Food safety in Canada and the United States.

Author:Strassfeld, Robert

Session Chair--Robert Strassfeld

Canadian Speaker--Stephanie Lariviere

Canadian Speaker--Cyndee Todgham Cherniak


MR. STRASSFELD: Good afternoon. I am Robert Strassfeld, a member of the faculty here at Case Western Reserve. (1) I eat, teach torts, and do some work on national security as well. I suppose that is what qualifies me to chair this panel.

I can speak best from the American perspective, but I suspect that this has crept over the border to Canada, as well. We are a society that seems to be obsessed with food. We have a cable television network that is dedicated solely to the subject of food. (2) We supersize our meals, and then hope that we do not also supersize ourselves. This past year, one of the hit movies was about a woman who worked her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (3) We care about food a lot. This is also an age of increased anxiety, so we are worded about what we eat. (4) Julia Child used nothing more threatening than butter, lots and lots of butter.

We worry about other things in regard to food as well. Most recently, we worry about bioterrorism and adulteration of the food supply. (5) Food adulteration is a remote but real risk that we have to worry about. A generation ago, after the Tylenol tampering scare, (6) it was more a concern about people adulterating the food supply, either because of bearing a grudge or with extortion in mind. For those of you who read the newspaper from time to time or a book like Fast Food Nation, (7) you know that whatever those risks are, the far greater risk we face today is food-borne illnesses from careless handling, careless processing, and inadequate supervision of the food supply. (8)

The problems and risks are very real, and the need to get a handle on these risks is also very real. We are fortunate to have two speakers today who know a great deal about this subject, and I will introduce them both briefly.

Stephanie Lariviere is the regulatory manager for both Erie James Limited and Sunsation Acres Incorporated. (9) She is also a member of the Food Safety Board Committee of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers in Leamington, Ontario. (10) Are they in Leamington, or are you in Leamington? MS. LARIVIERE: We are all in Leamington.

MR. STRASSFELD: Everybody is in Leamington. And, this is not to carry the food metaphor too far, but this is actually a second helping, because Cyndee Todgham Chemiak is on the program tomorrow as well. She is filling in as a last minute substitute for a speaker who was unable to make it to Cleveland to speak at this conference. She is counsel of groups including international trade law, environmental, energy, and emissions trading at Lang Michener's Toronto office. (11) I will now sit down and let them speak.

MR. CRANE: You left one thing out. Leamington is also the home of the world's largest tomato. (12)

MR. STRASSFELD: The world's largest single tomato?

MR. CRANE: Yes. A concrete tomato painted bright red.

MR. STRASSFELD: I will have to pay it a visit.


Stephanie Lariviere *

MS. LARIVIERE: Good afternoon, everyone, my name is Stephanie Lariviere. I am very delighted that I could join you today. I am here to represent the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) and give you an inside look at food safety in our industry. (13) We are the tomato capital of Canada down in Leamington, and we are very south. (14) We are very often called the "Sun Parlor of Canada" for our southern location. (15)

I would like to give you a little bit of background. OGVG was formed in 1967 and represents over 227 producer members. (16) We are the leader in Ontario. (17) And Ontario is the leader in greenhouse vegetable production with more than 1824 acres devoted to tomatoes, English cucumbers, and sweet bell peppers. (18) OGVG is involved in a variety of initiatives for its Ontario producers, such as lobbying the government, regulatory efforts, food safety initiatives, and research. (19) The OGVG Marketing Committee puts on trade shows and events which showcase our products. (20) They also address the media, provide demos and educational materials to the consumer, and collect and track data information for our growers. (21)

Here are a few interesting facts about the size of our industry. Ontario holds over sixty percent of total greenhouse acreage in Canada, and over seventy percent of all Ontario greenhouse produce is exported to the United States. (22) In 2009 alone we produced over 390 million pounds of tomatoes, over 110 million pounds of peppers, and over 240 million pounds of English cucumbers. (23) Our consumers want fresh, quality produce year-round, and we are steady through the year with English cucumbers, which are available from January straight through to December. (24) OGVG is currently working on various initiatives to make a year-round production cycle more feasible for our tomatoes and sweet bell peppers. (25)

