Food Directorate Update: Path Forward for Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods

September 22, 2016

To provide greater transparency and openness to further strengthen trust in the Health Canada's regulatory decisions, the department launched the Regulatory Transparency and Openness Framework to support Canada's Action Plan on Open Government 2012-2014. In line with the Regulatory Roadmap for Health Products and Food, Health Canada has undertaken a number of initiatives to create a more efficient, responsive and transparent regulatory framework for foods.

On May 4, 2016, amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations were made that modernized and rendered more efficient the setting of regulatory limits and prohibitions for contaminants and other adulterating substances in food. Specifically, these amendments consolidated the prohibitions and maximum levels (MLs) previously set out in sections B.01.046 and B.01.047 and Table I of Division 15 of the Food and Drug Regulations into a single list called the List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods. This List, which is published on the Department's website, is incorporated by reference into section B.15.001, Division 15 of the Food and Drug Regulations. This amendment combined existing rules from the Food and Drug Regulations into a single list; no changes to the existing prohibitions or ML values were made. The authority to make changes to this List now lies with Health Canada, rather than the Governor in Council, thus enabling the Department to realize efficiencies in acting on scientific decisions relating to contaminants and other adulterating substances in foods. Health Canada's "Incorporation by Reference" webpage provides some general information on how incorporation by reference works and how incorporated documents are modified.

Similar incorporated-by-reference lists and a transfer of the authority to make changes to these lists from the Governor in Council to the Department have been successfully implemented for food additives and veterinary drugs.

MLs for other chemical contaminants in foods are also housed in the List of Maximum Levels for Various Chemical Contaminants in Foods, a separate list that has historically been maintained on Health Canada's website rather than in the Food and Drug Regulations.

On June 22, 2016, Health Canada's Food Directorate held a call with Canadian industry and government stakeholders in order to provide an overview of its intentions with respect to the consolidation of the above-noted two lists, and the planned review and update of certain MLs and prohibitions for contaminants and other adulterating substances in food.

The Food Directorate's first priority is to continue work to update certain MLs that are currently in the incorporated List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods . Technical consultations have already taken place on proposals to lower MLs for lead in ready-to-serve fruit juice and nectar and lead and arsenic in all types of bottled water, as well as develop a separate, lower ML for arsenic in apple juice.

The Food Directorate will also be working towards the consolidation of the two lists, by eventually transferring the MLs from the List of Maximum Levels for Various Chemical Contaminants in Foods into the incorporated List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods (the "incorporated list"). All MLs in the List of Maximum Levels for Various Chemical Contaminants in Foods will be individually evaluated prior to transfer into the incorporated list. MLs that have been identified as not requiring an update, because the science supporting the existing level has not changed since its development, will be the first priority to transfer into the incorporated list. A review of MLs that may require updating prior to transfer to the incorporated list will also be initiated and any proposed changes to a given ML will be supported by a scientific assessment and will involve stakeholder consultation. Initial work to transfer MLs into the incorporated list will focus on the MLs for certain natural toxins as well as marine biotoxins.

Prohibitions in Part 1 of the List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods will also be reviewed. Priority will be given to entries identified as being outdated or requiring clarification.

Development of new MLs for chemical contaminants and other adulterating substances in food will be considered on an ongoing, as-needed, basis in response to emerging food safety issues.

All proposals and notices of modifications to the MLs or prohibitions relating to chemical contaminants and other adulterating substances in food will be made publically available through Health Canada's website. To receive notification of such proposals and notices of modifications, sign up for the Chemical Contaminants e-Notice, a free notification service for issued advice as well as regulatory and scientific developments in the area of food chemical contaminants in Canada.

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