Mandates and Roles of Canadian Federal Food Safety Partners

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is a science-based regulatory body dedicated to protecting the health and well-being of Canadians by safeguarding Canada's food supply and the plants and animals upon which safe, high-quality food depends. It is the body responsible for administering and enforcing federal statutes and regulations which regulate the safety and quality of food sold in Canada, while supporting a sustainable animal and plant resource base. The CFIA shares many of its core responsibilities with other federal departments and agencies, with provincial, territorial and municipal authorities, private industry, and national/international stakeholders.

The CFIA works with its partners to: implement food safety measures; manage food, animal and plant risks, incidents and emergencies; and promote the development of food safety and disease control systems to maintain the safety of Canada's high-quality agriculture, agri-food, aquaculture and fishery products. The Agency's activities include: verifying the compliance of domestic and imported products; registering and inspecting establishments; testing food, animals, plants and their related products; approving the use of many agricultural inputs; and, research and development to support monitoring programs and food safety investigations

With respect to food safety, CFIA is responsible for assessing the compliance of imported and domestic food with policies, regulations, standards and guidelines set by Health Canada. Where potential issues with compliance are identified CFIA and/or Health Canada performs a risk assessment to determine the level of risk posed to Canadian consumers. Each food safety incident is assessed, taking into consideration numerous factors such as volume of distribution, hazard type, processing and consumer handling practices, while balancing the weight of evidence and applying appropriate precautions. Risk assessments are one of the inputs used by the Agency when making risk management decisions.

Health Canada

Health Canada is the federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health. As a science based department and working with various partners Health Canada works to prevent and reduce risk to individual health and the overall environment; promote healthier lifestyles; ensure high quality health services that are efficient and accessible; integrate renewal of the health system with longer term plans in the areas of prevention, health promotion and protection; reduce health inequalities in Canadian society; and provide health information to help Canadians make informed decisions.

In its role as a regulator, Health Canada is responsible for establishing policies, regulations, standards and guidelines related to the safety and nutritional quality of all food sold in Canada.

The Food Directorate provides health risk assessments (HRA) on food-related hazards to the CFIA or other stakeholders (e.g., Provincial/Territorial governments) as well as scientific advice and analytical surge capacity for analyzing microbiological contaminants, chemical contaminants, non-permitted food additives, chemicals associated with the use of food packaging materials, processing aids, and incidental additives, and undeclared food allergens in food and clinical samples.

The Food Directorate also conducts scientific assessments of risk, benefit, and efficacy in support of standard-setting and food safety investigations. It provides information and authoritative advice to the public, industry, health and consumer organizations, and other government organizations. The Food Directorate also conducts scientific research and post-market surveillance to support its standard-setting, risk assessment, and informational roles.

Public Health Agency of Canada

In Canada, within the provincial and territorial jurisdictions, provision of public health services lies primarily at the municipal or local level. Provincial and territorial governments provide support for local public health services with assistance in the planning, administration of budgets, and the provision of technical assistance. While public health is primarily a provincial/territorial priority, the federal government has authority to legislate aspects of public health as set out in the Department of Health Act and the Public Health Agency of Canada Act.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) was established in September 2004, following recommendations in response to the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The main mandates of PHAC are to contribute to federal efforts to identify and reduce public health risk factors and to support national readiness for public health threats, including carrying out disease surveillance and control activities, with an emphasis on promoting cooperation with provincial and territorial governments.

PHAC facilitates interactions with provincial and territorial governments, and other stakeholders, and coordinates enteric disease surveillance across the country. Disease surveillance conducted by PHAC has six main objectives:

  1. Timely identification of outbreaks and monitoring of trends and antimicrobial resistance of foodborne, waterborne and environmental infectious diseases;
  2. Detection of increases among vectors that indicate potential increased risk of infection;
  3. Identification of risks to inform risk management, policy and regulation development;
  4. Provide evidence for the development, monitoring and assessment of interventions and food safety programs for reducing the burden of disease and anti-microbial resistance;
  5. Provide timely public health data on new and emerging disease strains to support the development of required diagnostic tests;
  6. Contribute to international surveillance efforts and meet international commitments, including the World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations.

Surveillance includes the monitoring of enteric diseases, most of which are notifiable, and for which there are global reporting commitments to the WHO. These surveillance programs provide data on disease trends, incidence, outbreak investigations, characteristics (in terms of person, place and time), burden of diseases (symptoms, hospitalization, death, length of illness), and risk factors (travel, food, water, and animal exposures), including monitoring the occurrence of pathogens and resistance in exposure sources (animals, food, environment) and exposure factors such as antimicrobial use in animals.

Due to the complexity of enteric diseases, PHAC has established more than one surveillance system to conduct comprehensive, national surveillance (see VTEC Illness Monitoring in Canada for more details on these systems). Depending on the surveillance system, the information provided to PHAC could be laboratory based (e.g. case counts per disease identified in a week) or public health based (i.e. consisting of case-level information). All of the data collected through these systems are summarized and presented in annual reports, to provide data to support regulators conducting risk assessments, to improve understanding of emerging or existing sources of infection, inform food safety investigations (and potentially food recalls), and contribute to the identification of the most important sources and pathways of each enteric pathogen that cause illness in Canada.