Policy

Safe Food for Canadians regulations

Direct Marketing impacts of proposed Safe Food for Canadians regulations

April 18, 2017
Richard Arsenault, Executive Director
Domestic Food Safety Systems and Meat Hygiene Directorate
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
1400 Merivale Road, Tower 1
Ottawa, ON | K1A 0Y9
Email: CFIA-Modernisation-ACIA@inspection.gc.ca

Dear Mr. Arsenault:

Re: Consultation on Safe Food for Canadians Act proposed regulations

The Safe Food for Canadians regulations, as they are currently proposed per notice in Canada Gazette, Part I, Vol. 151, No. 3 — January 21, 2017, greatly increases the regulatory burden through the requirement and cost of a Preventive Control Plan (PCP) for farmers selling direct-to-market (directly to consumers or end users such as restaurants) across provincial boundaries.

Due to the existing high degree of transparency, ease of traceability, and close relationships inherent in the direct-to-market model of farming, farmers in this sector are very aware of the business loss they would face in the disastrous event of a food safety situation. Therefore, they already prioritize food safety for their customers, with whom they interact face-to-face on a regular basis.

The direct-to-market model of food access and farm marketing is different from how much of Canadian food production and distribution is managed. The proposed Safe Food for Canadians regulations may streamline regulations for many agricultural sectors, but they create significant obstacles for direct-to-market farms.

We would like to recommend a change to the proposed Safe Food for Canadians Act regulations: to exempt all direct-to- market interprovincial sales and let them continue to be regulated as per the legislation in the sold-in province.

While an exemption is proposed for farms with gross sales of $30,000 or less per year, this threshold has little to do with achieving food safety outcomes and arbitrarily affects farms regardless of other factors such as number of kilometres travelled, marketing type, product raised, physical size of farm, or number of employees.

To define a “small farm” is a very challenging task, as both gross farm sales and physical acreage of a “small” farm is greatly affected by the product(s) raised. What is clear is that once expenses are deducted, not many farmers could make a liveable income with annual gross product sales of less than $30,000.

A goal of many farmers across Canada is to be able to move from being part-time farmers to making their full-time income from their farm.

For any farm that sells its produce directly to local consumers who just happen to be located across a provincial boundary, complying with the proposed regulations would add yearly expenses of approximately $6, 370, as is directly stated in the Safe Foods for Canadians Act Regulations regulatory analysis. This extra cost puts direct-to-market farmers whose local market crosses provincial borders at a great competitive disadvantage in relation to similar farmers who don’t need to cross a provincial border in order to pursue their livelihood.

In Canada, we have a rich diversity of communities, and not all of them fall neatly within provincial borders. Our nation’s capital is a great example of this, with much of its fresh, local produce supplied from the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. Our smaller provinces located in Atlantic Canada are another great example of communities that straddle provincial barriers (each province has examples of these border communities). In fact, there are many examples of Canadians from all sectors of employment, not only farmers, who cross a provincial border in order to provide for their family’s livelihood.

These proposed regulations, as they are, could very strongly and negatively impact the livelihoods of locally-based, direct-to-market farmers, potentially putting them out of business, in a time when our rural economies need more support than ever.

While we can all support the idea that safe food is a necessity for Canadians, equitable access to fresh local food should also be a top priority. Farmers who sell locally and directly to the public (rather than through wholesalers and distributors or major grocery store chains) are meeting a growing desire of Canadians who want to know where their food is coming from and to develop relationships and trust in the people who produce their food. Through direct sales, the public interacts with growers – a powerful way to build public trust in Canadian food and agriculture.

Please consider the negative impact these regulations would have on direct-to-market farms — and in turn our rural economies — and amend them to exempt all direct-to-market interprovincial sales and allow them continue being regulated as per the legislation in the sold-in province.

