I now call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number six of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on January 18, 2022, the committee is meeting on its study of the traceability of fish and seafood products.
This meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of November 25, 2021. Proceedings are available via the House of Commons website. The webcast shows the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee.
Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of either floor, English or French audio. Please inform me immediately if interpretation is lost, and we'll ensure it is restored before resuming the meeting.
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I now would like to welcome our witnesses for today.
From the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, we have Mr. Adam Burns—no stranger to this particular committee—senior director, Pacific salmon strategy initiative, Pacific region. From the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, we have Tammy Switucha, executive director, food safety and consumer protection directorate, and Kathy Twardek, senior director, food program integration division.
Before I go to the witnesses' opening statements, I will remind members that when you're asking a question, it's much easier if you identify who the question is for. I did say that at the last meeting. Sometimes a question gets asked and everybody just kind of stares into space, wondering who the question was headed for. Perhaps you could keep that in mind.
As well, I now see that Dr. Hedy Fry has joined us. She is subbing in for .
As for our witnesses, we will now go to—
I'm here to speak at the committee's request in relation to the catch certification office and the functions that DFO serves in that manner.
The Canadian seafood industry has undergone significant developments in the area of traceability over recent years. Much of this development has been largely driven by various market access requirements, many in the form of barriers to trade resulting from requirements of other countries. Other incentives that have led to developments in this area are purely consumer- and market-driven, such as eco-labelling.
The Department of Fisheries and Ocean's catch certification program is an example of how Canada has adapted to respond to ever‑evolving market access requirements, which require components of product traceability from Canadian seafood export products.
In 2009, the European Union introduced a new regulation that established market access measures as a means to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated—or IUU—fishing. The first regulation of its kind, the EU IUU regulation, requires all exporting countries of fish and seafood product to provide, on a consignment basis, catch certificates that attest to the legality of the products as determined by the competent authority, which is the authority of the flag state that manages and enables harvest activities.
The EU's catch certification scheme is intended to improve the traceability of most fish and seafood products destined for EU markets, at all stages of the production chain. The catch certification program was created in 2010 to position the Canadian industry to be able to respond to international rules such as the EU IUU regulation, and to support Canada's role in preventing, deterring and eliminating IUU fishing.
Concern for the environment has translated into requirements for evidence, through product traceability along the entire value chain, that fish and seafood are caught legally and in an environmentally sustainable manner. The onus of this proof, with supporting evidence, is now on the exporting fish and seafood industry and the government departments that regulate and enable their activities.
DFO's catch certification program has, since 2010, responded to multiple other international requirements for catch certification, and they currently provide certification for exports destined to the EU, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Japan and Chile. They are preparing for implementation of catch certification requirements for additional export markets.
It is important to note that industry participation in the catch certification program is voluntary and market driven, which means that entire sectors of the Canadian fish and seafood industry have not participated in this program. The program gives certification only to fisheries products for which it is required, based on foreign requirements, and to date this includes only products derived from marine wild-capture fisheries. Having fisheries products certified by DFO is not required under Canadian legislation, but companies choose to participate in the certification process based on which markets they are targeting for their product.
The catch certification program does not provide any level of validation or verification for foreign-sourced product that is imported into Canada. For product that was imported into Canada and subsequently re‑exported, Canadian importers must receive product certification from the country of origin for the product. The program can then issue the required re‑export certificate which links the product moving through the Canadian supply chain to the certificate from the country of origin.
While DFO has developed the tools necessary for Canadian industry to obtain electronic certification for their export product, DFO does not prescribe the mechanisms by which industry physically track the product while it is in their custody. Industry must remain proactive in developing and maintaining their own tracking systems to allow them to accurately identify and differentiate between batches of product, and, using this tracking system, accurately report in the fisheries certificate system from where the product was received and to whom it will be sold.
Thank you, Chair.
Good morning, Mr. Chair.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak with committee members today on seafood traceability.
