CFIA to require licensing for food importers

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Canada’s food importers will have to be licensed and renew their licenses every two years under proposed new food inspection regulations.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Friday said it will consult between now and June 29 on a proposed user fee schedule as cost recovery for an importer licensing system.

The proposal calls for the estimated 25,000 food importing entities in Canada to pay fees of $259.48 per entity in 2013-14, increasing to $277.80 by 2017-18.

“The proposed regulations would include a range of tools and streamlined processes to help importers — particularly small enterprises — transition to the new requirements,” CFIA said in a release.

“Whether food comes from across the street or across the ocean, consumers should have confidence in their purchases,” Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in the same release. “The measures being proposed would tighten controls on imported foods and build on the significant investments we’ve already made to safeguard Canada’s food supply.”

The CFIA said it consulted nationally on the regulatory proposal in the fall of 2010, and received “overall support” for the proposal.

Imports of food and food products into Canada have increased in value by about 45 per cent in the past nine years, from $20.9 billion in 2001 to $30.5 billion in 2010, CFIA said. Raw ingredients and food products are imported from an estimated 190 countries, “which have varying levels of food safety controls.”

The proposed regulations would impose “general obligations prescribing food safety requirements” on importers, and “would meet the principal objectives of strengthening the accountability of importers in the non-federally registered sector (NFRS) and enhance the CFIA’s ability to communicate important food safety information to potentially affected parties,” the agency said.

The NFRS consists of all foods regulated solely under the federal Food and Drugs Act (FDA) and accounts for 70 per cent of food products available in the Canadian marketplace, such as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, fats and oils, bakery products, infant formula, cereals, juices, coffee or tea, spices and seasonings, confectionery and snack foods.

The proposed licensing regime would make it mandatory for importers of food products to have an import licence, except where a product:

  • is not intended for sale in Canada,
  • weighs 20 kilograms or less,
  • is used as food for the crew or passengers on any vessel, train, motor vehicle, aircraft or other means of transportation, or
  • is imported from the U.S. into the Akwesasne Reserve straddling Quebec and Ontario, for use by an Akwesasne resident.

The CFIA said it expects the information “obtained through a licensing requirement” would help the agency to

  • provide “fundamental guidance to, and oversight of, industry,”
  • target inspection and enforcement activities to areas of greater risk,
  • conduct “timely recalls” where problems turn up with imported foods, and
  • alert importers when a problem has been discovered with a product they import.