Effort to cut red tape on meat labelling divides food industry

A move to end “pre-market approval” of labels for meat products is receiving a thumbs-up from meat processors while others in the food industry condemn it as a backward step.

Having to submit labels to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) before they could be used on products was “unnecessary, bureaucratic and discriminatory regulation,” said Ray Price, president of the Canadian Meat Council.

“The termination of pre-market label registration will permit the redirection of resources toward activities that really do enhance food safety,” said Price.

The review typically added one to two months to the process of introducing a new product, such as sodium-reduced prepared meat, added council executive director Jim Laws.

But the head of the Food Processors of Canada said the pre-market label process is a quick and inexpensive way to ensure labels meet government rules and regulations.

In other food sectors, the CFIA often frequently finds high levels of exaggerated health claims or other labelling violations, said Chris Kyte.

But the discovery usually comes long after the product is on the market, and with 40,000 grocery stores and 73,000 retail outlets, finding violators is “clearly an expensive, hit-and-miss proposition,” he said.

“It is also one of the front-line programs for identifying products originating in countries that are not permitted to export into Canada for animal health reasons,” said Kyte, adding the CFIA has sped up its review process and it now only takes a couple of weeks.

Other food sectors frequently see imports with misleading labels gaining market share, he said.

“Also, 50 per cent of recalls are caused by imported non-meat products, but meat-containing products are rarely on that list,” he said.

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