FAQs about the CFIA

  1. What is the role of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)?
  2. What is the Role and responsibility of the Canadian Customs Broker?
  3. Do I need a license for the Importation of fruit and vegetables?
  4. What commodities require Import Permits?
  5. What Documentation Does CFIA require?
  6. Where Would I Look for Import Requirement Information?
  7. How CAN clients contact the National Import Service Centre?
  8. How do the CFIA and CBSA interact?
  9. How Can An Importer Avoid Costly Border Delays?
  10. What is the consequence of non-compliance?
  11. Industry Links:

What is the role of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)?

The CFIA was created in 1997 to integrate the separate government agencies that were responsible for the regulatory management of Canada’s food chain. Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Health Canada all gave up staff to the creation of the CFIA. This consolidated the inspection services for food, animal health & plant health under the umbrella of the new agency.

The core value of the CFIA is the protection of our food supply, starting with the wellbeing of the plants and animals that a healthy food supply chain relies on.

The CFIA uses a science based regulatory system to carry out their mandate to safeguard not only our food, but the animals, plants and agricultural inputs a safe and healthy food chain requires. They enforce the standards and policies set out by Health Canada, which governs not only the safety but also the nutritional quality of all food sold in Canada.

The CFIA manages food recalls, regulates biotechnology, certifies exports and strives to protect Canada’s reputation as a safe food source globally. The value of our exports from the Agricultural and Agri-food sector totals billion annually. Without tough controls, we risk our place in the global market.


What is the Role and responsibility of the Canadian Customs Broker?

The role of a Canadian Customs Broker includes:

  • Customs brokers work in the best interest of their client and try to use their knowledge and expertise to make sure everyone is in compliance with regulations.
  • Customs brokers work with their clients and exporters to ensure that all Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and other government department import requirements are met.
  • Customs brokers can advise clients of impending changes, which could affect their business.
  • Customs brokers can assist with transportation issues.
  • Customs brokers can advise regarding compliance issues.


To learn more attend a Canadian Customs Compliance Seminar.


Do I need a license for the Importation of fruit and vegetables?

Importers of fresh fruits and vegetable are required to be licensed with the CFIA and/or be a member of the Dispute Resolution Corporation (DRC). Importers that are retailers with direct sales to the consumer of under CAD $230,000 per year are exempt. The license or membership provides a mechanism for dispute resolutions of any issues surrounding quality or payments. The CFIA license fee is CAD $1,075 while the DRC is CAD $1030.

You can obtain further information about the DRC at: www.fvdrc.com .


What commodities require Import Permits?

Many CFIA regulated commodities require the importer to obtain an import permit. When this is required it is important to note you must obtain the permit before your shipment has left the country of export. If a shipment is presented for release without a valid import permit, it will be removed from Canada or possibly destroyed. Most items that require an import permit to enter into Canada either require an export permit to again leave, or an import permit to enter another country (this frequently includes the country of origin).

The list of commodities that may require an import permit is extensive; if you’re not sure if you need one check with the CFIA before any imports are attempted.


What Documentation Does CFIA require?

Fresh produce should be documented on a Confirmation of Sale (COS) form while the Canada Customs Invoice (CCI) should be used for all other commodities.

These forms require basically the same content although the COS has a few additional fields and/or requirements. One of these would be the country of origin; produce from the USA requires the state of origin. A second field to note on the COS is field 22 – for special agreements and related expenses. Many produce commodities require additional information, an example of this is the grower or handler name required for the California Leafy Greens Agreement. This type of information must be provided on every shipment and should be indicated in field 22.

Minimum grades apply to most temperate fruits and vegetables. There are prescribed standard container sizes for the following products if pre-packaged: beets, carrots, onions, parsnips, potatoes and rutabagas. Fresh fruit and vegetables, for which a grade is established, cannot be marketed in import or interprovincial trade in containers that exceed 50 kg, except for apples where the maximum container size is 200 kg. Test markets can be requested.

Ministerial Exemption can be applied for which allow movement in non-standard container sizes.
Apples, potatoes and onions require an inspection certificate which state the product meets Canada’s quality, labeling and packaging requirements. If no certificate is available then a conditional release can be issued for apples and onions, but product must be inspected before released for sale. Potatoes would require a phyto if no inspection certificate was issued.

Plant protection permits and phytosanitary certificates may be required. Certificates of Origin are also commonly required now, these serve to verify product does not originate in an area which is regulated and would otherwise require a phyto.


Where Would I Look for Import Requirement Information?

Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) is a searchable database that provides import requirement details complete with links to the appropriate regulations, directives, etc. It gives release, refuse entry, examine recommendations for CBSA’s guidance, approved or refer information for importer/brokers use, and finally it provides EDI data elements which the importer/broker must transmit on the entry to obtain release.

AIRS is updated frequently and is a reference tool only. The information provided cannot be accepted as accurate. Guide yourself by reading the directives and regulations provided and contacting the CFIA Import Service Centre for further information as required.


How CAN clients contact the National Import Service Centre?

National Import Service Centre (NISC)
Hours: 7:00 a.m. to 03:00 a.m. (Eastern Time)
Phone and EDI: 1-800-835-4486 (Canada or U.S.A.)
1-905-795-7834 (local calls and all other countries)
Fax: 1-613-773-9999
Mailing Address:  1050 Courtney Park Drive East Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2R4


Now operating out of a single centre since February, the CFIA has had some difficulty with their operational switch over. Brokers and importers are still seeing significant delays in processing of import documentation. As always, clear, legible and complete documentation sent to your broker as soon as possible will help to limit delays at the border.

How do the CFIA and CBSA interact?

EDI release is a mandatory requirement from CBSA. The CFIA has partnered with CBSA to make the process as seamless as possible. They system ties in with the CBSA electronics commerce platform and allows the broker to make one transmission of the release request.

This is done by recreating the customs documents in an EDI format, applying the tariff classification and using the CFIA Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) to obtain the Other Governmental Department (OGD) detail.

The declaration sent to Customs is based on the documents provided, usually by the exporter. The importer is responsible for the quality of the exporter’s documents; protect yourself by making sure all customs documents are complete and accurate.


How Can An Importer Avoid Costly Border Delays?

The Customs clearance process all revolves around the customs invoice and associated documents. Work with your vendors to ensure the paperwork is complete and accurate. Goods should be fully described in specific and layman’s terms. Origins and values are required for each item in a shipment. Terms of sale and payment or other particulars that describe why the good is entering Canada should always be included. The commercial invoice that you pay your vendor on is the ultimate document. Make sure all costs included in the final sale are included on the paperwork for Customs.

The minimum time CBSA requires for processing an EDI request is 90 minutes, but when the entry must go to the CFIA first that time may be extended to four hours & beyond. For your trading partners within two hours of the border this can be an issue.  Having documentation provided to your broker in time is paramount to the release process. Make sure your carrier knows who your broker is, and provide them and your vendor with contact phone and fax numbers


What is the consequence of non-compliance?

Consequences for non-compliance include; monetary penalties of up to $200,000.00, seizure of goods and conveyances, as well as potential delays with future transactions. The regulations also provide for criminal penalties, including incarceration.


Industry Links: