Recent changes to the Food and Drugs Act could lighten the load for Health Canada, a move that will hopefully benefit food producers
In the good old days legislative change meant governments would roll up their sleeves and get down to business. In truth, however, Canadian governments were never that proficient at the legislative process. And in today’s complex world, making or changing legislation can get downright torturous. It consumes so much effort and resources from government that compounded with tighter budgets and more demands, the current system is no longer sustainable.
Take for example a process that should be rather simple, like extending the use of an existing food additive to a food not currently listed in the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR). To this Health Canada can employ an Interim Marketing Authorization (IMA). An IMA has effect once published in Canada Gazette I, but Health Canada must then formalize the legislative process within two years. Given the demands on the ministry, it’s not surprising they are unable to keep pace.
The way laws and regulations are made differ. Making changes to Acts has always been the most challenging as this involves parliamentary time, a precious commodity. In the most recent federal budget bill, Bill C-38, the government has included a multitude of clauses that will change more than 70 Canadian laws, including some significant changes to the Food and Drugs Act (FDA). This latest budget bill, which is more akin to those in the U.S., departs from the usual simple bills of the past. Politics aside, and without advocating that this is perhaps the best approach forward, the underlying pressure to make parliament more proficient and responsive in the legislative process appears to bear some influence here as well.
There are only a few changes to the FDA. These changes, however, have a significant potential to reduce Health Canada’s bogged down regulatory process, and will hopefully free already tight resources for the ministry to work on other projects. Bill C-38 would amend the FDA to give Health Canada the authority to issue Marketing Authorizations (MAs) for a broad base of subjects that would otherwise be in conflict with current prohibitions in the FDA or the FDR. For example, MAs could be issued for health claims, use of food additives, and vitamins and minerals in food. The scope of MAs is broader than that for IMAs, which MAs replace. Regulations defining the MA application process, eligibility criteria and amendment procedures will need to be made.