Respectfully submitted by
The Direct Marketing Committee, National Farmers Union


Richard Arsenault, Executive Director
Domestic Food Safety Systems and Meat Hygiene Directorate
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
1400 Merivale Road, Tower 1
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0Y9
Email: CFIA-Modernisation-ACIA@inspection.gc.ca

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Re: Submission from the National Farmers Union in New Brunswick on the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations

Dear Mr. Arsenault,

The National Farmers Union in New Brunswick (NFU-NB) welcomes the opportunity to participate in open consultation process regarding the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations. The National Farmers Union is the only general farm organization that is incorporated through an Act of Parliament. At the provincial level, we are also an accredited general farm organization in the province of New Brunswick. Our members are farm families across the province and we promote policies that work towards our vision that: Thriving family farms contribute to sustainable rural development, support their communities and steward their land while providing good jobs and healthy food for the people of New Brunswick. This submission focuses on different points than those put forward by the National Farmers Union Direct Marketing Committee and the National Farmers Union, but we wish to express our support for all the recommendations.

We would like to begin by saying that the National Farmers Union in New Brunswick wholly agrees with the need for safe food for Canadians. We are proud to already live in a country where our farmers and food businesses are held to some of the highest standards in the world. With this in mind, the NFU-NB recommends that all possible impacts on Canadian farm families be weighed before the Regulations are finalized, as we have found many areas of concern. As an organization, we have heard from many members who are contributing submissions of their own. Given the wide-reaching implications of the changes and the relatively short public consultation period, the NFU-NB strongly recommends extending this period beyond Friday.

At our Annual General Meeting in March 2017, a resolution was passed with the proposed Safe Food for Canadians Regulations in mind:

Whereas Canada now imports a large portion of its food and many countries have different food standards,

Whereas production and processing have become increasingly consolidated and the need for large scale health and safety regulations and traceability have become the norm,

Whereas recent governments have begun increasing food safety regulations for all farmers, regardless of size,

Whereas the federal government currently has a consultation open until April 21, 2017 for the Safe Food for Canadians Act,

Therefore be it resolved, that the National Farmers Union continue to advocate for food safety policies that are scalable for farmers, recognizing the unique distribution channels and product reach, and that farms that work in direct sales have different needs,

Further be it resolved, that the NFU-NB continue to advocate for import replacement policies that recognize the more stringent health and food safety regulations currently in place in Canada and prioritizing getting more Canadian food into the hands of Canadians, rather than increasing regulations to improve the minimum standards of imports.

The National Farmers Union in NB would like to draw attention to the following areas with regards to this ongoing consultation:

  • The increase in imported foods.
  • The source of most food recalls.
  • Further separation into provincial entities is greatly harmful to Atlantic Canada.
  • $30,000 threshold is not a realistic number to segment ‘small’ farms.
  • Need for outcome based food safety goals and empowerment of inspectors
  • Cost recovery – charging farmers more

The increase in imported foods
The Gazette explains that fresh fruit and vegetable imports into Canada have doubled from 2006 to 2015. The Dollars and Sense Report published by the McConnell Family Foundation in January, 2015, looks at the opportunities in Southern Ontario and looks both at the possibilities of import replacement and the economic benefits it would bring the regional economy. While we are in an ever-globalizing world and people are seeking out foods from other areas of the globe, the government needs to be prioritizing how to ensure our Canadian Farmers are best able to get their product into the Canadian market place, rather than increasing the regulatory burden, thereby making it even more difficult to compete with imports.

The source of most food recalls
There were 840 food safety recalls on the CFIA website from 2013 – February 2017. Of these, half were for labeling related issues pertaining to allergens not listed on the label, etc., while the other half are food safety related. Within the food safety related recalls, the majority were for meats and packaged ready-to-eat foods, with only 22 recalls of fresh fruit and vegetables (excluding seeds, grains, and packaged herbs). Of these 22 recalls, 21 cases were either clearly imported or international in scope. Several recalls were triggered by recalls in other countries, but it does not specify where the product was grown. Only one recall was clearly from Canadian farms — the needle tampering issue in potatoes from PEI, and there were no injuries or deaths as a result. Clearly Canadian farms are doing an outstanding job of producing high quality, safe food and this needs to be acknowledged.

Further separation into provincial entities is greatly harmful to Atlantic Canada
At the public information session held in Fredericton, NB, it was clear from the many comments heard across the room that that segmentation of the Atlantic Provinces for interprovincial trade will not be helpful. The population and overall land mass of the provinces does not seem to justify delineating by province. Case in point, there was only one public information session for all the Atlantic Provinces on these proposed regulations.

