Consultation Summary - Food and Nutrition Stakeholder Engagement Session, May 7, 2019
Theme and Objectives
On May 7, 2019 Health Canada's Health Products and Food Branch (HPFB) welcomed food and nutrition stakeholders to an engagement session. The objective of the annual event is to offer stakeholders an opportunity to learn about and provide input on current priorities and initiatives.
The theme of this year's event was the "Future of Food". Throughout the day, participants discussed innovation in the food system and associated challenges and opportunities. Over 100 participants from industry associations, academia, consumer groups, non-governmental organizations, and other government partners took part in person, with approximately 100 additional participants joining by webcast. Participants provided insightful information and thoughtful advice on how HPFB can better respond and adapt to emerging trends and enable innovative solutions to improve food environments in Canada and enable Canadians to make safe and healthier choices.
The event was also an opportunity to further engage participants on the Government of Canada's regulatory reform agenda first announced in Budget 2018. In particular, this reform agenda will allow the department to use what it heard through the Regulatory Review to enhance the current regulatory frameworks for food and veterinary drugs so that they are more agile, transparent and responsive, with better health outcomes for Canadians.
Pierre Sabourin, Assistant Deputy Minister, HPFB, opened the session by emphasizing the importance of continued collaboration to provide Canadians with a safe and healthier food supply for years to come. He outlined the three pillars of the Healthy Eating Strategy that have guided Health Canada's work and act as the foundation to advance the regulatory modernization forward agenda:
- improving information to Canadians,
- improving the nutritional quality and safety of the food supply, and
- protecting vulnerable populations.
Mr. Sabourin highlighted key accomplishments from the past year including: launching the new Canada's Food Guide, implementing the ban on the addition of industrial trans-fat to processed foods and developing new regulations to limit the amount of alcohol in flavoured purified alcoholic beverages.
Health Canada's Deputy Minister Simon Kennedy spoke about the Government of Canada's commitment to achieving better health outcomes, through food safety and nutrition initiatives such as the Healthy Eating Strategy, along with the commitment to bring innovation to our regulations. He emphasized the need for all stakeholders to care about the state of nutrition and the quality of the food supply in Canada, given that the burden of obesity and chronic disease not only impacts health, but also comes at a significant cost to society.
Mr. Kennedy stressed the potential of Canada's food environment to offer solutions in combatting diet-related chronic disease in Canada, impacting both adults and children alike. While governments in Canada and around the world will need to explore innovative regulatory, legislative and other measures to create a healthier food supply, all actors have a role to play in making healthy food choices more available to Canadians and minimizing the social and economic burden of chronic disease. Recent food sector trends demonstrate promising results towards this end: both the Canadian and global retail sectors have indicated a shift towards healthier options, and consumers are increasingly opting for healthier foods.
Mr. Kennedy's remarks concluded by reinforcing the significance of the Budget 2019 commitments to reform and modernize federal regulations that will facilitate business innovation, while continuing to protect the health and safety of Canadians. Health Canada remains committed to working collaboratively across the food system to make sure that Canadians have access to safe and nutritious food and the information they need to make healthier choices.
Panel Discussion: The Future of Food in Canada
Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada's Chief Medical Advisor, moderated a panel discussion on the technologies and trends that will shape our food supply over the next three to ten years. The panellists shared their thoughts on the future of food in the Canadian context and how we can work together to address challenges and opportunities.
Three panellists provided their perspectives on the topic:
- Sylvain Charlebois, Professor, Food Distribution and Policy, Dalhousie University;
- Rory McAlpine, Senior Vice President, Government and Industry Relations, Maple Leaf Foods; and,
- Yves Savoie, Chief Executive Officer, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.
The discussion started by acknowledging the dietary impacts on health. On a global scale, diet is now a top risk factor for the significant and growing burden of non-communicable disease on the economy and quality of life. It was agreed that a multi-pronged approach is needed to address the public health crisis of diet-related chronic disease.
According to the panellists, top factors influencing consumer food choices are convenience and price. They noted that popular food trends include: foods with claimed beneficial effects on health, beauty and aging; plant-based proteins; and sustainably processed and packaged foods.