My name is Tammy Switucha and I'm the executive director in the policy and programs branch at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Before I begin, I'd like to acknowledge that I am addressing you from Ottawa on the unceded, unsurrendered territory of the Anishinabe Algonquin nation.
I will address the committee in English, but I invite members to raise their questions or share their comments in the official language of their choice.
I have my colleague Kathy Twardek here with me today. She is the acting director in the policy and programs branch.
Mr. Chair, today I'm going to provide an overview of seafood traceability in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's regulatory framework and tell you about the agency's work to prevent fish mislabelling and the ongoing work with respect to the Minister of Health's 2019 mandate commitment for boat-to-plate traceability.
Canada is recognized as having one of the best food safety systems in the world and has implemented robust food safety traceability requirements under the safe food for Canadians regulations, or SFCR, which came into force on January 15, 2019.
Traceability requirements under SFCR support food safety in Canada and apply to businesses, including fish and seafood processors that import, export or trade within Canada. These requirements are consistent with standards set by the international food standard-setting body, Codex Alimentarius.
There are two main components to traceability: document and labelling requirements. The SFCR requires food businesses that import, export or trade within Canada to keep records that allow food to be traced—one step back and one step forward—to the point of retail. This enables faster removal of unsafe food from the market during a food safety investigation, a recall and fraud-related investigations.
For labelling, most consumer prepackaged foods in Canada, including seafood products, must have a label with information necessary for public health or consumer protection, such as the common name, name and place of business, and lot code or unique identifier. Companies can also voluntarily add information to the label, such as the scientific name, the location of the catch or the type of fishing gear used. All information must be truthful and not misleading.
There is growing global attention on seafood mislabelling and misrepresentation. Food safety and consumer protection are Government of Canada priorities, and I'd like to share how CFIA works to protect the health and safety of Canadians when it comes to seafood misrepresentation.
CFIA verifies labelling and species authenticity of fish products as part of its regular compliance monitoring and inspection activities. Additionally, budget 2019 introduced a food policy for Canada that included an investment of $24.4 million over five years for the CFIA to expand its capacity to detect and take action against food fraud.
As part of the food fraud initiative, in 2019-20 CFIA prioritized and carried out inspections targeting fish mislabelling and substitution. CFIA sampled and tested fish using DNA analysis collected at retail stores and at manufacturers and importers, and found that 92% of the samples were correctly labelled. The CFIA took appropriate action on all unsatisfactory results.
It's important to note that compliance is ultimately the responsibility of companies. To promote compliance, CFIA works with industry and provides various compliance tools, such as the CFIA fish list, which links fish species to common names, and the industry labelling tool.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to talk about the boat-to-plate traceability for fish and seafood, which was included in the Minister of Health's mandate letter in 2019. CFIA is leading this work in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. To date, CFIA, DFO and AAFC have engaged extensively with stakeholders to gather information and perspectives related to seafood traceability and labelling in Canada.
An online 120-day consultation was launched in August 2021 to seek the views of stakeholders on various aspects of boat-to-plate traceability. Feedback has been received from respondents, and the analysis is currently under way. The CFIA will publish a “what we heard” report this spring.
In conclusion, Canada has a robust regulatory foundation and inspection system that supports food safety and consumer protection. The CFIA values engagement and collaboration to continuously improve and address issues related to seafood tracing and mislabelling.
Once again, I thank you for this opportunity and look forward to your questions.
Thank you, witnesses, for being the leadoff for this important study.
In 2019, the executive director of the food safety and consumer protection directorate of CFIA, in speaking to the safe food for Canadians regulation, said that we require all businesses, including importers, to be licensed, to have traceability records in place and to have a preventative control program, and that this is how businesses are ensuring that their labels are truthful and not misleading.
You also said in your testimony that in your audits, you have found that 92% of the food labelling in seafood is correct.
