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Notice to industry – Fish Substitution in the Canadian marketplace

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) delivered a targeted surveillance strategy from 2019 to 2020 to verify the prevalence of fish species substitution and misrepresentation. Fish substitution is when one type of fish is misrepresented as another species. A report summarizing the findings has been posted.

Of the 352 fish samples tested, 91.8% declared a common name consistent with the CFIA Fish List and the species identified from the DNA testing, indicating compliance with Canada's regulatory requirements. This means that approximately 9 in 10 samples indicate compliance with Canada's regulatory requirements, while 1 in 10 had concerns for mislabelling or substitution.

The CFIA would like to take this opportunity to:

It is important to note that the CFIA used a targeted approach based on risk factors such as history of non-compliance, which means the test results are not representative of the Canadian marketplace overall.

Canada's regulatory requirements for fish

Fish sold in Canada must comply with the Food and Drugs Act (FDA), the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR), the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) and the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR).

As per these requirements, all food sold in Canada must be safe for consumption and truthfully represented. Fish shall not be packaged or labelled in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive [5(1), FDA; 6(1), SFCA]. Fish labelled with common names according to those listed in the CFIA Fish List are generally considered acceptable.

Learn more about these and other regulatory requirements for fish.

Obligations of industry

Fish substitution is considered a contravention of the FDA and SFCA. Regulated parties are responsible for ensuring the above requirements are met. The CFIA offers guidance to industry on labelling requirements for fish products and on preparing a Preventive Control Plan.

Under the SFCR, licence holders must maintain a written preventive control plan. This preventive control plan must include measures to verify the safety of the food as well as ensuring that the food is not represented in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive.

Having supply chain controls in place, for example, obtaining assurance from suppliers and conducting fish authenticity testing are some ways industry can help ensure the products for sale meet all regulatory requirements.

Penalties for non-compliance

While the CFIA is aware that industry works hard to comply with the regulatory requirements, industry is reminded that failure to comply with the above requirements with respect to the importation, distribution, or sale of misrepresented fish are also contraventions of the FDA and the SFCA.

Control and enforcement activities conducted by the CFIA are guided by the Standard Regulatory Response Process. These activities are considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the harm caused by the non-compliance, the compliance history of the regulated party, and whether there is intent to violate federal requirements.

The CFIA can leverage a wide range of control actions including, but not limited to, seizure and detention of non-compliant goods, quarantine, and removal from Canada to prevent, mitigate and manage risks. Enforcement actions may include letters of non-compliance, formal meetings, administrative monetary penalties, suspension or cancellation of permissions, or prosecution.

Ongoing surveillance activities of the CFIA

The CFIA continues to analyze the authenticity of fish species under its testing program. The Agency also monitors fish for a variety of other health, safety and economic risk concerns such as quality, undeclared additives, claims, and compositional standards.

Industry plays an important role in ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements to protect consumers from deception and to achieve a fair marketplace. The CFIA encourages all parties that are aware of deceptive or fraudulent practices to report these to the CFIA.

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