Another reason is that many farms sell in other provinces. Even at our farmers markets we have people who travel a mere 80 km from PEI and NS to sell in Moncton or Dieppe. Is an 80 km travel distance really the same as bringing in fruits and vegetables from New Zealand, over 15,000 km away? The risk of contamination or spoilage is clearly of a completely different scope in these two examples.

Given that farms in all Canadian provinces are subject to the same safety regulations as put forward by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, it should be easier to buy and sell products to our neighbouring provinces than it should be to sell out of country.

$30,000 threshold is not a realistic number to segment ‘small’ farms
For many members who provided feedback for this consultation, the $30,000 annual gross food sales exemption threshold for farms required to have preventive controls and preventive control plans (PCPs) seems arbitrary. We understand that it is following the same minimum threshold for tax-exempt businesses. Given the format that Statistics Canada publishes its data, the table below demonstrates the percentage of farms grossing under $25,000 captured Canada-wide and in New Brunswick.

Canada # of farms % of farms NB # of farms % of farms
Total farms 205,730 100% Total Farms 2,611 100%
Under $10,000 43,954 21.4% under $10,000 Under $10,000 997 38% under $10,000
$10,000 – $24,999 32,853 58.4% under $24,999 $10,000 – $24,999 501 57% under $24,999
$25,000 – $49,999 25,455 70.8% under $49,999 $25,000 – $49,999 173 64% under $49,999
Source: StatsCan CANSIM Table 004-0233. Census of Agriculture 2011.

This raises an important question regarding who we want our farmers to be. In NB, 1925 of 3470 farm operators reported no off-farm income. That means that 45% of farm operators DID report off-farm income. Any farm that employs one or more people full-time will inherently have the goal of grossing more than $30,000, or they will not be in business for long.

If we want to increase the number of farmers who can make their living from their farm, then we need regulations that make sense, are affordable and still ensure that the food grown or raised on NB farms meets the food safety standards. “The estimated average annualized costs for an impacted business to implement preventative controls and a PCP (Preventive Control Procedure) are $6,370.” If a farm grosses $31,000 they will have to pay over one quarter of their gross farm income to cover the cost of the proposed preventative controls.

If there needs to be segmentation for PCP plan exemption purposes, the NFU-NB reiterates support for the recommendation made by the national office of the National Farmers Union, which looks at the guidelines used in the United States of America. In the USA, the equivalent food safety program has less stringent requirements for small businesses with less than US $500,000 average annual sales that sell over half of their production to “qualified end-users” (i.e. direct to consumers, restaurants, retail establishments) not more than 275 miles (445 kilometres) away. Instead of requiring a formal PCP, these businesses are able to design, monitor and document their own food safety programs and must be able to provide a report to the Food and Drug Administration if asked to do so. Note that the US does not worry about state boundaries, so farms would not be discriminated against on the basis of location as the proposed Canadian regulation would. Since these businesses are primarily direct marketing or supplying a local retailer, traceability in the event of a food safety incident would not be a difficult. This approach would seem to provide an adequate way to reduce risk without imposing unnecessary costs.

Need for outcome based food safety goals and empowerment of inspectors
Those attending the information session in Fredericton, NB, were told that CFIA regulations were moving toward empowering their inspectors to make outcome-based decisions that take into consideration the size and scope of the food business. We have been unable to find further written confirmation of this statement, and the NFU-NB highly recommends that this be further explored. If the end result is producing a consistent product that reliably meets food safety standards, than there needs to be allowance for a variety of acceptable methods. This will allow farmers of various sizes to develop systems that suit their infrastructure, needs and budgets. That being said, a system that further empowers inspectors also needs to have a clear appeals method to protect both parties. We have seen too many cases of businesses either shutting down or facing undue hardship because of the cost of complying with increasing safety regulations that do not always provide better food safety for small businesses.

Cost recovery – charging farmers more
Canadians currently spend a smaller proportion of their incomes of food than ever before and less than residents of many other countries. Everyone wants the highest food safety standards, but they are not willing to pay for the increased cost burden placed on farmers.