I made my weekly trip to the grocery store to look at what is on some of the seafood that's available in the store. I'd like your opinion on some of these. I can share with the committee, if you want, the photos of some of the products at the appropriate time.
I'd like you to please define for me what “organic Atlantic salmon” means.
Yes. Thank you for allowing me to elaborate on that particular study.
That study was done as part of our fraud initiative to gather more intelligence with respect to the extent and scope of misrepresentation in Canada. We targeted specific species in this study. We looked at nine different species that we knew had a history of misrepresentation in the marketplace.
While that's not fully representative of the entire fish and seafood product availability in Canada, it did give us a sense of the amount, generally speaking, of the misrepresentation, so when we point to the 92% compliance or the 8% for non-compliance, that's specific to that study and the parameters of that study and not necessarily representative of the entire marketplace and the entire supply chain.
We know through our studies, however, that along the supply chain the rate of compliance is very high at the production and processing stage. As you get further down the supply chain, into retail and the restaurant level, then the level of non-compliance is higher than that.
We appreciate the questions here. It's important to understand the parameters under which the study was undertaken, because the methodology was quite specific.
I am very pleased to begin this major study on the labelling and traceability of our seafood products.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for being with us.
Since this is my motion, I'm very moved. I must say that my father was a cod fisher and worked in the hotel industry for a large part of his life. I have a quick little anecdote to tell you about that.
My father liked to buy products from Matane, including cod from the St. Lawrence. One day, a distributor who came to see him told him that his seafood products came from Quebec and that they had been fished in the St. Lawrence. When my father opened the box, inside there was a little note that said it was Russian cod. You should have seen it: the box of cod flew right into the garbage can, because my father was so angry.
During the last federal consultation on vessel‑to‑table traceability, which was launched last August, 44% of samples had misleading labelling in the restaurant and retail sector. But you're telling us, Ms. Switucha, that 92% of the samples are properly labelled.
How do you explain the discrepancy between these two percentages?
I believe you're referring to the studies that were conducted by non-governmental organizations such as SeaChoice and Oceana. Is that correct?
It's certainly understandable that there may be questions with respect to the differences in the amount of misrepresentation or non-compliance that's seen in both studies. First, I would like to point out that it's important to keep in mind the methodology that was used for both studies. While I don't have information on how those studies were conducted, what their sampling size was or what their overall target was, these are very important parameters to keep in mind. How the sampling was designed can influence the results.
The CFIA understands that the samples collected by Oceana and others were taken from restaurants as well as retail, whereas the CFIA samples were collected from retail stores as well as at the domestic processing and importing levels. We focused our work in the upstream part of the supply chain, while Oceana and others focused their efforts at the other end of the supply chain, so you can see there could also be some differences there.
How they also determined non-compliance needs to be understood. While I don't have that information, from the CFIA's perspective, the non-compliance was based on our regulatory requirements in comparison to our guidance in the fish list. There may have also been different testing used. We don't know what testing methods were used in all of those studies, though the use of DNA testing is currently the gold star that many use. It's important, from a regulatory perspective, to ensure we're comparing apples to apples.
We've really valued Oceana's and SeaChoice's studies. We've met with them several times over the past several years to further understand their research and look at their data. We have worked with them to update and change a lot of the guidance we have available to stakeholders to make sure they use the labelling guidance properly.
There has been quite a bit of collaboration between Oceana, SeaChoice, universities and other academic studies, because the problem of fish misrepresentation in Canada really requires a collective effort, and we need to all work together as we all collect data and understand the problem further and share that information. I'm pleased to say we've been doing that quite regularly. Oceana has been very forthcoming in sharing its information. We benefit from that, and vice versa. There is a good amount of collaboration, ensuring we cover those gaps.
While it's not perfect, you may not be aware that it's the responsibility of municipalities and provincial governments to undertake that level of surveillance in restaurants. CFIA doesn't have the authority to be there. That's why working with all of our partners helps us develop the full story.
