(Conference Room Document 1A)
SECOND FAO/WHO GLOBAL FORUM OF FOOD SAFETY
Thank you for the opportunity to address this important and prestigious gathering. On behalf of Canada, I want to commend the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization for putting together a very thought-provoking and instructive programme. I also wish to thank the Government of Thailand for hosting this Second Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators.
At the First Global Forum in Marrakesh, countries quickly saw the value in gathering to exchange information and share experiences. Now we have come together to build upon the success of the first Forum by looking at practical aspects of building effective food safety systems.
Why is this Forum important?
Canada recognizes that there is tremendous value to be gained by bringing together the most senior food safety managers from governments around the world. In a global marketplace, where one nation's issues can quickly become everyone's issues, building networks to share information and build capacity will undoubtedly help to enhance the effectiveness of food safety systems around the world. However, this Forum permits not only the exchange of experiences and best practices but also the opportunity for proactive discussions on how to manage new and developing challenges facing all of us.
Current and future challenges
All of us involved in any aspect of the food continuum face enormous new challenges. I would like to spend a few minutes discussing some of them.
In recent years, we have seen changes in food production methods which have challenged the traditional approaches to food safety. Much has changed since Governments established Codex in 1963. Globalization of trade in food has brought challenges to food regulation. The global value of food trade now exceeds $US 500 billion. In 2003, Canada alone exported $24.3 billion in agriculture and agri-food products to over 180 countries and imported $20.6 billion of these products from 190 countries. Global trade in food is inherently a good thing as it offers consumers a wide range of food choices and contributes to the food security of many countries. However, it also raises the need for us as regulators to be more alert than ever to food safety contamination incidents which occur in any region with which we trade - which could be anywhere in the world.
Changes in food production methods in intensive farming in the animal products sector pose another challenge as these practices rely on the use of antimicrobials and could lead to the emergence of resistant bacteria in farm animals, a potential source of infection for humans. Intensive livestock operations can also have negative impacts on the environment. Intensive farming can result in the rapid spread of potential animal diseases and zoonoses as many of us here have seen with avian influenza.
Advances in science and technology are another key challenge. For example, food safety scientists now have tools at their disposal to detect and measure potential risks that may have been unknown previously, or which may have required much higher concentrations before detection was possible. This has both positive and unfavourable consequences. Obviously by providing more information for risk assessors to work with, advances in science can promote improved food safety. Yet these new techniques make it more likely that some will expect and demand costly control measures for risks that are minimal and do not warrant the measures. This brings the added challenge of communicating risks to the public so that they can make informed decisions on risk.
That brings me to the challenge of a more aware and demanding consumer. Consumers today are more aware of health issues and possible risks to health from food. They are more assertive than ever of their right to participate in decision-making. High-profile incidents like BSE and E.coli, dioxin and salmonella contamination of food have attracted high levels of media coverage of food-borne health risks. Consumer awareness is a good thing, but the adverse impact of sensational media reporting causes food safety regulators concern.
The last challenge that I wish to discuss is that of bioterrorism. Since 9/11, the world has changed. The food supply has become a potential target for terrorism. We, as food safety regulators, must be ever vigilant to protect the safety of the food supply.
How do we face these challenges?
Our primary response to these challenges must be with food safety systems that are science based and transparent.
In Canada, our food safety system is built on three fundamental principles:
1. the health of the population must remain paramount;
2. policy decisions must be grounded on scientific evidence; and
3. all sectors and jurisdictions must collaborate to ensure safe food.
International bodies such as Codex Alimentarius and the World Organization for Animal Health have developed risk analysis approaches to guide countries. These bodies have identified three major components in risk analysis:
risk management, and
In Canada, we have based our risk analysis framework on these approaches. The Canadian approach, at the federal level, has been to divide the government responsibilities for food risk analysis between two bodies, Health Canada and my department, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency - the CFIA.
To provide a common, consistent and comprehensive means of identifying, assessing and managing health risks, Health Canada has developed a Decision-Making Framework, compatible and consistent with the approach taken by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. This framework stipulates fundamental values and principles of decision-making.
Like Health Canada, the CFIA has developed a Risk Analysis Framework to guide its enforcement, compliance and control processes. For example, Health Canada regularly assesses the effectiveness of the CFIA's enforcement of its food safety standards.
