Food standards agencies have never had a bigger job to do than now, with consumer confidence in food safety at an all-time low. The numerous national food safety authorities which have sprung up in recent years will be keeping a keen eye on the development of the nascent European Food Authority, and we at just-food.com felt it was important to inform readers about the different authorities already in existence. Following profiles of authorities in the UK, the US, Ireland and Australia/New Zealand, we now turn our attention to Canada and Sweden.
Name: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency
The creation of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in April 1997 brought together inspection and related services previously provided through the activities of four federal government departments – Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Health Canada and Industry Canada. The establishment of the CFIA consolidated the delivery of all federal food, animal and plant health inspection programmes.
The Minister of Health is responsible for establishing policies and standards for the safety and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada; the administration of those provisions of the Food and Drugs Act that relate to public health, safety and nutrition; and for assessing the effectiveness of the Agency’s activities related to food safety.
The CFIA is led by a President who reports to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The President is supported by an Executive Vice-President. The Agency’s structure allows it to meet commitments to science, to deal with the continuum of food production from primary production to the retail level and manages horizontal issues that cut across commodity lines. CFIA delivers 14 inspection programmes related to foods, plants and animals in 18 regions across Canada.
The CFIA comprises 4,600 people working to meet the demands of domestic and international consumers and markets. Its staff consists of a broad range of specialists, including veterinarians, inspectors, systems specialists, research scientists and laboratory technicians. With headquarters in the National Capital Region, the CFIA organisation consists of four operational areas, subdivided into 18 regional offices, 85 field officers and 408 offices in non-government establishments, such as processing facilities.
Objectives and Responsibilities:
Enforce the food safety and nutritional quality standards established by Health Canada and, for animal health and plant protection, set standards and carry out enforcement and inspection
Inspect federally registered meat processing facilities and borders for foreign pests and diseases
Enforce practices related to fraudulent labelling
Verify the humane transportation of animals
Conduct food investigations and recalls
Perform laboratory testing and environmental assessments of seeds, plants, feeds and fertilisers
The CFIA is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the following Acts:
Administrative Monetary Penalties Act, Canada Agricultural Products Act, Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act, Feeds Act, Fertilisers Act, Fish Inspection Act, Health of Animals Act, Meat Inspection Act, Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, Plant Protection Act, Seeds Act, Consumer Packaging and Labelling as it relates to food, and the enforcement of the Food and Drugs Act as it relates to food.
The Agency contributes to safe food, consumer protection and the protection of plants and the health of animals in Canada. Inspection and verification of importers and exporters enhance the level of confidence in agricultural inputs, animal and plant health and food safety, elements essential to marketplace confidence.
CFIA emphasises the aspects of plant protection and animal health as inherent and essential elements for achieving food safety. These aspects – animal health, plant protection, cleanliness of seeds and topics related to agricultural inputs stand out, as these aspects do not hold the same prominence in the objectives of some other food safety authorities .
Name: The National Food Administration
The National Food Administration of Sweden was established in 1971. It is based in Uppsala, employing 300 at its headquarters and some 200 in slaughterhouses throughout the country, as veterinary meat inspection duties belong to the National Food Administration (NFA). It is the central supervisory authority for matters relating to food, including drinking water. NFA emphasises that its main objective is the interest and welfare of the consumer, not industry.
The National Food Administration is a government agency and part of the Ministry of Agriculture. NFA’s four fields of activity are the development of knowledge, the establishment of standards and other food regulations, supervision and control, and information. It has a Board, which includes the Director General of the National Board for Consumer Policies, a representative of the Swedish Consumer Committee on Food Policy and two members of the Swedish Parliament. It coordinates its activities with other government agencies, such as those handling animal health and feed, pesticide inspection or environmental protection. The NFA budget is derived from government, through taxation; and from fees from the food industry.
The NFA acquires information, through surveys, about consumers’ food habits, supporting the work conducted by the country’s councils and municipalities to improve dietary habits and thereby public health. In many sectors, there is a Nordic cooperation under the Nordic Council of Ministers. This cooperation concerns legislation, food control, toxicology, and food hygiene.
Objectives and Responsibilities:
Prepare food regulations
Enforce the Food Act and coordinate food control
Provide information on important matters concerning food
Take an active part in ensuring that the guidelines drawn up by Parliament and the Government on diet and health are followed
Conduct enquiries and practical scientific investigations on food and dietary habits and develop methods for food control
The work of the NFA shall be based as far as possible on international cooperation, particularly within the European Union.
In the 1980s, Sweden adopted a preventive approach to include issues such as pesticides and antibiotics. Pesticide use has been cut by 75% in the last decade. “The routine use of antibiotics as prophylactics in intensive livestock systems was interpreted in Sweden, but not in the UK, as an indication of a chronic problem of contamination. In 1996, the use of antibiotics in animal feed in Sweden was restricted, partly to benefit animal welfare. The Administration long ago banned the use of bonemeal in animal feeds as a proactive action. The result is that, to date, there have been no cases of BSE in Sweden,” as pointed out in the study by the Centre for Food Policy at Thames Valley University.
It is worth mentioning that NFA includes the quality of drinking water as one if its responsibilities, and that virtually all Swedish food legislation has now been harmonised with EU legislation. In addition, Sweden’s approach to food safety is comprehensive, covering environmental protection measures, the ‘greening’ of agricultural policy which has been successful not just in public health terms, but also for marketing and business purposes; and intensive education and information activities. All these make Sweden’s NFA an advanced food safety agency, albeit there is no specific mention, as in the charter of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), regarding the legal authority enabling officials to enter premises, seize documents, and issue closure orders. Perhaps this can be explained in view of the fact that Sweden’s agricultural industry, although significant, “is not as central to the national economy and politics as is the case, for example, with its neighbour Norway. This makes it far easier for the Administration to win and retain public trust.”*
*Tim Lang et al, Centre for Food Policy, Thames Valley University, London
By Aaron Priel, just-food.com correspondent
To see PART ONE of this feature, focusing on National Food Standards Authorities in the UK and the US Click Here
To see PART TWO of this feature, focusing on National Food Standards Authorities in the Australia and Ireland Click Here
To see PART FOUR of this feature, focusing on National Food Standards Authorities in Denmark and Germany Click Here
To see PART FIVE of this feature, focusing on National Food Standards Authorities in Finland and France Click Here