The CFIA’s mission is: Dedicated to safeguarding food, animals and plants, which enhances the health and well-being of Canada’s people, environment and economy.

The entire mission of CFIA is to protect the Canadian public and, like any other public service that is carried out by government, some of the returns may be more difficult to quantify. For example, overall population health, fewer burdens on our medical system, less frequent food recalls, and strong international reputation for food safety.

The report states that only 10% of CFIA’s costs are currently paid by fees, but it does not state what proportion of the costs CFIA is hoping to recover with the new proposed fee structure. So on top of the estimated $6,300 that farms will have to pay to have a PCP in order to sell their product, they will also be charged additional fees for each service provided by CFIA. This excessive and unnecessary cost and fee burden would lead to the failure of many smaller businesses. The CFIA’s proposed new food safety regime would thus have a perverse cause and effect, leading to further industry consolidation. As noted above, most food recalls did come from larger international players.

The National Farmers Union in New Brunswick advocates for more Canadian grown food for Canadians. We believe that rebuilding Canada’s local food economy will bring greater stability to Canadian farmers and to rural Canada, and higher quality, healthier food for Canadians. We also recognize that the number of Canadian farmers has been steadily decreasing. It is becoming harder and harder for new farmers to start up a career in farming. Start-up costs can be overwhelming: land, equipment, processing, and labour. In order to build a thriving agricultural sector, regulations need to be appropriate to the level of risk involved.

These Regulations will impact the Canadian food system in ways that could well lead to more concentrated production in the hands of fewer and fewer farmers and businesses. It is time to take a strong stand to support our farmers and build a diverse and thriving food system. We urge you to carefully reconsider many of these Regulations and to extend this consultation period to ensure that all farmers, organizations and consumers have a chance to share their views.

Respectfully submitted,
The National Farmers Union in New Brunswick


NFU comments on proposed Safe Food for Canadians Act regulations

April 19, 2017

Richard Arsenault, Executive Director
Domestic Food Safety Systems and Meat Hygiene Directorate
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
1400 Merivale Road, Tower 1
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0Y9
Email: CFIA-Modernisation-ACIA@inspection.gc.ca

Dear Mr. Arsenault,

Re: National Farmers Union comments on proposed Safe Food for Canadians Act regulations

The National Farmers Union (NFU) welcomes the opportunity to provide input on the proposed regulations under the Safe Food for Canadians Act, per the notice in Canada Gazette, Part I, Vol. 151, No. 3 — January 21, 2017. Our remarks will focus on the need to revise the regulations to prevent undue hardship and loss for certain fruit and vegetable producers serving the domestic market and for the entire Canadian organic sector. We also call for an extension of the comment period on this regulation, considering its breadth and potential impact on Canada’s food system. This submission is in addition to, and supports the submissions by the NFU in New Brunswick and by the NFU Direct Marketing Committee.

Impacts on Certain Fruit and Vegetable Producers
The proposed regulation would require all farmers who grow or harvest fresh fruit and vegetables and sell across a provincial boundary to be licensed. If they have gross annual food sales over $30,000 they would also be required to develop and maintain a Preventive Control Plan (PCP), a type of a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan. They would also be required to keep, and prepare to produce on request, records of all customers they sold to, unless these were retail sales.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulatory analysis says that a PCP must include:

  • a description of the biological, chemical, and physical hazards that could contaminate the food, the measures used to prevent or eliminate those hazards, and evidence that the measures are effective;
  • a description of critical control points (steps at which a control can be applied and that is essential to prevent or eliminate the hazard), their related control measures, and evidence that they are effective;
  • a description of the critical limits (i.e. the limit at which a hazard is acceptable without compromising food safety) for each critical control point;
  • the procedures for monitoring the critical control points in relation to their critical limits;
  • a description of the corrective action procedures for each critical control point;
  • a description of the procedures used to verify the implementation that the PCP meets the requirements of the SFCA and the proposed Regulations; and
  • documents that demonstrate that the information has been recorded and that the PCP has been implemented with respect to the foregoing.