Government has a fundamental, but not exclusive, role in health protection, including food safety. Collaboration of all stakeholders in the food continuum (feed manufacturers, primary producers, food manufacturers/operators, government authorities, consumers) is essential to ensure a comprehensive and integrated approach to the availability of a safe and nutritious food supply.
In addition to the work carried out by the Canadian government within the risk analysis framework, the success of our food safety system depends on close working relationships between federal, provincial/territorial authorities, industry and consumers. The various levels of governments collaborate with stakeholders to ensure the integrity and comprehensiveness of the food safety system. Through increased product and process control activities, industry works to achieve and assure food safety standards themselves. Nevertheless, government must retain a strong oversight and intervention role to ensure the safety of the food supply.
An effective food safety system works best when the industry can assure that they have applied prescribed effective food safety measures themselves. To maintain the integrity and credibility of the inspection system, the CFIA maintains strong government certification, compliance and enforcement capabilities. The degree of ongoing government oversight and intervention is a function of each company's history of compliance and the risk associated with the product
Transparency in decision-making and consultation with stakeholders is an integral component of policy development. Wherever possible, we must involve stakeholders in the decision-making process. In Canada's system, communication is vital. Communication between Health Canada and the CFIA. Communication between food safety regulators and industry, between regulators and the consumers. Communication among governments, both internally within Canada and with our international partners.
Canada has bilateral information-sharing arrangements with some other governments. However, at this gathering, we can clearly see the benefits of communications at the international level. I believe WHO has performed a potentially significant service to all of us through the creation of a broad international information sharing system. We saw the INFOSAN demonstration yesterday - a clear example of how technology and organization can be used to respond swiftly to international incidents. This is an important first step.
Risk Analysis In Action
As an example of the application of what I believe to be an effective food safety system, let me say a few words about Canada's response to the discovery last year of BSE.
At the risk assessment phase, both Health Canada and the CFIA monitored the impact of earlier BSE outbreaks in other countries. They kept abreast of scientific knowledge on the nature of the disease, and its implications, both for human health - the responsibility of Health Canada - and animal health - the responsibility of the CFIA.
When the BSE-infected cow was diagnosed in May 2003, our risk management system quickly responded. The CFIA quarantined 18 locations, and conducted trace-back, trace-forward, trace-out and feed investigations. No additional animals associated with this cow were found to be infected. This was very encouraging news. It told us that Canada would not have an epidemic of BSE. It also confirmed the effectiveness of Canada's BSE controls: existing Canadian regulations prevented products from this single infected cow from entering the human food supply.
Canada's policy response was swift. In response to this incident of BSE, Health Canada and the CFIA promptly conducted new risk assessments for food safety and animal health, respectively. Our first risk management concern was to ensure that appropriate measures were instituted to prevent human exposure to the BSE agent. Following completion of risk assessments, Health Canada and CFIA amended regulations to prevent specified risk materials (SRM) from entering the human food supply for both Canadian and foreign consumers. The CFIA has implemented the necessary measure to ensure that SRMs are removed at the abattoir. This is the single most important public health protection measure that we could have taken.
Risk communication was also a fundamental element of our response. Throughout our investigation, we held daily media briefings and dialogues with stakeholders to share information and ensure that Canadians and foreign governments were well informed of the actions being taken. Whenever confronted with the choice of making information public immediately or delaying its release, we went out as soon as we had the information. We erred on the side of transparency.
An International Panel of Experts praised Canada for the speed and thoroughness of its response to BSE. Stakeholders also praised the openness and transparency of our communications.
Canada's response to BSE was effective, in large part, because we followed the decision-making frameworks we have established for emergencies such as this. We have guidelines for science based risk analysis and we followed them. We worked with both our federal and provincial government colleagues as well as industry. We kept our consumers and international partners informed of each new development.
Globalization has increased. Technology has certainly changed, resulting in new challenges for all of us. But we should not lose sight of the overarching principle that our food safety systems must be science-based.
Our regulatory systems must be flexible to adapt to each new challenge. Ultimately, our objective should be to protect the health and security of our citizens by effectively managing risks.
We have an opportunity to respond to these challenges through collaboration and cooperation, the sharing of experiences and ideas and the establishment of best practices. This Forum plays an important role in each of these areas. In each of our countries, food safety systems are in a state of constant evolution in response to new challenges. This week, we have an opportunity to discuss these challenges. We have much to learn from one another. We must keep the lines of communication open. Thank you.