Monday, April 1, 2013

Broken, Corrupt, or Just Useless: Canada's Food Inspection

This weekend the Toronto Star ran an article on the life and death of a thoroughbred horse once owned and raced by Frank Stronach. The horse ended its days as meat, destined for Europe. the problem is, it wasn’t supposed to:
According to Canada’s Food and Drugs Act, horses should not be sold for food if they have been given nitrofurazone at any point in their lives. Backstreet Bully had been given many other drugs that could also pose a serious risk to humans.
“Racehorses are walking pharmacies,” said Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinarian at Tufts University in Massachusetts who has studied the issue extensively. “Do you really want to be eating a piece of meat that has the rabies vaccine in it?”
The Star found a host of problems in Canada’s food protection system related to horses. From one document to the next, the Star discovered confusion over which drugs are considered safe, how quickly a toxic drug leaves a horse’s body, and whether any trust can be placed in the system that regulates horses sold for meat.
The problem is that the horse, Backstreet Bully, had had its "passport" falsified, stating that the owner had owned the horse for at least the last six months, and swore that it had not been treated with any banned substances (substances banned from horses destined for the human food chain, not for veterinary purposes). When in actual fact, the horse had been owned for less than 24 hours, had been treated with banned drugs, and was not intended for the food chain.
“You can’t kill that horse,” Stacie Clark, who works for the Stronach farm, recalled pleading with an abattoir official. It wasn’t just small amounts of these drugs that had once been given to the horse: 21 doses of nitrofurazone, which has been linked to cancer in humans, and at least 23 doses of bute, a drug linked to bone marrow disease [in humans].
When Clark, from Stronach’s Adena Springs farm in Aurora, made her rescue attempt, she was already too late. Backstreet Bully was dead, shot in the head while imprisoned in a cramped abattoir stall. Canadian officials have refused to tell the Star if the horse’s meat entered the food chain.
The officials from CFIA have probably refused to say whether  the horse-meat entered the food chain because they likely have no idea. This horse was tracked because it had a halter with it that had its name stamped on it. "“The only mistake I made was the halter shouldn’t have went with that horse. That’s where it all leaked out,” Priest told the Star."

The problem lies in the relationship between the EU and Canada;  The EU accepts Canadian horse-meat because the documentation says that it has been drug-free. Canada has no real idea if the meat is drug-free, because they rely on the seller's attestation. To quote the article:
Dr. Martin Appelt, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s national veterinary program manager, acknowledged the government relies on an honour system and hopes that the documents are “a reflection of the truth.”
But it’s far from a foolproof system: last year, tainted horse meat from Canada, bound for Belgium, was found to contain traces of two controversial drugs, bute and clenbuterol, the latter on the list of drugs in Canada that are never to be given to animals sold for human food.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency began testing horse meat for bute in 2002. In detecting prohibited veterinary drug residues in meat, there is an overall compliance rate of 96 to 98 per cent, according to an agency spokesperson. Testing is random though a horse or its carcass will be tested if there are red flags or concerns.
The European Union takes a tough stance on many veterinary drugs in human food, including bute and nitrofurazone, for its homegrown horses. Yet the EU will accept Canadian-processed horse meat if the animals’ documents say they were drug free for six months at the time of slaughter.
 This is what relying on business to do the right thing leads to. It is the reason we need strong, enforced, regulations. Particularly around food--the one place we really don't have appropriate regulation. We have regulation to protect corporate profits (the latest outrage comes from the US and involves Monsanto (thanks to BCFSG) but the same thinking is part of the Harper government), we have regulation to destroy small and mid-size farmers (or lack of regulation, like the dismantling of the Wheat Board), we have the Alberta provincial government refusing to licence an abattoir that promised to inspect every animal that came through for BSE (because it would throw doubt on just how well the big processors were doing the same thing--very poorly, which is why I generally refuse to eat beef). But we don't have a comprehensive food inspection system that promotes and displays transparency and honesty. At least that's how it looks from where I'm sitting.

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