Can regulators regulate and promote? Safe food sells

I cringe when pompous professorial types begin sentences with, “Clearly …” 

It happens a lot

Over the years, I’ve repeatedly heard a variation of, “Clearly, government agencies can’t regulate and promote food at the same time.” I was on National Public Radio in Maryland a few weeks ago and the statement was repeated mantra-like by both the host and some activist dude.

Yesterday, it was Sylvain Charlebois, a business professor at the University of Regina, telling Canadian parliamentarians they should establish an independent food safety agency reporting directly to Parliament because the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is failing consumers because of its “dual mandate.”

That wasn’t so clear to Ronald Doering (right) who served as the CFIA’s president from 1997 to 2002 and practically designed the agency. He called Charlebois’s proposal to "hive off food safety" to a body reporting to Parliament instead of to a minister, “silly.”

"The principle consensus all around was if you’re going to reorganize how you’re going to do food safety, animal heath and plant protection, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got accountability right. All parties agreed that we needed to have the agency report directly to a minister in the traditional way, and there could be no doubt that the minister the agency reported to would be accountable for its work."

Sure, CFIA has problems — like staff figuring out how to subscribe to FSnet. About 400 of them got deleted last week because of repeated error messages due to changes in e-mail addresses. About 250 figured out how to resubscribe; the other 150 decided to personally e-mail and demand I play secretary. Veterinarians with entitlement issues?

Back to the issue. I’ve always thought it’s easier to market safe food and never had much time for the armchair conspiracy theorists.

Doering also said it’s "simplistic" to argue the CFIA’s dual mandate presents a problem for consumers. Rather, he said Canadians are well-served by putting "the whole food chain in a single enforcement agency, so the CFIA is responsible for seeds, feed, fertilizers, all plant health, all animal health, all food, all commodities because they are all connected."

"The Canadian food, animal health and plant regulatory system is admired around the world. The idea we can export to a 100 countries food, animal or plants without inspection has to say something about the credibility of the regulatory agency."