On Monday, the federal government announced its first-ever food policy for Canada, which will support community projects and provide additional funding to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The funding injection to the CFIA aims to ensure food companies comply with Canada’s labelling and other requirements.
“I think an important part of the new policy is the funds to help the CFIA crack down on mislabelling and misrepresentation,” says Laura Gomez, a partner at Gowling WLG in Ottawa, whose regulatory practice concerns the commercialization of foods, drugs and other consumer products.
“The aim of that, as noted in the food policy, is to protect consumers from deception but also, very importantly, to help [protect] companies from unfair competition,” she says. “Food safety is obviously a priority for the CFIA, but at the same time, the CFIA has a responsibility to help the commercial interests of Canadian industry.”
Canadians are exposed to information, advertising and labelling that is not compliant with federal regulations, says Gomez. “Some companies may import products that may not be properly labelled in accordance with Canadian requirements. It does take a lot of resources to bring products to compliance in Canada,” she adds, and providing additional funding to the CFIA for investigation and enforcement creates a more level playing field for the companies that are compliant and spend significant resources to be so.
Glenford Jameson, a principal at G.S. Jameson & Co. in Toronto, whose regulatory and corporate-commercial practice largely concerns the food sector, says the process for developing the policy was rigorous and involved a brand-new multi-stakeholder group to consult with, including civil society groups. “What we got reflected the complexity of the problem and the diversity of views brought to the table,” he says.
“We understand how complex the food value chain is in Canada and how subject it is to basic commercial constraints,” says Jameson, who is also a director of the Canadian Association for Food Law and Policy. “And then on top of that, there are international agreements” to be complied with and civil society groups who played a significant role in the consultation. He also notes that the mandate letter sent by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lawrence MacAulay “was really quite expansive.”
The food policy that was formed as a result is focused more on civil society groups than on industry, he says, which reflects the fact that industry “has always had a reasonably close relationship with government” through grants and various agencies that manage the food value chain.
“I was hoping the feds might arrive at a document I could use in my practice,” he says. However, he adds, “the Canadian food policy [is] less of a policy and more of a hat-tip to crucial issues” such as food waste, traceability and accountability and food fraud. And it is “heartening that the federal government thinks it’s important,” he says.
Gomez agrees. “The fact that we have the government focusing on food policy is important,” she says. “Food is important business for Canada, and especially because Canada has the potential to be a leader in agri-food in the world.”
Many lawyers are involved in the food industry, she adds, from preparing contracts to negotiating business mergers to employment law matters. “So, it is important for Canada to have a strong food business, [and] that provides a basis for Canadian lawyers to have a good business in this area as well.”
The $134-million budget for the Food Policy for Canada will come from its 2019 budget, the government announced in a news release. Other Food Policy of Canada initiatives include:
- a new Canada Brand and Buy Canadian promotional campaigns that will aim to increase pride and consumer confidence in Canadian food;
- support for community-led projects such as greenhouses, community freezers and skills training that address food challenges and food insecurity in northern and isolated communities;
- a challenge fund to support the most innovative food waste reduction ideas in food processing, grocery retail and food service;
- work alongside provinces and not-for-profit organizations toward the creation of a National School Food Program.