Currently, we are seeing the country of origin labelling standard requiring only that products be labelled with their last place of “transformation”, rather than their actual origin. I wanted to ask if that is correct.
If a consumer buys a seafood product labelled “product of the United States”, for example, we know that.... The example I was given was that if a fish is caught in China, then shipped to the United States and breaded in the United States, it's labelled as a product of the United States. I'm wondering if you can confirm that this information is correct and if you have any thoughts around how to best move forward with this information.
Thank you very much. I apologize. I have so many questions I want to ask that I'm letting myself get too excited about questions, but I appreciate that information.
One thing that has come up is an area that I'm hearing there's a struggle around: how we label fish with a common name. The government has a mandate to lay out a better boat-to-plate process, but why are we letting multiple species get labelled as the same fish? For example, I'm learning that common names are often used to identify seafood products, and that they're too broad, making it difficult for consumers to understand what they're getting. “Sole” and “snapper”, for example, are common names that have huge subspecies that qualify under that name, which, as we can see, can cause issues in many different ways. Saying that seafood is “sole” when in fact it is another species cheats us all.
I'm wondering if you can speak to that a little further.
As I mentioned earlier, we will be publishing a “what we heard” report in the spring of this year, whereby we'll be looking at and determining whether there was consensus from Canadians, consumers, industry and others with respect to the approach.
There are various options available, both regulatory and non-regulatory, and while there was no real consensus from some of the early feedback that we got from Canadians, I think they are mainly concerned about making sure the fish and seafood they are eating is safe to eat. We are exploring but have not yet landed on specific options, whether regulatory or non-regulatory.
Industry is conscious of the additional regulatory burden that they might face. The exploration of non-regulatory opportunities to put in place a framework is available, but I'd like to remind the member that we already have very good food safety traceability measures in Canada. The expansion of that will need to be taken into close consideration with our mandate and that of our partners as well.
Our work to date—
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's very interesting. Again, I thank the witnesses very much for being with us.
I'd like to come back to the last consultation between Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Agriculture and Agri‑Food Canada, where the European Union and the United States were seen to have better ways of assessing the safety and traceability of food and seafood.
How is Canada not catching up with the requirements of other countries, according to this consultation?
Earlier, you said that your work reverberated, to some extent, down to the provinces and municipalities. I have difficulty seeing how a small municipality like Isle‑aux‑Coudres, for instance, can control the arrival or cod from Russia in one of its restaurants.
Where does all this start and where does it all end? In Quebec, for example, does it go through the Quebec ministry of agriculture, fisheries and agri‑food?
That is indeed within the area of my responsibility as well, so I can speak to that.
Currently, there is no requirement for breaking points in the lines for fixed gear in fisheries—crab and lobster primarily. Those requirements are not yet in place. The has indicated that whale-safe gear requirements will be in effect in licences issued as of January 1, 2023.
We're currently engaged in significant consultation with the fishing industry to explore the unique nature of the particulars of individual fisheries and which types of whale-safe gear contrivances would be most appropriate in those fisheries. We're engaged in trials of various types of gear configurations that may generate a greater degree of whale safety for the gear.
At this time those requirements are not yet in place. Indeed we are working directly with the fishing industry to try to find ways to avoid exactly those issues. That's why, when the department hosted a gear innovation summit in Halifax in 2020, just before the pandemic, it was focused on two things: whale-safe gear and ghost gear. We know we need to address both of those issues simultaneously. We're looking to avoid, to the maximum extent possible, unintended consequences from whale-safe gear requirements.
Thank you to the witnesses today. There are some great questions and great dialogue.
I'd also like to thank Madame Desbiens for putting forward this study and Mr. Morrissey for his work on this topic in the last session. I know it's important to him as well.
Throughout this conversation and some of the research I did.... I understand that CFIA did its own study of fish misrepresentation in 2019. Can you unpack what you found?
