Ottawa to remove ‘irritants’ from meat inspection rules
The federal government is set to overhaul Canada’s meat inspection rules to get rid of “irritants,” saying the plan will help smaller businesses and align Canadian regulations with U.S. policies, without lowering foodsafety standards.
The proposed “substantive” changes to federal meat inspection regulations, to be officially published today, will afford greater “flexibility” for companies to meet Canada’s food-safety benchmarks by replacing some “prescriptive” requirements with “outcome-based” ones.
“The proposed amendments will not modify food safety standards,” the backgrounder emphasizes, saying the changes are about simplifying requirements so small- and mediumsized businesses that operate non-federally registered slaughter houses or meat-processing plants can meet the requirements to become federally registered.
Unless a facility is federally registered, operators of provincially registered plans can’t sell their meat products outside their home province and cannot export to the United States or elsewhere.
“The proposed amendments would also assist Canada in enhancing its alignment with major trading partners such as the United States,” the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s proposal states.
Bob Kingston, president of the union representing meat inspectors at the CFIA, says he supports the impetus behind the proposal — to help smaller businesses, including one-room family-run operations, that can’t meet prescriptive federal rules designed for large factories.
But the head of the Agriculture Union of the Public Service Alliance of Canada warned of possible issues with how the amended regulations are implemented.
“Anytime you have latitude and discretion, there’s a potential for abuse, so that’s why we’re going to look closely at the guidelines and training materials that go along with it,” Kingston said.
Rick Holley, a professor of food science at the University of Manitoba, said he supports in principle the attempt to bring provincially inspected meat plants under the federal inspection system.
“It’s always going to be about the execution,” Holley said after reviewing the proposed regulatory amendments that he says “relax” many of the so-called bureaucratic regulations characteristic of federally registered plants.
One industry source familiar with the CFIA’S 17 pilot projects, launched in 2010 to probe the challenges encountered by smaller businesses in meeting federal meat hygiene requirements and to test ways to achieve the same food safety outcomes in establishments of different sizes, says his technical advisers have concerns. “They didn’t like this initiative because it is lowering standards and they are uncomfortable with the science,” he said, citing the example of allowing the butchering of wild game in the same facility.
To allow for “greater flexibility” in the types of activities that can be carried out within a registered establishment, the CFIA is proposing to permit into registered plants carcasses for food animals slaughtered elsewhere — as long as a private veterinarian performs an ante-mortem examination and deems the animal fit to be slaughtered for food.
The proposed amendments also would clarify existing provisions that allow carcasses of muskox, caribou and reindeer, covered by a game animal inspection system, entry into registered establishments.
As well, the proposed amendments would allow carcasses of game animals to be cut and boned inside a federally registered establishment for private use by the hunter — as long as these activities are separate from the usual activities in the plant.