When it comes to good food safety standards, Canada is ranked among the top ten countries in the world. The country has strong institutional frameworks that include robust legislations, food-safety programs, and other innovative methods of ensuring safety. The process of farm to fork is well represented by the Canadian food safety policies. However, the current safety regime has room for improvement. Moreover, new challenges threaten to erode the gains that have already been made. Reports of health complications that result from poor food safety are well documented in Canada. The only difference is that food safety in Canada has improved greatly over the last few decades. The ability to maintain high food standards in the country depends on how well the relevant authorities mitigate the existing risk factors.
Various risk factors exist in the course of handling fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products as they move from the producer to the consumer. The basic assumption is that advancements in technology and strict legislations would eliminate contamination and ensure food standards are at their highest levels. However, factors such as technology and transport networks provide various avenues for safety standards to be compromised. For instance, over the last decade there have been various cases of food recalls in Canada and other parts of the developed world such as Europe and the United States (Patterson and Hiebert 1). The policy maker’s main goal is to ensure that food standards are improved in accordance with all the existing loopholes.
On the other hand, success in improving standards depends on how well other stakeholders (including industry players, consumers, and researchers) can collaborate and support the Canadian government’s efforts. Improvement of standards also depends on a number of social, economic, and political factors. For instance, when food safety is guaranteed by the government, this improves both the economical and social welfare of the country. This paper examines ways in which the Canadian government can improve food safety standards. The paper mainly addresses the risk areas that provide the government avenues for improvement. Furthermore, the paper points out how the government can cooperate with other stakeholders in the food industry to improve the existing standards.
The Current Situation
Success in food safety is only guaranteed when the person who consumes it does not suffer any biological, chemical, or physical repercussions. In special circumstances, even good safety standards can only minimize risks without necessarily eliminating them. To consumers, the perception of food safety is mostly an assumption because it is difficult for them to prove that food does not pose any health or physical danger. Even food that appears and tastes good can be carrying safety risks. Consequently, food safety is an issue that requires a certain level of vigilance that ordinary citizens can rarely achieve. Currently, the factors that pose the biggest danger to consumers include viruses, pathogens, bacteria, and other biological risks contained within food that is meant for consumption. In Canada, it is difficult for any food consumer to determine whether food has harmful elements such as Salmonella, Listeria, and Campylobacter. Use of chemicals in modern food production has been a rising concern because sometimes the harmful elements might find their way to the consumer’s plate. Modern food production involves agrochemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers that are harmful to the health of the citizens.
Currently, the Canadian government has laid out legislation that seeks to ensure high safety standards. Some of the factors that have contributed to the enactment of safety legislation in Canada include the Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan of 2007 and a 2009 public health report on the Listeriosis Outbreak of 2008.These preambles sought to “modernize and simplify federal legislation and regulations that significantly affect food safety” (Seed 457). The Safe Food for Canadians Act is a result of the events that have transpired in the last decade. In the past, food safety has been covered by various sets of legislation that touch on specific items such as fish, meat, agricultural products, consumer packaging, and drugs.
All these pieces of legislation provide a fragmented essence of food safety in Canada. The Safe Food for Canadians Act combines existing legislations into one act in a bid to harmonize the safety concept. In Canada, this legislation is mostly enforced by the Food Inspection Agency, whose main task is to make sure that the food that is sold to all citizens across the country is fit for consumption. The Safe Food for Canada Act aims to accomplish three simpler goals. First, the legislation seeks to improve the oversight mandate in regards to consumer protection. Second, the law pursues streamlined and stronger legislative authorities. Finally, the Act aims to make sure that Canada can find a position for its food within the international market (Patterson and Hiebert 1).
Improving Standards Associated with Food Handling
Although the risks that are mostly associated with food have to do with mistakes in the handling process, these errors can be dealt with at every handling-stage. For example, if food can get to the kitchens without contamination, it would be easy to maintain high safety standards. At the production stage, chemical contamination for crop and animal products can occur easily. However, this is the production stage that the government has the least access to, because primary production takes part in remote areas and at times outside the country. Another critical stage in food handling is the processing and manufacturing stage. This stage poses several risks of contamination mostly through poor hygiene and ignorance of safety standards. Nevertheless, this is the easiest stage to handle contamination because it is centralized and there is access to high levels of technology. The other stage of food handling involves wholesaling and retailing, whereby this is the final stage before the items get to the consumers. This stage presents few avenues of contamination because most of the times the food is already packaged safely.
Safety issues in regards to food handling are best addressed through a concerted effort by all the involved stakeholders. Consequently’ “managing food safety risks in Canada is the shared responsibility of governments, food industries (including producers, processors, retailers, and food service establishments), and consumers” (Munro et al.1). The government as the chief overseer of the safety issues should encourage all involved parties to contribute their maximum efforts towards assessing, managing, and reporting safety risks. It is important to note that Canadian legislations have accommodated this cooperation.
For example, the Functional Foods and Natural Health Products Database (FFNHPD) is the prevailing standard of food safety classification in Canada. However, this model has mostly been effective in offering fiscal data to the government, but it has not been effective in providing the much-needed safety data. The government can exploit this framework when improving food safety standards in the country. Some of the data that is provided through the FFNHPD includes “consumer profile and preferences, market size and performance, sourcing challenges, labor issues, foreign direct investment, distribution channels, regulatory issues affecting the sector, and research and development (R&D)” (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada 1). All this information can be useful to the government when it comes to eliminating avenues of food contamination.
