The Canadian government announced yesterday that the maximum food safety fine will jump to C$5m (€3.8m) from C$250,000 in legislation driven by the 2008 Listeria outbreak which killed more than 20 people.
The proposed Safe food for Canadians Act consolidates the Fish Inspection Act, the Canada Agricultural Products Act, the Meat Inspection Act, and the food provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act.
Previously, anyone convicted of a serious offence could be fined up to C$250,000. Under the new Act, penalties could be C$5m or higher at the court’s discretion.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) bill will align inspection and enforcement powers across all food commodities, improving safety, reducing overlap and helping industry better understand and comply with food safety law.
Current legislation does not require food manufacturers to have traceability systems but the proposed legislation will develop regulations related to tracing and recalling food, and the appropriate tools to take action on potentially unsafe food commodities.
Main aims include improving food safety oversight to protect consumers through inspection regimes, tougher penalties for activities that put the health and safety of Canadians at risk and providing better control over imports and exports, strengthening food traceability.
The Food and Drugs Act will continue to exist separately.
The modified legislation sets out a single set of rules to clarify expectations and provide a level playing field for industry, aligning the system with trading partners, such as the United States.
It will provide a mechanism for regulated parties to seek review of decisions made by CFIA officials.
The bill follows 57 recommendations from health executive Sheila Weatherill to simplify and modernise federal legislation and regulations after the 2008 listeriosis outbreak linked to deli meats produced at the federally inspected Maple Leaf Food site in Toronto and death of 23 Canadians.
Weatherill’s 2009 report said consumers were left in the dark with information from governments and health bodies failing “to provide the public with what they needed” and senior officials in Ontario took three weeks to realize the seriousness of the issue.
Gerry Ritz, Canadian Agriculture Minister, said: "Our Government is committed to making food as safe as possible for Canadian families.
"The Safe Food for Canadians Act strengthens and modernizes our food safety system to make sure it continues to provide safe food for Canadians.”
Last week, the CFIA outlined plans to standardise its inspection practices and identified current measures created a situation where “foods of similar risks may be inspected at different frequencies or in different ways.”
The Improved Food Inspection Model: the Case for Change draft report follows an allocation of C$100m over a five year period in its 2011 budget.