by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Canada’s system of food policies, laws and regulations is overloaded according to a new Conference Board of Canada report prepared for the Centre for Food in Canada.
The report, Governing Food: Policies, Laws and Regulations for Food in Canada, looks at the layers of policies, laws and regulations that have grown over the years and concludes that the system needs to be modernized
Canada’s agriculture and agri-food system, the report says, is complex “because it is under the control of many governments and jurisdictions that serve the public interest from their particular vantage points, which are sometimes at odds with one another.”
While well intentioned, the report says, the regulations governing food in Canada have not yet produced an effective system that boosts innovation and stimulates economic growth. The current architecture, developed by continual add-ons, is burdensome and confusing.
“There is no quick fix to Canada’s system for governing food. The problem is not so much in the actions being taken today, but rather the cumulative weight of existing PLRs (policies, laws and regulations) and the motivations for them,” said Michael Bloom, Conference Board vice-president, organizational effectiveness and learning. “Not only are parts of the current PLR system out-of date, multiple levels of government are involved that sometimes act at cross-purposes to one another.”
The report reviews the Canadian approach to food regulation based on a study of six issues: food additives, genetically modified foods, health benefit claims, country-of-origin labeling, inspection, and international trade.
In the areas of genetically modified foods, country-of-origin labeling, and food additives, the Canadian approach balances regulatory needs with industry sensitivities, the report notes. However, the approach to health benefit claims, inspection, and international trade is not as effective, creating barriers to innovation in this sector.
This report points out specific areas where the policy, law and regulation system could more effectively meet the needs of the agriculture and agri-food sector, as well as government and consumers. “A good starting point,” the report says, “would be to revise and modernize the Food and Drugs Act,” which was first enacted in 1920.
The report concludes that, “In today’s modern agriculture and agri-food system, there is perhaps less need for regulatory prescription, allowing a movement toward outcome-based approaches that allow industry to innovate to achieve the commonly held (with government) objective of providing Canadians with safe and nutritious food. This might change the orientation of the system toward more of a government–industry partnership model with shared accountabilities as opposed to a prescriptive governance model.”
The Centre for Food in Canada is a multi-year Conference Board of Canada initiative supported by approximately 25 companies and organizations that have invested in the project. BF