I'm also interested to know if you're planning to do more studies, so I have two questions: What did you find? Take some time to unpack that, if you'd like.
Further to that, are you planning to do more studies?
As I indicated earlier, in 2019 and 2020 we undertook our first look into fish misrepresentation using the funding that we were provided in the food policy. We took a very targeted approach, looking at these nine species that we knew had a high likelihood of being misrepresented. We undertook sampling at various levels along the supply chain, so we took samples of foods that were imported and we took samples of fish that was domestically produced. We also went into retail and sampled fish that was packaged in the stores, as well as the fish sold in stores that came from processors. As I mentioned, in that particular study, we found that 8% of those samples were non-compliant.
We have continued doing that work. In the past year, we have followed up with additional sampling and testing, using the same parameters, and we're finding almost identical results. Domestically processed foods are mislabelled at around 4%, imports at around 5%, and at retail it's approximately 12%. This has been consistent over the past few years.
We'll continue to monitor this through our targeted projects as we move forward, because we're very concerned about misrepresentation. With the help of these other organizations, we can add to our intelligence to further investigate the problem.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for being with us for the two‑hour meeting. It's a lot, so we appreciate it very much.
I would like to talk about a concrete reality on the ground. There is the entire Canadian fisheries economy, but there are also authentic values and identity values. This is something we know well in the St. Lawrence River. The river and its estuary are important elements and an incredible resource bank.
However, because the opening dates of the fishing season are not in line with reality, we are in danger of losing certain ways of fishing, such as our capelin fishing. Weir fishing is a traditional way of fishing that requires expertise. We are very concerned about losing that tradition. There are still two weir fisheries, one of which is in the Maritimes, I believe.
How can DFO decentralize part of its exercise?
I think my question is more for Mr. Burns.
I can start that answer. I would ask my colleague to follow up if there's something else.
To my understanding, that secretariat in the U.S. was struck under the leadership and mandate of fisheries management in the United States and pulled in agencies and departments from across the spectrum.
It's difficult for me to comment further, but from CFIA's perspective, we appreciate the participation of our colleagues from DFO as well as Agriculture and Agri-Food. I think we could potentially benefit from the participation of Environment, maybe, but for the most part, I think you have the partners that are needed to be able to work with us—in addition, of course, to the other levels of government that are equally responsible for parts of this issue.
I'll take the 80 seconds, then. How about that?
Ms. Switucha, your last answer confused me a little. I asked earlier about auditing back, and you said well, no, that should happen someplace else. Now you're telling me you do it.
By the way, you've had the enormous good fortune to be first among our witnesses, so you've had a lot of questions that probably don't land appropriately at your feet.
Who else has a piece of this in Canada? Who else should we invite to these hearings to get the complete picture? We either need to identify gaps, if they exist, or see if it's simply a lack of coordination. It's one of the two. I'm not comfortable so far that we have the full landscape covered properly. Who else should be here?
Nobody knows? I find that mind-boggling.
I'm going to move on to another question.
Ms. Switucha, sorry to target you, and it's not targeting you; it's the system. On the sampling focus you mentioned, where you found 92% compliance, or only 8% sampling, I'm just questioning why you would sample at the leading end of the system.
It seems like you would be sampling the top end of a river system, where the water is quite pure, but when you look at the Fraser River, after it's passed municipal effluent, outflows, and so on, it's not so pure. If you started at the tail end, would you not be able to trace back to where the problems were much better than sampling at the top end, where it's actually quite pure still?
That concludes our rounds of questioning. We have about two minutes left, only enough time to really say thank you to our witnesses, Mr. Burns, Ms. Switucha and, of course, Ms. Twardek, who had very little to do in the questioning round. That's probably a good thing; nobody was tormenting her.
Thank you again to our witnesses.
Thank you to the clerk and members of the committee, our analysts and, of course, the wonderful people doing the translation services here today.
We'll see you all again at the next FOPO committee meeting.
Have a good day.