Canadain chocolate factory off-limit to visitors

Published 25 March 2008

Non-American companies exporting food to the United States must comply with the strictures of the 2002 BioTerrorism Act; for a Victoria, Canada, chocolate factory this meant prohibiting school kids from touring the factory

Local school children and seniors groups have had to kiss goodbye to the sweetest tour in town: The Rogers’ Chocolate factory in Saanich, Victoria, Canada. The factory has been a no-go zone for tour groups for eighteen months in order to meet U.S. government bioterrorism regulations aimed at safeguarding the American food chain — where a lot of Rogers’ chocolates end up. In the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. BioTerrorism Act requires that food manufacturing facilities that export to the U.S. limit access to outsiders, said Kate Phoenix, Rogers’ vice-president of marketing and sales. There are about thirty-five employees at the Commerce Circle plant, but thousands of students and senior citizens had been coming through in groups of five or six people per tour guide.

U.S. officials did not suggest tour groups were tampering with the candy. “They just said that food facilities need to be secured,” Phoenix said. People could have got close to the conveyor belt or poured something into the melters, although visitors were watched and if anyone tried to touch, tours ended. About half of Rogers’ online and mail-order sales go to the United States, and the company became subject to scrutiny at the border, she said. Improving the security of the factory is meant to ensure smooth clearance at the border. Still, “We could be subject at any time to lockdown or sanctions” from the United States, she said. “Quite often they turn our shipments away at the borders … for any number of reasons.”

Recently, the famed Victoria creams in their pink-checked paper wrappers caused consternation. The paper must be unwrapped before the list of ingredients is found — something the United States deemed inadequate. “They want the ingredients on the outside of the box. So they stopped our shipments two weeks ago over that,” Phoenix said. “We said, ‘We’ve been wrapping that way since 1885.’ ”

Rogers’ made another label to be applied on the outside of creams heading to the United States. For Rogers’ Chocolates to get expedited border clearance, all staff would be subjected to security clearance — a step the company has chosen not to take.