A myriad of social and environmental factors, such as growing income inequality, food insecurity in vulnerable communities, and social media also represent complexities in understanding how consumers make food consumption decisions. Managing misinformation in an era of widespread social media use was flagged as an important role for Health Canada to play in managing the future food environment.
There was agreement that collaboration between government and industry was imperative to address the complex challenges of improving Canada's food environment. While there are, at times, competing interests between government and industry, collaboration with a diverse set of stakeholders, done in an open and transparent manner, will lead to an improved regulatory environment that maintains trust between Health Canada, stakeholders, and citizens.
Panel Discussion: A Whole of Government Approach to Regulatory Modernization
David K. Lee, Chief Regulatory Officer of Health Canada's Health Products and Food Branch, moderated a discussion on the Government of Canada's regulatory review of the agri-food and aquaculture sector, and a coordinated federal approach to regulatory modernization in this area. Panellists shared their perspectives on how innovation in the agri-food sector can be supported to achieve better health and safety outcomes in Canada's food environment.
Three panellists contributed to the discussion:
- Colleen Barnes, Vice President, Policy and Programs Branch, Canadian Food Inspection Agency;
- Tom Rosser, Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; and,
- Kendal Weber, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Health Products and Food Branch, Health Canada.
Colleen Barnes began the discussion by providing a brief overview of the Government of Canada's Budget 2018 commitments aimed at making the Canadian regulatory system more agile, transparent and responsive. The commitments intend to ensure that businesses across the country can explore and act on new opportunities, resulting in benefits for Canadians.
Panellists began their discussion by presenting stakeholder feedback received through a series of consultations on regulatory modernization held in 2018 as part of the Regulatory Review initiative, led by the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada. The feedback stressed the need for alignment and harmonization across regulatory jurisdictions, the ability for the Canadian economy to remain competitive and innovative, while maintaining health and safety; and the need to use evidence-based approaches to develop regulations. The panel emphasized the need for flexibility and the use of a diverse set of tools to maximize regulatory agility.
Specific to the agriculture and agri-food sectors, they shared common irritants and challenges with the existing regulations, such as: out-dated regulatory provisions, the lack of regulations for human milk fortifiers and for supplemented foods, and the inability to conduct clinical trials for certain products in Canada. Stakeholders also noted challenges in enabling the use of veterinary drugs for minor use - minor species.
The panel concluded by stating that a modernized food regulatory framework will centre around multi-sectoral engagement, collaboration, and an openness to new ways of regulating such as piloting regulatory sandboxes.
Breakout Sessions: Emerging Food and Nutrition Trends and Technologies
Building on the morning panel discussions, afternoon breakout sessions were used to seek stakeholder feedback on Health Canada's plan to remove out-dated regulatory provisions and develop an agile regulatory framework that can adjust to rapidly evolving science and technology and better respond to emerging food safety issues.
The following discussion questions were posed to stakeholders during the breakout session:
1. Identifying emerging trends and technologies that support the development of safe and healthier foods for Canadians
We are already seeing how innovative foods, such as those with added vitamins and minerals, challenge our current regulatory framework and emerging technologies such as lab grown meat and the development of personalized nutrition products are expected to do the same. For veterinary drugs, there is also a demand for innovative products to replace the use of antimicrobials. Building on the morning panel discussion on "The Future of Food in Canada", we are interested in knowing what is coming on the horizon (e.g. 3, 5, 10 years from now) that will put added pressure on the existing regulatory framework.
- We heard some thoughts this morning about future technologies and trends that will lead to a safe, healthier and more sustainable food supply. What other trends and/or technologies do you see coming that would lead to this desired reality?
2. Identifying the challenges emerging trends and technologies could pose to the current regulatory framework
As the department creates more flexible and agile regulatory frameworks that are supportive of and enable innovative foods and veterinary drugs, Health Canada needs to ensure that its regulatory systems continue to be grounded in science and maintain Canadians' health and safety as their priority.
- Under the previous theme's discussion, you identified trends and technologies that you see coming on the horizon. Do you see any of these challenging our current regulatory frameworks? If so, which ones and what is the challenge (or challenges) that you foresee?
- What can Health Canada do to ensure that our regulatory system keeps pace with innovation?
