Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Canadian Food Inspection--Fail?

Via CBC.ca
Back in November 2013, Canada's Auditor General raised some concern about Canada's food inspection regime. We had just come through some of the largest meat recalls in Canadian history, and considering that the focus of the Canadian food system is not feeding Canadians, but on export markets, these concerns took on an international flavour. The AG's report said (according to CBC News):
The auditor general found, for instance, that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency did recall unsafe food products in a timely fashion, but the recall system fell apart once a major food recall was announced.
"While illnesses were contained in the recalls we examined, I am not confident that the system will always yield similar results," Ferguson said.
The CFIA did not adequately manage the food recall system between 2010 and 2012 said Ferguson, who found that the agency did not have the documentation necessary to determine whether recalled food products had been disposed of, nor did it have the information necessary to identify and correct the cause of the recall in a timely way.
While registered meat establishments are required to maintain product distribution records to quickly help locate products during a food safety investigation, the audit report found many examples of incomplete documentation.
Our largest export market is the United States, and the US Department of Agriculture, charged with overseeing food imports to the US, took notice of the problems developing in Canada. Today, the Globe and Mail is reporting:
A U.S. audit of Canada’s food-safety system calls on the federal regulator to strengthen oversight of sanitation and the humane handling of animals at meat-slaughtering plants.
The findings from the tour of seven food-processing facilities, two laboratories and five Canadian Food Inspection Agency offices in the fall of 2012 were kept confidential until recently.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency received an “adequate” rating, the lowest of three scores that are meted out to countries deemed eligible to export food to the United States. The designation means Canada will be subject to more robust audits and its food exports will undergo more inspections at the U.S. border than those of countries whose food-safety systems were rated “average” or “well-performing.”
Canada’s food-safety system faced heightened scrutiny after 23 people died in an outbreak of listeriosis linked to a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto in 2008, and E. coli contamination in 2012 at the former XL Foods facility near Brooks, Alta., led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history.
The full text of the US review can be found on the Department of Agriculture website (.pdf).
The Canadian government under Stephen Harper, has made some changes to food inspection practices--notably transferring responsibility for CFIA to the Health Minister from Agriculture, but there is no evidence that this has made the food system any safer.
This problem is, and will continue to be, a government that has no interest in regulating corporate behaviour. CFIA has seen its staff and budget cut and the responsibility for food safety inspections farmed out to the very corporations being inspected, with only minimal (at best) CFIA oversight. And until we restore regulatory oversight to a democratic government as opposed to the corporate-owned one we currently have, we can expect food safety to be barely adequate at best for the foreseeable future.

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