreak Response Protocol is a partnership among provincial and territorial governments, Health Canada, and CFIA that describes an integrated response to national and regional foodborne disease outbreaks, causing high levels of severe morbidity or mortality. The Protocol ensures that all responsible agencies are notified promptly and work collaboratively to mitigate and contain risks.
Health Canada has adopted a decision-making framework that provides a consistent, and comprehensive means of identifying, assessing, and managing risk. Similarly, CFIA has also adopted a risk-based approach to enforcement, compliance, and control processes. The concept of precaution is an intrinsic part of Health Canada and CFIA's risk analysis process. Uncertainties in scientific data are carefully considered in assessing the level of risk to which the public may be exposed and in the selection of an appropriate risk management strategy.
Risk management is accomplished through the establishment and enforcement of legislative and regulatory requirements, as well as the application of non-regulatory options such as guidelines, advice and education, and promotion of voluntary compliance by industry.
A number of factors are considered when selecting an appropriate risk management response, including legislative authority, international trade obligations, national policies, and feasibility, as well as socio-economic factors such as culture, consumer concerns and demographics.
Further developing the food safety framework
The Government of Canada is reviewing how to optimize operational efficiency and ensure stakeholder participation in food safety.
The factors that prompted Canada to review and restructure its food inspection system are not unique to Canada. The need to make more efficient use of limited public resources while ensuring the consumer is adequately protected are challenges faced by both developed and developing countries.
Case study - Ireland
Aside from public health considerations, the importance of food production to the Irish economy necessitates independent and verifiable assurances as to the quality and purity of its food products. As a result, the Irish Government initiated a review of their food safety systems in 1996.
The outcome of the review was a recommendation to establish the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) as a statutory, independent and science-based body, overseeing all functions relating to the food safety regulation of the food industry. On 1 January 1999, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland was formally established under the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act, 1998. The Act:
(a) established the Authority as an independent body accountable to the Minister for Health and Children;
(b) transferred all responsibility for ensuring compliance with food safety legislation to the FSAI;
(c) conferred powers on the Authority (which included those powers available under existing food safety legislation, as well as additional new enforcement powers);
(d) provided that the existing food control enforcement arrangements at local and national level would remain in place, but would be carried out under 'contract' to the FSAI by various public bodies involved in food safety services delivery; and
(e) provided mechanisms for the FSAI to keep food safety service delivery under review and to report to the Minister for Health and Children in relation to such matters, in particular on the scope for better co-ordination and delivery of the food inspection services.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland's mission is to protect consumers' health by ensuring that food consumed, distributed, marketed or produced in Ireland meets the highest standards of food safety and hygiene.
The Authority is a statutory, independent and science-based body, governed by a Board of ten members appointed by the Minister for Health and Children. A Consultative Council gathers the views of stakeholders involved in the production and consumption of safe food. A Scientific Committee prepares scientific advice on food safety issues. Decisions on food safety and hygiene take account of the latest and best scientific advice and information available from independent experts.
The FSAI is led by a Chief Executive who supervises a multidisciplinary team including many specialists e.g. public health practitioners, veterinarians, food scientists, environmental health specialists, microbiologists, public relations personnel, etc.
Food Safety Authority of Ireland Organizational Chart
The principal function of FSAI is to take all reasonable steps to ensure food produced, distributed or marketed in Ireland meets the highest standards of food safety and hygiene reasonably available and to ensure that food complies with legal requirements, or where appropriate with recognized codes of good practice.
The FSAI operates the national food safety compliance programme by means of service contracts with agencies currently involved in the enforcement of food legislation. This includes the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, Department of Environment and Local Government, as well as regionally based Health Boards and Local Authorities.
FSAI is also responsible for promoting communication, education and information on food safety matters (risk communication). This includes establishing and managing public relations and promotional activity, and developing and implementing policy on communication, education, and information for consumers, industry, and enforcement officers.
Food safety environment
Responsibility for creating food safety policy (risk management) lies with a number of Ministers of the Government, with the Minister for Health and Children having the coordinating role. Scientific advice upon which policy decisions are taken (risk assessment) is obtained from the Scientific Committee of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. Food safety services (risk management) are delivered through a number of different Government Departments and agencies at national, regional and local level. The Food Safety Authority is responsible for ensuring the coordinated, effective, and seamless delivery of food safety services by those agencies.
The enforcement of food safety legislation relating to on farm activities is not within the scope of the FSAI. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and Department of the Marine and Natural Resources enforce such legislation.