The rationale for requiring PCPs and traceability is to prevent food borne illness, and if it occurs, to be able to quickly find the source. The stated rationale for the exemption for producers with gross annual sales less than $30,000 is that this is the same cut-off point used for exemption from GST registration. The rationale for applying this regulation to producers selling across provincial boundaries is that the CFIA does not have jurisdiction for matters that are strictly within a province. The CFIA proposes the widest possible application of the regulation in order to create a “level playing field” with our trading partners.

We believe the application of the PCP and traceability requirements is unfair to fresh fruit and vegetable producers who serve a local or regional market that happens to straddle provincial boundaries. These measures are unnecessary for food safety reasons, would impose onerous costs on some producers simply due to their geographic location, and would put farms with ecologically beneficial diversity at a competitive disadvantage compared with highly specialized operations.

According to the CFIA’s database of food recalls and allergy alerts, no food borne illness outbreaks have originated from fresh vegetables or fruits grown on Canadian farms.

Canada is increasingly dependent on imported fruits and vegetables. The value of our imported fresh vegetables is double what we export; we import seven to eight times the value of the fresh fruit we export. Many Canadians who purchase imported fresh fruits and vegetables could be served by local and regional Canadian producers instead. This would keep more of the money spent on food within our own economy, creating livelihoods for our farmers and in our rural communities.

According to a recent USDA GAIN report, Canada Top Market for U.S. High-Value Agricultural Exports, consumer-oriented U.S. agricultural exports to Canada are dominated by fruits and vegetables, with fresh vegetables valued at $US1.8 billion (lettuce, turnip, onions, cauliflower and tomatoes occupying the top positions) and fresh fruits valued at $US1.6 billion (strawberries and other berries, grapes, apples, oranges and cherries in the top spots). Except for oranges, Canadian farmers can grow all of these crops, and with the proper policy and regulatory framework, could certainly supply some of this multi-billion dollar market. The imposition of PCP requirements onto all fresh vegetable and fruit producers would increase their costs, making them less able to withstand competition from American imports, particularly in periods when the currency exchange rate favours US sales into Canada.

The PCP requirements for fresh fruit and vegetable production are not only unnecessary from a food safety perspective but they are particularly onerous for farms using on-farm biodiversity to promote beneficial ecological relationships (pest and disease reduction, soil building, symbiotic crop and livestock relationships, etc.) and to mitigate financial risk in the face of increasingly unpredictable growing conditions and volatile markets. One of agriculture’s biggest challenges is climate change. Mitigation and adaptation efforts need to support feeding our population while reducing fossil fuel use and building soil carbon. On-farm biodiversity is increasingly important to climate-friendly agriculture. As the complexity of the farm increases, the costs of developing and maintaining a PCP also increases. Thus, the proposed PCP requirement would create a perverse incentive, inhibiting adoption of beneficial farming practices based on ecological principles.

The proposed regulations seek to harmonize our regulations with those of our largest trading partner, the USA. We would recommend that if the Safe Food for Canadians Act regulations are to be applied to the fresh fruit and vegetables sector that the exemption for small enterprises be harmonized with the American approach.

The proposed Canadian threshold for exemption, $30,000 gross annual food sales, cannot be taken seriously. This is not adequate to provide a livelihood for a farm family, much less provide wages for employees. To put this into perspective, in July 2016, the federal government announced new Canada Child Benefit program aimed at lifting children out of poverty. Families with a net income (not gross revenue) of $30,000 or less are eligible for the maximum level of support.

In the USA, the equivalent food safety program has less stringent requirements for small businesses with less than US$500,000 average annual sales that sell over half of their production to “qualified end-users” (i.e. direct to consumers, restaurants, retail establishments) not more than 275 miles (445 kilometres) away. Instead of requiring a formal PCP, these businesses are able to design, monitor and document their own food safety programs and must be able to provide a report to the Food and Drug Administration if asked to do so. Note that the US does not worry about state boundaries, so farms would not be discriminated against on the basis of location as the proposed Canadian regulation would. Since these businesses are primarily direct marketing or supplying a local retailer, traceability in the event of a food safety incident would not be difficult. This approach would seem to provide an adequate way to reduce risk without imposing unnecessary costs.