Greenhouse growing is very unique. It eliminates many of the environmental vulnerabilities that the field crops are subject to. (26) The greenhouse is a controlled environment. We can adjust its temperature, humidity, food, and water, all at the touch of a button. (27) We use a hydroponic growing method. (28) Our integrated pest management allows us to use insects found in nature to keep the good pests in and the bad ones out. (29) Essentially, these good bugs eat the bad bugs and protect the plants from harmful pests.

We recycle, reuse, and reduce as much as we can to manage costs and be good stewards. (30) One example is the recycling of our water. In addition, we optimize our use of heat, and we recapture carbon dioxide before it is emitted into the atmosphere. (31) The carbon dioxide is actually released back into the plants to ensure optimal growth and development. (32)

I will tell you a little bit about how we are regulated. OGVG has authority under Regulation 417 of the Farm Products Marketing Act to set regulations for all of its producers and marketers of greenhouse vegetables. (33) These regulations cover things like licensing, fees, food safety and traceability, pricing and contracting, and dispute resolution, with regard to both producing and marketing the greenhouse products. (34) The OGVG Board of Directors reviews, amends, and improves the General Regulations annually. (35)

In Canada, our primary regulatory body of authority is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, or the CFIA. (36) The CFIA monitors all imports and exports for food products. (37) CFIA conducts regulatory onsite visits to marketers and packers to ensure compliance, (38) and they perform inspections and resolve disputes over quality between buyers and sellers. (39) They are also responsible for the notification and investigation of food recalls. (40) Their responsibilities are very similar to those of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and we live so close to the border that many of our Canadian regulatory requirements parallel those established in the United States.

OGVG's Food Safety Program requires that all licensed marketers, packers, and growers of Ontario greenhouse produce have a third party Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Good Agriculture Practices (GAP), or House of Audit by an accredited certification body at least annually. (41) These audits explore a company's policies, procedures, and controls over their Prerequisite Programs (PRPs). (42)

Now, for those of you that do not know what some of these terms mean, I will try to explain. PRPs are the conditions that must be established throughout the food chain, in addition to the activities and practices that must be performed in order to keep and maintain a hygienic environment. (43) GMPs and GAPs are important contributors to the success of any PRP, and solid PRPs can reduce the likelihood of a risk or hazard occurring. (44) They are really the building blocks of a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points program. (45) We were the first in our industry to require third party audit certifications as a regulatory requirement. (46)

In addition to annual food safety audits, OGVG made traceability systems mandatory as well. All producers must identify themselves using their farm's identification code, which is registered on file with the OGVG. We have some close industry relationships. OGVG works in close cooperation with other partners in the industry, such as Canadian Horticultural Council (CHC) and the Ontario Greenhouses Marketer's Association (OGMA). CHC is a voluntary, not-for-profit association, which represents Canadian horticulture. They are responsible for establishing food safety and crisis management for their industry members. OGVG also works in collaboration with the OGMA, and together their goals are to increase awareness of the Ontario greenhouse sector and to increase aggregate demand for all of our green-house products.

One challenge that we faced in the last decade is that our products are perishable and move very quickly through the supply chain to the consumer for consumption. Time is of the essence when moving our products from farm to market, so that we can deliver the quality and freshness that our customers demand. We have been faced with post-September 11 challenges that have impacted our business. United States Customs and Border Protection and United States Homeland Security introduced the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism Program (C-TPAT). (47) It is a voluntary program, which many of our marketers have elected to join in an effort to strengthen and protect the supply chain from the threat of bioterrorism. (48)

Also, the Bioterrorism Act was introduced, which requires that anyone exporting food to the United States provide an FDA registration number and give prior notice each time a shipment crosses the border into the United States. (49) It requires access to records for all products in question, and trucks can be delayed, stopped, or even debunked at the...

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