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Regulatory, Quality, and Food Safety – Lessons from Toronto

Francis Loughheed

If you could guarantee a strong food safety culture and compliance in two steps – would you do it?

Last week (October 23rd and 24th) I attended the 3rd Annual Food Regulatory & Quality Assurance Summit in Toronto. The two-day event was packed with great speakers and a very engaged audience.  Speakers included government regulatory leaders, industry, and experts in a variety of food safety issues.  It was literally a two-day boot camp in what works and what doesn't – with a number of lessons learned for QA specialists and their companies.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) was well represented with four speakers talking about inspection practices and policies, and the new Complaints and Appeals Office established to enhance CFIA transparency.

The Aha moment

My major ‘Aha’ moment occurred during the presentation by Dr. David Achison, Managing Director of Leavitt Partners, on the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and its implications for Canadian manufacturers, importers, and exporters.  David reviewed the history and status of FSMA, and provided updates on current issues related to the Act.  In many ways it reflects similar changes occurring at CFIA. 

Toronto

He put up one slide that showed a funnel.  In the mouth of the funnel were three titles:  Food quality, food safety and compliance.  At the spout of the funnel was the title Brand.

His point was that if you focus on food quality and food safety you would, “99% of the time ensure compliance”.  That in turn would lead to brand security and protect brand equity.  In other words, if you focus on food quality and food safety – you will virtually guarantee regulatory compliance and contribute to brand strength.

This has been a consistent message of our Food Safety consulting practice, and I have never seen the point expressed better. 

Over the next few weeks we will be working with Dr. Achison on a post about FSMA specifically for the Canadian Food Industry.  He will also be providing us with periodic updates on the status of FSMA.  Watch this space!

Simplifying the Canadian border

A second interesting presentation was by Colleen Hamilton (CFIA) and Lori Gartner (Canadian Border Services Agency – CBSA) on the Single Window Initiative (SWI).  The purpose of SWI is to streamline import/export requirements to simplify and enhance cross border trade by providing a single point of access for all import/export information and documentation.  While this is a joint initiative of both the Canadian and U.S. governments, the key point is that SWI will be available for all food products entering Canada, from anywhere in the world.

The project is rolling out well.  A number of import systems have been automated and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is used between both the CFIA and CBSA to co-ordinate information and inspections.  That said, much needs to be done to streamline the information that the systems generate and create greater harmonization.

One of the breakthroughs has been that 90% of the information required by the Canadian and U.S. border services is now identical.  With greater use of online processing, the stacks of paper, faxes and replication will be substantially reduced – all good news for food manufacturers and traders!

Input from the RCC

Finally, Bob Carberry delivered a session on the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC). The Council was the result of the Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness agreement signed by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama in February 2011.

In December 2011, the RCC Joint Action Plan was released that identified 29 specific initiatives for greater regulatory alignment, with food forming a key component of the plan. The RCC intends to enhance cooperation in the following areas:

  • Regulatory system reliance to reduce and eliminate duplication in system requirements based on the success of each country's systems
  • Regulatory standard-setting to enhance conformance to regulatory standards, conformance (i.e. testing) and implementation and enforcement tools
  • Product reviews and approval through collaborative approaches on aligning product submissions, analysis and approvals
  • Managing 3rd country import risks through cooperation on common requirements, approaches and compliance initiatives. 

The RCC is now completing pilot studies in beef and cattle.  The ultimate goal is to maintain sovereignty, privacy, consumer protection, health, safety, security, and the environment.  GfsiWorking groups with both government and industry representation are operational.  Industry input is essential to ensure that the approaches identified work for all stakeholders. The ultimate goal of the RCC is to enhance access to U.S. markets for the Canadian food industry.

The GFSI train is coming

One final comment: virtually all the industry discussions around food safety addressed GFSI.

As we discussed in a previous post following our attending the Food Safety Summit in Dallas last January, it is becoming increasingly clear that the big players, i.e., Costco, Walmart, Metro, etc., are driving the GFSI agenda.  If they aren’t already, food manufacturers and importers need to get serious about evaluating the actions they will need to take to achieve GFSI certification.

In short, the conference was very interesting, with great speakers and an excellent venue.  It was a wonderful opportunity to get the latest in regulatory initiatives, industry best practices, and what is coming down the highway for Food Safety in Canada.

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Posted by Francis Loughheed
Posted on October 30, 2012
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Categories: culture, lessons learned, quality, risk management, strategy