Impact on the Organic Sector
Currently, the Organic Products Regulations are enabled under the Canada Agricultural Products Act which is the Minister of Agriculture and Agrifood’s responsibility. The proposed regulations would move them to the Safe Food for Canadians Act, under the Minister of Health. We believe that is inappropriate. Organic agriculture is primarily, but not solely, involved with food production. The Organic Products Regulations currently apply to food and drink intended for human consumption and food intended to feed livestock, including agricultural crops used for those purposes. They also apply to the cultivation of plants. There is the potential to expand the organic regulations in the future to make it possible to produce certified organic fibre crops, cosmetics and cut flowers, for example. The Organic Products Regulations govern how organic products are produced. Organic certification is not a food safety claim; it is a process claim. The enabling legislation should continue to reflect and support the process of certified organic agriculture production. The status quo, or if necessary, a stand-alone federal law to govern certified organic production would be more appropriate than placing organic regulations under the Safe Food for Canadians Act.

The proposed regulation would create new mandatory certification requirements on areas of the organic supply chain (deemed “various activities”) that are currently covered through an attestation process. All operators presently attest that they are compliant with the organic standards or they may voluntarily certify. The proposed regulation’s vague language would require all “various activities” such as processing, treating, handling, slaughtering, storing, and transporting of an organic product to be done by entities that are certified organic. This measure would have massive, negative impacts on Canada’s small but growing organic sector.

The current Organic Products Regulations allow facilities to provide these services to certified organic producers if they meet specified conditions designed to prevent contamination, admixture and/or fraud while handling the organic product. Certified organic producers must obtain and retain documentation to show that their products were handled in accordance with the regulation. The current rule makes it possible for organic producers to access needed infrastructure at a reasonable cost.

The proposed regulation would eliminate access to much of the organic sector’s needed infrastructure. Businesses providing agricultural services would have to choose between certifying to serve their organic customers at the expense of the rest of their business or not certifying and losing their organic customers instead. Small businesses that currently serve both certified organic and conventional farmers would lose valued customers either way, perhaps pushing their revenues below a level where they could survive. The result would be large gaps in the value chain for certified organic production, and a weakened rural economy overall. With necessary links in the value chain not merely weakened, but gone, the organic production system would collapse.

Subsection 342 (3) of the proposed regulation would cause the farmer’s or business’s organic certificate to expire exactly 12 months after the date it was granted. This is wholly unworkable in practice and must be removed from the regulation. Currently, organic certificates remain valid unless they are suspended or cancelled. Accredited inspectors ensure that farmers and other certified organic businesses are in compliance with Canada’s organic standards when they do their annual inspection of premises and documentation. If organic certificates were to expire on the same date each year there would be a high risk of products losing their status as a result of inadvertent and unavoidable difficulties in completing the inspection process at exactly the same time every year. The proposed regulation would create an unjust situation whereby important and necessary components of the organic value chain could be lost due to small delays outside of the control of certified entities.

Canada has organic equivalency agreements with other countries, including the USA. Canada imports significant quantities of organic food from the USA. The proposed regulation would put Canadian producers at a serious disadvantage, as the American organic rules do not require handlers of organic products to be certified, nor are their organic certificates subject to an arbitrary expiry date.

The NFU therefore recommends:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetable production be exempt from the Safe Food for Canadians Act regulations.
  • In the event fresh fruit and vegetable production is not exempted, a scale-appropriate accommodation that mirrors the USA’s be adopted and applied to producers with up to $500,000 average annual sales who sell direct to consumers or retailers within 275 miles (445 kilometres) regardless of provincial boundaries.
  • The Organic Products Regulations be left under the Ministry of Agriculture, with the Canada Agricultural Products Act or a new stand-alone organic law as the enabling legislation.
  • In the event the Organic Products Regulations is placed under Safe Food for Canadians Act, the section “Certification of Various Activities in Respect of Organic Products” be removed from the regulation.
  • In the event the Organic Products Regulations is placed under Safe Food for Canadians Act, section 342(3) “Period of validity” be removed from the regulation.
  • The CFIA should extend the comment period on this regulation to allow Canadians more time to provide input, considering its breadth and potential impact on our food system.

All this respectfully submitted by,
The National Farmers Union

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