As the largest component of Canada’s food processing sector, Canadian meat packing and processing companies register annual sales surpassing $24 billion, exports exceeding $4.7 billion and direct employment of close to 70,000 people.
“From the perspective of meat packers and processors, it is of critical importance that the cold chain be maintained by ensuring meat products are kept at the appropriate temperature during transport, including through expeditious loading and unloading,” asserts Ron Davidson, director government and media relations at the Canadian Meat Council.
As well, both shippers and receivers need to be informed of deviations in temperature control when they occur, for example as the result of equipment failure. And all federally-registered meat packers and processors must create and maintain Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs.
The meat industry is currently supporting the development of a national Certified Livestock Transport (CLT) Training Program, a comprehensive training course and support service on livestock handling, loading and biosecurity for livestock truckers, shippers and receivers.
For those transporting meat products to the US, operators must travel to one of the 10 “I-Houses” (United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service staffed inspection facilities) after crossing the border and prior to proceeding to the receiving destination.
These meat re-inspections conducted at I-Houses usually break the cold chain, thereby impacting food safety and shelf life as well as impeding timely delivery to destination, noted Davidson.
So as part of the Beyond the Border Action Plan, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is cooperating with the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to plan and implement a pre-clearance initiative for meat for further processing.
“This initiative consists of a pilot project that will consider, first, alternative methods for reviewing import documents prior to the arrival of Canadian shipments at the US border and, second, alternative methods for the release of shipments that are destined for further processing at a FSIS inspected establishment in the United States. While the primary outcome of this initiative will be enhanced food safety, it will have ancillary benefits for transporters,” he said.
The pilot project will begin with a small number of CFIA-registered establishments that export fresh meat (beef and pork) products directly to USDA FSIS-inspected establishments for further processing. The current import re-inspection process will not change for CFIA-registered establishments not participating in the program, said Davidson.
Some shipments of product from Canadian meat establishments participating in the pilot project will still be directed to stop at one of the official import inspection facilities (i.e., I-Houses) where samples of the meat will be collected for laboratory testing. Conversely, other shipments of product from establishments that participate in the pilot project, but are not pre-assigned to be sampled at the import establishment (i.e., I-House), will be cleared to continue directly to their FSIS-inspected destination establishment where physical examination of the shipment may occur.
“When the pilot project begins, it will be very important that truck operators be aware of whether they must stop at an I-House for re-inspection and product sampling or whether the shipment has been pre-cleared to continue directly to a FSIS-inspected US destination. The pilot project will not have a negative impact on food safety. Quite to the contrary, by eliminating the undesirable current requirement to open sealed refrigerated and freezer trucks en route, it will contribute to enhanced food safety and product freshness,” Davidson said.
In effect, the pilot project will simply transfer the point of USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service re-inspection from one of the 10 privately-owned I-Houses to a FSIS-inspected meat processing establishment located elsewhere in the US, he explained. In addition to the upgrade in food safety, the change in location of FSIS re-inspection will have ancillary benefits to transporters, including eliminating the waste of valuable time, reducing environmental pollution from fuel consumption, decreasing local traffic congestion and lessening truck wear and tear, all of which are augmented when trucks are diverted to an I-House and all of which will be mitigated when shipments destined for further processing proceed directly from the port of entry to the FSIS-inspected processing establishment.
If pilot projects such as this are successful at streamlining transport and ensuring safety in the food chain, it will be a positive for harmonization efforts, and perhaps a move away from regulations that act to impede rather than facilitate trade.
“In the past, trade with the US was the driver to implementing food safety. Now different players within the industry are asking more questions of their suppliers. It’s easier to respond now to emerging threats when you have a sound relationship. We’ve struggled for years to bring some consensus around traceability, standards and functions in the supply chain. We’ve hit a lot of roadblocks and this approach will force functions to really get along and to agree on what information should be flowing,” says Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, associate dean and professor in the College of Management and Economics at the University of Guelph.