Focus on Stakeholders
The easiest way to achieve results in the efforts to improve food safety standards is to ensure that all stakeholders are involved. The most prominent stakeholder is the government and all its institutions. Although the Canadian government has one of the best structures in the world when it comes to food safety, these models can be improved further. One avenue for change involves focusing on the modern food-economy. Currently, it is possible for crops to be harvested in Asia or Netherlands today, and be in the Canadian markets the next day. The fast movement of these goods requires a rigid system of pre-market approvals. The current systems of pre-approval are mostly generic and they only exist as compliments of existing legal frameworks. For example, the model of approving new products and technologies is not transparent, and it lacks the capacity to offer consumers the assurance that they require in modern times. A new market entrant might only need to request pre-market approval only once, and this creates a chance for issuance of misleading information (MacRae 425). Another area for improvement involves making institutions accountable by requiring from them statistical breakdowns of their contribution to food safety.
The food industry is the biggest agent in the standardization of safety measures. Daily activities of manufacturers are the cause of concern for most of the food safety agencies. Nevertheless, prior research has indicated that within the food industry, priority is often given to market forces over safety issues. Consequently, the food industry can only pay attention to safety if this factor is tied to market forces. As witnessed in the past, food producers can do all that is within their power to avoid issues that lead to loss of market share and brand depreciation (Marucheck 710). The government can use this tactic to promote and incentivize safety among processors and manufacturers. However, this method does not work on small and medium businesses, because their brand image is not often significant. Nevertheless, managing food safety within big industries has been found to be more effective than operating it further down the line.
Food is often contaminated when it gets to the homes and small restaurants. One of the methods that the government uses in its efforts to ensure food safety among industries is setting up of standard systems. An example of such standards is the Canada General Accepted Principles (GAP), which ensures that food from other jurisdictions conforms to the Canadian standards. Although these standards have been efficient in ensuring that food from major industries is safe, they have not addressed the unique needs of small and medium enterprises. The small industries have had issues when they are selling their food outside the country as well as when they are importing into the country. The government should review the Canadian GAP and address the needs of the small and medium enterprises. For instance, most of the standards that apply to industries are private standards, and they are meant to accommodate big food industries and not the small producers.
Policy makers tend to ignore the potential of food consumers in the efforts to improve safety. For instance, even if “governments and industry perform their food safety functions well, consumers can create new risks by failing to practice good food safety in food storage, handling, preparation, and cooking behaviors that would minimize risks” (Park et al. 59). The Canadian government should incorporate the consumer in its efforts to improve food safety. By creating awareness, the government can ensure that food consumers do not ignore their contribution towards food safety. For instance, it would be difficult for the Canadian government to institute policies that apply to how food is handled in private households. However, creating awareness reduces the risk of compromised food safety by the end consumers. One method of accomplishing this goal is by improving the consumers’ risk-awareness.
Government Instituted Solutions towards Food Safety
The Canadian government has access to both formal and informal channels of improving food safety. Formally, the government can use laws and policies, such as the Safe Food for Canadians Act to improve food safety. All these formal channels have been laid out but their effectiveness depends on their scope of influence. On the other hand, informal methods of improving food safety are aimed at reaching those who are outside the government policy’s sphere of influence. The elements that are hard to reach through formal methods of food safety include households, service companies, and other small and medium enterprises. This section addresses the out-of-the box methods that the Canadian government can utilize when it comes to food safety measures.
One avenue for improving of food safety involves ensuring that small and informal eating establishments can be provided with free advice. Current statistics indicate that most cases of unsafe food occur within the realm of the small food operators such as mobile restaurants and other food subsector players (Park et al. 58). To improve safety standards, government agencies should move from enforcement and towards creation of awareness. Creating awareness promotes involuntary compliance with safe standards among food service providers. For instance, it is difficult for government inspectors to access all eating establishments on a regular basis. Therefore, it would be easier to get the owners of these establishments to take the initiative by providing them with the necessary support and timely advice concerning food safety. For example, the government agencies can advice the small food handlers on methods of minimizing safety risks and instituting rapid responses to disease outbreaks. Currently, there are attempts by the government to ensure that cooperation is achieved, but most of this advice is offered in an impersonal and indirect manner. For example, the government has websites that seek to communicate safety to food handlers. The most effective method of improving safety within small-scale handlers is by initiating direct contact.
Safety standards can also be improved by promoting safe food practices among consumers. Currently, “there are approximately 4 million cases of food-related illnesses in Canada every year, many of which could be prevented by following four food handling practices – clean, separate, cook and chill” (Seed 459). Further analysis indicates that food consumers are the most likely culprits when it comes to food contamination. The government has done a lot to ensure relevant knowledge is delivered to consumers but it cannot guarantee whether they would put this information into practice. Therefore, there is an avenue for improving food safety through encouraging consumers to practice what they have learnt about food safety. The Canadian government can enhance the existing consumer awareness programs to ensure that they are more engaging to their targeted audiences. Some of the current measures include information websites, informative food labels, and information that is communicated through agency inspectors. Future methods can include public service announcements and cooperation with food networks and other avenues of social interaction.
The government should also synchronize private food safety standards to ensure that their intended beneficiary is the public. Some of the existing standards appear to favor big industries and other capitalist entities instead of guaranteeing public safety. Furthermore, research on the scope of public health can also ensure there is empirical data on the effectiveness of the existing standards. It is up to the government to provide clarity on the methods that are or are not working towards ensuring food safety.
The Canadian government should maximize on the use of technology when improving food safety. In the last few years, laws have been enacted in order to maintain high standards of food safety. The secret to improving food safety lies in ensuring that all stakeholders come together and join their efforts. The government should also take advantage of the changing times to ensure safe food production, transportation, manufacturing, and delivery. Furthermore, debate on how Canada can utilize existing institutions in ensuring food safety should be reopened.
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