3. Charting a course for a safe and a healthier food supply together
The broad range of participants attending our session today, including Health Canada, the agri-food industry, veterinary drug industry, health organizations, researchers and academics each have their own role to play in continuing to ensure that food is safe and in addressing the burden that chronic diet-related disease is placing on our society. We are interested in understanding better how we can chart a course for a safe and healthier food supply together.
- What role does Health Canada, as a regulator, need to play to keep Canadians safe and to enable innovative and healthier foods on to the market?
- What do you see as your role or your opportunities in providing safe and healthier foods for Canadians?
- What steps can we take together to move towards a safe and healthier food supply?
Feedback: Health Canada appreciates the feedback provided by all stakeholders during the session and the comprehensive comments provided by ten organizations following the session. The feedback received provides helpful and thought-provoking considerations that Health Canada will use as it continues to develop and implement future modernization activities.
The following is a summary of the high-level themes that emerged fromstakeholder feedback.
1. Emerging food and nutrition trends and technologies
Some of the food trends and technologies which stakeholders commonly identified as likely to support the development of safe and healthier foods for Canadians included:
- New forms of food composition, such as products with enhanced nutritive properties, new protein blends, plant-based products, and gluten-free and other allergen-free foods. Trends were also noted related to product delivery, such as edible or 'bring-your-own' packaging options, products equipped with smart labels, and innovation in food commerce, such as through meal home delivery systems and online food sales.
- Advances in product development, such as through the use of 3D printing, modern gene editing tools, and blockchain technology for health and safety traceability and food supply chain efficiencies.
- The use of social media as a credible source of information that can be used to empower consumers. In this vein, stakeholders noted to Health Canada the importance of effective communications tools to ensure balanced and accurate information is available to consumers.
- Advancements in the field of veterinary medicine that allow for new animal diagnostics and targeted vaccines to ensure the safety and quality of livestock. Stakeholders also stressed the growing need for alternatives to antimicrobials including products that improve and maintain the health of animals, and may be added to feed.
Participants identified the following as some of the challenges that emerging trends and technologies pose to the current regulatory framework:
- No clear regulatory pathway for new products, such as lab grown proteins. In developing future regulations, there is a need to include consumer research, and better document the evidence used in making decisions.
- Long and complex regulatory requirements which can make it difficult for businesses to navigate the regulatory system, and as a result, stifle innovation. Long approval times for bringing products to market are also costly for companies and can discourage investment.
- Differing standards and regulatory processes across jurisdictions, which can make marketing a product in more than one country, or in a small market such as Canada, difficult. The system needs to be competitive internationally and support companies seeking to bring products to market in innovative ways (e.g. international collaborative reviews for veterinary drugs, use of foreign decisions).
- Inadequate access to reliable information on food innovation. With the level of change and innovation happening in the food system (e.g. gluten-free products, genetic engineering/modification, etc.) and an increase to the level of information being included on food packaging, it can be confusing for Canadians to know what to trust as reliable health information about what they are eating.
3. Charting a course for a safe and a healthier food supply together
Suggestions for Health Canada and stakeholders to consider in developing a way forward to strengthen Canada's future food environment included:
- Collaboration between all players in the food sector to provide Canadians with a safe and healthy food environment, and that more work can be done together to increase transparency and build public trust in Canada's food system. Multi-sectoral partnerships will be especially key in addressing complex policy challenges such as those related to food security.
- Informing consumers on their food choices. Foods need to be labelled with clear and reliable information that is easy for consumers to understand. Health Canada could also play a bigger role as both a convenor and educator by working with intermediaries such as schools and physicians to inform Canadians early and routinely about healthy food choices.
- Understanding the health, safety and environmental impacts in the development of new and existing food-related initiatives, such as the Food Policy for Canada and the Healthy Eating Strategy initiatives.
- Setting performance indicators in measuring success at making Canada's food supply among the healthiest, safest and most sustainable in the world.
Closing Remarks and Next Steps
Kendal Weber, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister for HPFB, underscored the positive collaboration with stakeholders and inter-departmental partners on the Healthy Eating Strategy and the Food Policy for Canada, and a desire to continue dialogue through the advancement of Health Canada's regulatory modernization initiatives. In closing, she emphasized that this engagement session was the start of a much longer conversation the department hopes to have with stakeholders on the future of food, and how the entire sector can work collaboratively to provide Canadians with the healthiest, safest and most nutritious food supply in the world.
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