What we have now are post hoc arrangements among competing stakeholders, consumers who often lack basic information, and regulatory bodies, particularly the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which must somehow instill collaboration and trust among all parties. The results, in the event of a food crisis, have been disorganization, inefficiency, and uncertainty.
Our current practices must become more organized, but there are contrasting views about how to best shape our food safety systems. Some groups, often led by public spokespersons, are calling for more food safety inspectors. The CFIA, on the other hand, claims its inspectors are sufficiently deployed and that the frequency of inspections is adequate.
Instead, our objective should be a comprehensive food traceability system, a task which demands high organizational flexibility from the entire food industry. The endeavour is worthwhile, even though implementation will be challenging. Unfortunately, regulators are hampered by a competitive environment in which consensus building is difficult and even basic infrastructural agreements among stakeholders may be lacking. Additionally, with forced cooperation in the food industry having failed in the past, it is necessary to promote a willingness to cooperate, and to foster a supply chain oriented paradigm.
Food traceability systems can achieve this integration, and the CFIA is the perfect forum in which to build such highly-needed cooperation. The CFIA, despite previous difficulties, must redouble its efforts to rally the food industry before and after food safety crises.
But building better food safety systems requires more than industry collaboration. It should also address the lack of transparency displayed by both regulators and industry.
The CFIA must become a better risk communicator. In the absence of a mandatory disclosure system, the public is currently unable to obtain information about food safety records and scorecards generated by inspections. This has to change as it raises questions about the robustness of the regulatory process. Consumers deserve to be better educated about food safety matters, and once educated they will repay the food industry with trust.
The debate should not about the number of inspectors hired by the CFIA, because it is much too simplistic for the food industry’s segmented realities. For years, we have been chasing the wrong targets because we have not been able unwilling to spur cooperation and accountability in a competitive food industry. In its responses to food safety crises, the food industry would benefit from statutory regulations that require traceability from farm to plate.
Further, consumer confidence would be bolstered by implementing non-regulatory quality assurance programs. These approaches emphasize traceability, transparency, and accountability within food production, and have previously acted as catalysts for more collaborative behaviour. More collaboration within the food industry, especially between regulators and industry, could make an extensive difference to Canadians’ physical and mental well-being.