Making food safe costs money

With the absence of Rob Ford antics and Olympic hockey news, Canadian media attention has shifted towards federal budget rumors and posturing for the next election. Taking the opportunity of the news lull and budget discussions the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses released a, uh, press release (and corresponding report) for redtape awareness week. The report suggests that complying Canadian Food Inspection Agency requirements costs businesses an average of $20,396 per business or a federal total of $657 million.Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 6.01.51 PM

From the release:

“Farmers support rules necessary to ensure safe food and are tired of getting the runaround from the CFIA,” says Marilyn Braun-Pollon, CFIB’s vice-president, agri-business. “Spending thousands of dollars and countless hours navigating through confusing forms and contradictory information leaves farmers feeling completely frustrated. And this does nothing to promote food safety.”
Key findings on the CFIA:

Since 2006, the annual average cost of complying with the agency’s rules and paperwork has increased from $19,000 to $20,396 per agri-business owner;

Only one-in-five agri-business owners believe the CFIA provides good ‘overall service’, the same as previous findings in 2006, indicating there is no improvement in  overall service.

60 per cent of agri-business owners say CFIA regulations add significant stress to their lives; and

46 per cent report that the agency’s regulations significantly reduce productivity in their business, up from previous findings (40 per cent) in 2006.

Sort of.

The report details how those compliance numbers are calculated: time spent complying with regulations, new equipment and professional fees.

Except some portion of those expenses are the cost of doing business in a marketplace that demands food safety. Not everything is linked to CFIA bureaucracy: some of the equipment, personnel costs and documentation is industry best practice. Stuff that good companies would do in the absence of regulation.

Making food safely is stressful – and costs money.

Now market it; food safety for all, big or small, even in the heartland

It’s somewhat reassuring that wholesalers in the Kansas area have said food safety requirements applies to all, big or small. I applaud such efforts. But unless I read a trade magazine like The Packer, I have no idea what I’m buying when I go get groceries.

Coral Beach reports that wholesalers and retailers in the heart of America can’t keep up with demand for locally grown produce, but a lack of growers isn’t necessarily the problem.

Rather, a lack of growers with adequate food safety programs is the biggest challenge to meeting orders for local produce according to several sources in the central U.S.

The wholesalers and retailers also said there are more local growers they would like to use, but they won’t budge on the food safety requirements.

“Many of them are doing it, they’re just not documenting it,” said Scott Danner, chief operating officer for Liberty Fruit Co., Kansas City, Kan.

Brent Bielski said new local growers seem to be popping up all the time, but as general manager for Greenberg Fruit Co., Omaha, Neb., he just can’t do business with them unless they have food safety plans that include hazard analysis and critical control point measures.

At C&C Produce, North Kansas City, Mo., vice president Nick Conforti said the company requires all its growers to have GAP certification and third-party audits.

“I’d rather miss a sale than be the company that gets someone sick,” Conforti said, adding that the company recently completed a two-day inspection for a BRC global standard food safety audit.

Take the next step; let consumers choose at retail.

Claiming organic when it’s not (in Canada) and getting caught is ‘like getting caught for driving so fast you lose your licence, but aren’t fined’

Auditors, certifiers, validators, grease monkeys, soil farmers, they’re all supposed to make things better.

But claims are nothing more than claims in the absence of data.

And anyone who has to say, “trust me,” is immediately untrustworthy.

So when Laura Telford, executive director of the Canadian Organic Growers, told Canadian news types a couple of weeks ago, “I’m not certain the world needs to know the exact reason why this company lost its certification. I personally feel that its enough to know that CFIA is doing its job … and when a company is not following the rules, there will be consequences,” howls of cynical guffawing ensued among those familiar with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

A few weeks ago, Lynne Moore reported in the Montreal Gazette that on June 30, 2009, the Organic Products Regulations came into effect under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The regulations provided for a transition period, a two-year span that would allow everyone to align their operations to the new reality and take care of practical matters such as using up existing packaging.

In a July 27, 2011, notice, the Canada Organic Office said Jirah Milling and Sales Inc., of Ormstown, Que., was no longer authorized to market organic products or use the Canada Organic logo (the logo that would now be recognized by the U.S. and the EU).

The notice of suspension of organic certification was sent to industry and certification bodies, but the document was not publicly disseminated by the federal body on a website or via a media release.

The Montreal Gazette found the government’s suspension notice about one of Eastern Canada’s most significant international organic dealers on the "newsroom" page of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website. It wasn’t deemed newsworthy in Canada, but it was in the U.S.

Michel Saumur, the office’s national manager and program spokesman, would not provide information about the scope of Jirah’s corporate activities, wouldn’t discuss complaints received about the company, wouldn’t say why its certification was suspended – and subsequently cancelled – and would not even disclose which certifying body had accredited Jirah.

Email inquiries to CFIA’s media office finally generated a response on Friday afternoon. The Organic Products Regulations "do not have provisions for fines and additional penalties at this time."

So it’s something like getting caught for driving so fast you lose your licence, but aren’t fined.