Canada’s food safety regulations are in the passing lane.

The Safe Food for Canadians Act was passed more than a year after the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act, but officials in Canada have vowed to fully implement regulations by January 2015.

If achieved, that aggressive timeline will likely beat the final produce safety regulations from the Food and Drug Administration mandated by U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act; the FDA has a court-ordered deadline of June 2015 for final produce safety regulations as a result of a lawsuit by the consumer group Center for Food Safety.

Drafting of regulations prompted by the Safe Food for Canadians Act of 2012 will soon begin, said Jane Proctor, vice president for policy and issue management for the Ottawa-based Canadian Produce Marketing Association. The first deadline for public comments to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on the drafting of the food safety regulation was Nov. 29, she said, marking the end of a months-long period of consultations between industry, interested members of the public and government agencies.

Proctor said CPMA’s regulatory modernization working group — composed of numerous representatives from the produce supply chain — was on Nov. 26 in the process of finalizing comments to the CFIA by Nov. 29.

The Safe Food for Canadians Act pulls together food inspection regulations in Canada, currently administered through the Fish Inspection Act, the Canada Agricultural Products Act, the Meat Inspection Act, and the food provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, according to the Canadian Food Safety Inspection Agency. The legislation will create stronger traceability rules, enhance record-keeping requirements and improve the safety of imported food, according to the website.

Proctor said officials at the CFIA have indicated they will then consider comments received and issue draft food safety regulations in May or June of 2014. After that, Canadian officials are expected to allow a two-month comment period before the regulations are finalized in the Canada Gazette. Proctor said that type of extended regulatory process is very uncommon in Canada. Government officials are doing it, she said, because of the massive changes in food safety regulations put in motion by the new law.

Because of the magnitude of the changes, Proctor said it is in the best interests of the CFIA to issue draft rules and get more reaction from industry and the public.

After that process, Proctor said CFIA has promised to issue final food safety regulations by January 2015.

“It is a very aggressive timeline, but the good news is that they are committed to align as much as possible with the (U.S.) Food Safety Modernization Act,” she said. “That is good for us on both the U.S. and Canadian sides.”

Proctor said the Canadian regulations are expected to be more outcome-oriented than the FDA’s “prescriptive” approach.

“They are saying ‘These are the outcomes we expect and you can decide how you are going to get there,” Proctor said. “I don’t think we will see the same level of detail we see in some of the Food Safety Modernization Act, but what we know for sure is that it is critical that food safety systems are recognized by each country,” she said.

One key issue for the Canadian food safety law is how importers will be defined. Currently, U.S. exporters can act as a non-resident importer when they ship product to Canada for the purposes of Customs. The CFIA has been considering removing that capacity. A similar capability currently exists for Canadian exporters of fresh produce to the U.S. and Proctor said the FDA and Canada need to agree on an approach.

“Whatever the two governments decide, it needs to be aligned,” she said.

Removing that provision for a non-resident importer could cause trade to become more expensive as exporters may be forced to set up offices within Canada. That could serve to reduce trade between the two countries.

“We don’t want to create an uneven playing field nor do we want to see industry have very burdensome requirements in one country,” she said.

Another concern with pending regulations is the length of time the government may require for record keeping related to traceability. Government officials had earlier indicated a three year record keeping period, but Canadian industry leaders say that period is too long and not comparable to other countries.

In the European Union, for example, traceability record keeping requirements for fresh produce are just six months, Proctor said.

Proctor said Canadian officials have recently indicated they may shorten those traceability requirements based on industry input.