Toronto Star's View: Ottawa needs to beef up food...
|
Bookmark and Share
Mar 02, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: Ottawa needs to beef up food safety

Canada’s investment in food safety has been cut in recent years, despite U.S. concerns about our government oversight and testing

OurWindsor.Ca

Why has the budget for Canada’s food safety agency been cut at a time when American regulators are finding fault with our safety and sanitation measures? It doesn’t make sense.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency saw its spending on the nation’s food safety program cut from $422 million in 2014-15 to $363 million last year, according to the federal government’s recently tabled spending estimates. That’s a cut of $59 million, or 14 per cent. And under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new government the program will get only a minuscule $2-million bump-up.

This might be justifiable if all were right in our meat, poultry and egg industry. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture begs to differ.

During a USDA audit of Ontario and Quebec slaughtering and processing plants and other facilities in 2014, inspectors found that CFIA met the “core criteria” for food inspection overall. But they also noted “operational (or procedural) weaknesses related to government oversight, sanitation and microbiological testing.”

Canadian officials felt stung by the criticism. The CFIA says Canadian safety procedures are comparable with U.S. ones. No Canadian plant is at risk of losing its right to export. There was no impact on trade. And all U.S. concerns were addressed months ago.

Even so, the CFIA did take measures to deal with the criticism. And rightly so. Canada and the U.S. do a $50-billion two-way trade in food products annually, split roughly evenly. That’s worth safeguarding. We don’t want the U.S. blocking imports.

Troublingly, the Americans found that the CFIA didn’t do “environmental” sampling or testing in food production facilities for the presence of Listeria monocytogenes on surfaces that don’t come directly into contact with food. That’s the bacteria that contaminated cold cuts and led to the deaths of 22 Canadians in 2008. Instead, Ottawa relied on the food companies to do the testing. This didn’t square with U.S. practice.

The U.S. audit also raised “major concerns” that Canada doesn’t require zero tolerance for fecal material, partially digested food, or milk contamination on carcasses before they get a final wash. And they had “serious concerns” about sanitation problems in areas where food is packaged, including open ceilings, leaking condensate and rust.

Even though the auditors may have been unduly critical, this is not reassuring. Bob Kingston, who heads the food inspectors union, says the findings are “symptomatic of the serious shortage of inspectors.” CFIA is starved for resources, he says.

That may be an overstatement. But the warning signs are there. Health Minister Jane Philpott needs to take a hard look at putting more resources — including more front-line inspectors — into our food safety program to reassure our American customers and forestall any problems.

Toronto Star

|
Bookmark and Share

(0) Comment

Join The Conversation Sign Up Login

In Your Neighbourhood Today

SPONSORED CONTENT View More