He says the centres are to provide expertise on such things as newly developed crop strains, strategies to increase yields, marketing and best practices related to food safety.
“For instance, a canola company looking for more information on the export regulations around food-grade canola will now have a one-stop shop to get all of the information they require,” Ritz said at his announcement Monday at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Saskatoon laboratories.
The hubs are to be spread across Canada and are to specialize in an activity concentrated in a given region.
“The centres will be phased in over the next few years and, as best as possible, will be located nearest to the relevant industry, such as shellfish in Moncton, N.B., and forestry in Burnaby, B.C.”
Centres focusing on meat slaughtering and foreign animal diseases are to be located in Calgary, while issues related to poultry are to be dealt with in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.
A centre dealing with grains and fertilizer is to be located in Saskatoon. All questions related to potatoes are to be forwarded to Charlottetown.
Regulatory issues around food labelling and the import and export of live animals are to be handled in Toronto and Ottawa, according to a government news release.
The sites were chosen based on their proximity to relevant academic institutions, industry associations and government.
Officials with expertise in a given field are to be relocated to the appropriate centre, said Ritz, who added that it will take a few years to purchase or build bricks-and-mortar locations.
Until that time, he said, experts will be pooling their ideas through virtual, web-based tools.
Having all experts in one location should reduce staff duplication and ensure that advice offered by federal authorities is consistent, Ritz said.
Paul Mayers, the CFIA's associate vice-president for policy and programs, said food inspectors in different parts of the country aren't always on the same page.
“If [food safety inspectors] are getting slightly different interpretations around the same issue as to how they should be responding to it, it can create confusion and reduce the effectiveness of the controls around risk,” he said.
Having nodes of concentrated expertise can help ensure industry is clear on its food safety obligations, Mayers said, an important priority after the recent tainted beef outbreak at the XL Foods meat-packing plant in Brooks, Alta.
“We do see a company like XL can use the centre of expertise to ensure that the risk management approaches that they are employing are indeed the right ones.”
A federal commission intended to reduce red tape helped conceive the idea for the information hubs as a way to reduce regulatory burden on businesses while saving money, Ritz said.
“This initiative will not cost Canadian taxpayers any additional money. In some cases, as you remove duplication, there may actually be some efficiencies.”
Ritz said producers located far from a relevant centre will be able to access advice through a toll-free number or digital means.