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Changes to food safety regulations have small businesses concerned

Small businesses in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are worried about changes to Canada's food safety regulations that they say will make it harder to sell across provincial lines starting this week.

The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, which go into effect on Jan. 15, clear up grey areas that previously meant businesses with provincial licences could sell up to 20 kilograms of food products into another province.

Kent Coates, the owner of Nature's Route Farm in Pointe de Bute, N.B., said he sells vegetables at farm markets in New Brunswick most of the time.

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But he does sell a bit in nearby Nova Scotia — mostly to other farmers to supplement their inventory when they sell out.

On Tuesday, that has to stop until Coates gets a federal licence.

"It obviously takes time away from us doing what we're here to do, which is to grow food," he said.

'It's not completely clear'

"And it obviously adds cost to our process because every moment that I spend doing the administration stuff just to be able to sell my food is time that I'm not spending taking care of my crops. So I have to replace that with staff that take care of my crops."

Coates also said it hasn't been easy figuring out what licence he needs and how to get it.

"It's not completely clear," he said. "Somewhere there's someone that knows exactly what I need. But as with all large organizations, when you call [the] 1-800 number you don't talk to that one person in the organization that understands what's happening."

Any foods under the Canadian Agricultural Products Act, including dairy, fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as honey, would need to be federally licensed to be sold interprovincially. (Andy Duback/The Associated Press)
Willem van den Hoek, owner of That Dutchman's Cheese Farm, said he used to sell his cheeses online across the country.

But starting next week, he can't. He said he doesn't want to get a federal licence because of the cost and more rigorous controls, which means he's losing about five per cent of his business.

"They closed that allowance and that has impacted us. It's not a lot, but it's a job for somebody here," he said.

"I'd just like to see the reasoning why [they made these changes.]"

Lyzette Lamondin, executive director of food safety and consumer protection at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said the reason why is simple — food safety.

"When we did the new regulations, we went through them with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that there's nothing in there that isn't absolutely necessary and warranted for food safety," she said.

"Consumers expect that we as the CFIA are doing everything in our power to ensure that the food that they purchase is as safe as it can be."

Former rules unclear

But Lamondin said the former rules allowing provincially-licensed businesses to sell up to 20 kg out of province were never intended to be for the producer.

She said it's actually an allowance for the consumer, allowing them to bring in a product from another province of less than 20 kg — and that hasn't changed. But she admits the former rules were murky.

"That lack of clarity probably led to some confusion over time of how the exception would be applied and to whom. The new regulations make it crystal clear," she said.

"As soon as they decide to sell into another province they need that CFIA licence."

Lamondin also said she understands that the federal requirements are more stringent . For small businesses, it's going to be "a step up in terms of expectations."

If people continue to sell outside of their province without a federal licence after Tuesday, Lamondin said they'll run into trouble. But she couldn't say what the punishment might look like.

"The most important thing though we would say is, by selling outside of the province, you have triggered federal regulation," Lamondin said.

"So please get yourself a CFIA licence ... and then you will be operating without any any worries."