ARCHIVED - How Science is Performed

Good Health Depends on Good Science

Health Canada is committed to making sure that any decision affecting the health of Canadians is based on the very best science available. We have begun several initiatives to make sure that we continue to produce superior work.

For example, we have developed five key principles to govern the practice of science. These principles have been adopted across the department.

Five Principles of Effective Science

performing and using science that furthers Health Canada's mandate, priorities and programs.
ensuring the ethical treatment of humans, animals and the environment, the protection of personal information, and the effective risk management of research and its applications.
establishing partnerships and collaborations with other government and non-government organizations that have complementary strengths and interests.
planning, conducting and evaluating science based on quality, ethics, relevance and transparency.
developing creative approaches to science and its use in decision making.

External Evaluations and Peer Review

In addition to following these five principles, Health Canada continually examines the quality of the science it performs and supports to make sure that it is excellent. This requires a combination of reviews by experts outside the Department, through advisory boards, committees and expert panels, as well as internal evaluations and peer reviews.

The outcomes of these strict yet open reviews are examples of the quality of Health Canada's science and our role as a major research institution.


Health Canada also relies on other organizations to complement the Department's strengths and deal with common issues such as mental health, First Nations and Inuit health, HIV and AIDS, SARS, and global health. Cementing new and existing partnerships, developing innovative models of collaboration, and creating more interaction between disciplines helps enhance our ability to deal effectively with existing and emerging issues. Read more about Health Canada's federal government and international partners and the work they are doing to benefit the health of Canadians.

Types of Science Performed

The department counts on the work of scientists in a wide range of fields, including the natural and life sciences, and the social sciences.

Applied science activities are performed every day by Health Canada scientists to ensure the health and safety of Canadians. Some of these activities include:

  • Evaluating new food products;
  • Tracking diseases; and
  • Testing consumer products to make sure they comply with existing regulations.

In addition, research and applied science are used to help us develop the department's policies and programs. The work of our scientists and researchers helps influence decisions about diseases, hazardous substances, food and drugs, consumer products, tobacco, and much more. Visit the Faces and Places section to read more about the work our scientists and researchers do.

Health Canada Science - Roles and Responsibilities

When it comes to science and research, Health Canada is responsible for certain key activities, including:

  • Evaluation;
  • Inspection and investigation;
  • Compliance testing;
  • Regulatory policy; and
  • Continued observation (surveillance).

It is through these activities that Health Canada is able to help Canadians maintain and improve their health, while at the same time working to ensure that Health Canada has the science necessary to make important decisions and policies.

Health Canada's key activities are broken down into a number of different categories. The following are just a few examples of our main roles and responsibilities.


Health Canada is responsible for examining a wide variety of products before they enter the market. Some of these products include:

  • Food;
  • Drugs;
  • Medical devices;
  • Natural health products; and
  • Cosmetics.

Before a product can be approved, it must be carefully examined for safety by our experts. Our scientists look at information available on the product, along with claims about its value and any negative effects that have been identified. They may also look at how the product is produced, packaged and labelled.

In some cases, our scientists may even perform a laboratory evaluation of the product as well as an on-site inspection of the facilities and personnel involved in producing the product.

Inspection and Investigation

Health Canada's scientists work to make sure that products such as drugs, medical devices and natural health products continue to follow Canadian rules and regulations once they are on the market.

For example, the Inspectorate Laboratory Program of the Health Products and Food Branch (HPFB) screens products for undesirable contaminants or active ingredients that have not been named by the manufacturer.

Compliance Testing

Our scientists and researchers test products to make sure that they follow the regulations that have been set by Health Canada. This helps to make sure that products that are released to the public are, and continue to be, safe when in use.

Regulatory Policy

Health Canada's scientists make decisions about potential health risks. These decisions then become regulations. For example, the Natural Health Products Regulations are a set of requirements that ensure that these products are safe and effective for Canadians.

Continued Observation (Surveillance)

Health Canada scientists monitor trends in the health of Canadians. These surveillance activities may range from surveys on what and how much we eat to statistics on outbreaks of diseases such as West Nile Virus or Mad Cow Disease.

For example, the Canadian Integrated Public Health Surveillance Program works to predict, prevent and control the outbreak of contagious diseases. In addition, the Biotechnology Surveillance Project monitors the long-term effects of biotechnology products and the Division of HIV/AIDS Surveillance monitors the state of HIV/AIDS in Canada.

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