Guidance for Evaluating Human Health Impacts in Environmental Assessments: Country Foods

This document provides generic guidance on predicting health risks associated with contamination of country foods, such as fruit, fish, seafood and game in federal environmental assessments (EAs) of proposed major resource and infrastructure projects (such as mines, dams, pipelines and other projects). It presents the principles, current practices and basic information Health Canada (HC) looks for when it reviews the environmental impact statement or other reports submitted by project proponents as part of the EA process.

The guidance is presented for the benefit of proponents and their consultants and to support an efficient and transparent project review process. The foundational information described here should be supplemented appropriately with additional information relevant to specific projects.

The guidance may also help responsible authorities (RA's), review panels and affected communities better understand how to conduct health risk assessments for proposed major resource projects. As part of its review, Health Canada may suggest that an RA, review panel or others collect information not specifically described here in order to assess the health effects of specific projects. As the guidance provided here is generic and designed to support EA under multiple jurisdictions, the scope of reviews may be amended according to specific jurisdictional requirement.

This document concerns the assessment of health risks associated with consumption of country foods. It contains information on the division of roles and responsibilities for issues related to country foods at various levels of government in Canada; health effects associated with contamination of country foods; indicators of these effects; and steps in Health Canada's preferred approach to assessing health effects related to consumption of contaminated country foods.

It provides technical guidance on defining country foods on a project basis, and assessing baseline conditions and the longer term anticipated impacts should the project proceed. As with all EA work, cumulative effects are a core element of country food assessment, as are mitigation and follow-up monitoring. While this guidance does not address possible changes in country foods abundance, it is nevertheless recognised that projects may damage habitat and disperse wildlife, altering abundance and availability, and this should also be considered when assessing environmental impacts of proposed projects, according to current federal and provincial legislation.

Appendix A contains a checklist that may be used to verify that the main components of a risk assessment for country foods are completed, and to identify where this information can be found within an EA document.

Appendix B provides a list of references prepared by or under contract for Health Canada that contains material which may be relevant to a health risk assessment for country foods.

Appendix C presents publications/resources where toxicological reference values can be found.

Appendix D identifies publications that are not cited in this document but may be useful in preparing documentation for country food issues addressed in EAs, by the following themes:

  • Overall Country Foods and Human Health Risk Assessment
  • Dietary Surveys and Methodologies
  • Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Guidelines
  • Information about Canadian Dietary Intake, Including Indigenous Peoples
  • Risk Communication and Risk Management
  • Northern Contaminants Program and Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme
  • Country Food Contamination Monitoring Programs
  • Canadian Data Sources of Contaminant Levels in Country Foods
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