Event summary: Health Canada's 2021 stakeholder update on food and nutrition, May 6, 2021
On May 6, 2021, Health Canada’s Health Products and Food Branch (HPFB) held its annual stakeholder update on food and nutrition highlights and priorities.
Over 430 participants took part in the virtual session, including those from industry, academia, patient and consumer groups, health practitioners, advocacy and non-governmental organizations, and other government partners.
While Health Canada’s focus over the past year has largely focused on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the department continues to work with internal and external partners to ensure the integrity of our food system is maintained and healthy eating initiatives are advanced.
Food and Nutrition Highlights and Priorities
- The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges, but Health Canada has remained resilient and agile. From securing access to personal protective equipment, sanitizers and disinfectants, to authorizing five vaccines, Health Canada has worked hard to protect Canadians.
- Despite the pandemic, Health Canada has continued to deliver core food safety activities to ensure Canada maintains one of the safest food supplies in the world.
- Various factors of the pandemic have made it difficult for many Canadians to maintain a healthy diet. Health Canada remains dedicated to supporting and promoting its evidence-based Healthy Eating Strategy by equipping Canadians with the tools they need to make informed choices.
- To ensure that Health Canada’s regulatory system is agile and responsive to innovation, the Food Regulatory Innovation Agenda continues to be a top priority. This includes a suite of policy and regulatory activities to address barriers to growth and innovation, and to bring much needed agility and coherence to food regulations.
- To advance priorities, share knowledge and expertise to make the global food system better, and help reduce regulatory burden, Health Canada will continue to collaborate with federal, provincial, and international partners.
- Health Canada is committed to maintaining ongoing openness and transparency as the department continues to advance its priorities.
Panel Discussion on Food Innovation – Modern and Agile Food Regulations to Better Serve Canadians
Panelists from Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency shared their perspectives on the impacts of the pandemic across their organizations and their efforts and progress to support food innovation in Canada.
Engaging domestic and international partners
Throughout the pandemic, the Public Health Agency of Canada has been working closely and engaging with domestic and international partners to protect workers and bring forth best practices in the agri-food sector. This has included ramping up rapid screening processes in the agri-food sector, meeting with stakeholders to provide information on public health measures and to better understand the challenges on the front lines, and working to facilitate the safe entry and stay of temporary foreign workers in Canada. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of engaging the agri-food stakeholders, timely and ongoing communication, and surveillance work to respond to emerging issues.
Reducing regulatory barriers
Health Canada continues its efforts to reduce regulatory barriers to innovation and emerging science in the food sector, with a specific focus on transforming food regulations through the Food Regulatory Innovation Agenda. Key initiatives include new pathways for safe and innovative food, and modernization of the Food and Drug Regulations that will uphold the standards of health and safety while being easy to use and update; and developing new regulatory frameworks for clinical trials for food for a special dietary purpose and for supplemented foods.
Health Canada has begun important foresight work to generate knowledge of emerging technologies and trends, and how they factor into both existing and future regulations. As the work advances, Health Canada will engage with the food sector and partners on this important work to verify and validate its findings. This will help Health Canada to prepare for the future, in terms of its regulations, its programs and its resources, while optimizing safety and creating space for innovation.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency expanded on the use of regulatory flexibilities and opportunities to further enable innovation, growth, and competitiveness to support the industry response to the pandemic. Building on the foundation of the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, the agency is working to finalize the Food Product Innovation Regulations to develop a more modern food labelling system that responds to current and future challenges.
Enabling industry innovation
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has continued to enable industry innovation initiatives that support Canada’s economy and can contribute to improving the health and safety of Canadians. The pandemic has emphasized the need to reinvest in agriculture and the agri-food sector to address food insecurity and sector resilience. The department has implemented targeted measures that addressed the needs of different sectors, while helping to ensure all Canadians had access to food, such as the Emergency Processing Fund to help modernize facilities for employee safety.
Throughout the session, participants submitted and up-voted questions online for response from the various Government of Canada officials.
The questions focused on:
- Monitoring of food sold online, specifically with respect to ingredient labelling as it relates to allergens and nutrition information
- Canada’s Food Guide digital tools and resources anticipated for fall of 2021
- The development of restrictions on advertising to children
- Front of packaging labelling restrictions
- Guidance to support plant breeding innovation and safety of genetically-engineered foods
- Health Canada’s foresight work
- Lessons learned from the pandemic
The session closed with Health Canada’s commitment to continued collaboration and regular engagement with stakeholders as progress is made on key priorities.
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