FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Vancouver (22 April 2014) – The unit of food inspectors dedicated to protecting consumers and retailers in Metro Vancouver from food fraud and unsafe retail food displays has been disbanded.
Metro Vancouver is now the only major metropolitan area in Canada without a dedicated CFIA team of inspectors whose mandate is to protect consumers from false claims about food products, fraudulent product weights, misleading product descriptions and unsafe retail food displays.
The Consumer Protection Unit serving Metro Vancouver has been disbanded in the shadow of Ottawa’s plans to cut the CFIA’s food safety program by $35 million and 192 food safety positions by 2016/17.
The Metro Vancouver Consumer Protection inspectorate has been allowed to wither from 11 when the program was first established in the mid-1990s to just 4 inspectors today. Victoria and Kelowna have two consumer protection inspectors each, down from three in each city when the program first came on stream.
The Unit was disbanded at the end of January. Today, the remaining inspectors have been embedded in other CFIA teams where they are supposed to pursue consumer protection work.
At the same time, the CFIA is forecasting a much reduced consumer protection inspection plan in Metro Vancouver this year. As a result, local consumers face an increased risk of exposure to food fraud and safety hazards.
“With fewer inspectors, even this reduced plan to prevent consumer fraud and food safety problems will likely be impossible to complete,” says Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union – PSAC that represents federal food inspectors.
The 2014 consumer protection inspection plan includes:
- Fewer ground meat inspections. This means there will be less checking of fat content, filler and fraudulent species claims (it is not uncommon for some companies to mix pork or other species with their beef).
- No oil inspections, even though oil adulteration has been a big problem. Olive oil is often cut with less expensive oils, or extra virgin olive oil cut with regular olive oil .
- Fewer independent food retailers will be inspected this year.
Responsibility for inspecting and enforcing laws and regulations related to consumer fraud in food products rests with Canada’s food inspection agency, the CFIA. Yet, the agency has a very poor track record when it comes to enforcing the rules or even notifying consumers and retailers when the agency knows they have been broken.
“CFIA is choosing to ignore blatant examples of misleading or fraudulent product claims. The record shows that consumers need protection from some companies who resort to fraudulent and misleading practices. Rather than dismantling its Consumer Protection Unit, the government should be prosecuting companies that defraud consumers,” says Bob Jackson, PSAC Regional Vice- President for British Columbia.
The CFIA has been retreating from its consumer protection mandate.
Recently, the Agency ordered its consumer protection inspectors to stop verifying the temperature of products in refrigerated and heated food display cabinets in retail outlets. This is a food safety concern. Product temperatures in display cabinets that are either too high or not low enough can create the risk of food borne illness.
In Ontario, the CFIA’s consumer protection unit known as the Fair Labeling Practices Program has been cut by 50%. Just one inspector is now responsible for consumer protection in every retail food outlet in the City of Toronto.
1 inspector, 2 positions vacant
2 inspectors, 3 positions vacant not being filled
2 inspectors, 2 position vacant
1 position vacant
1 position vacant
“Inspectors who belong to these units care deeply about the work the work they do protecting consumers from fraudulent claims and potential threats to safety. They push CFIA executives to enforce the rules and prosecute violators. Without their advocacy, the CFIA will drop consumer protection all together,” Kingston said.
For more information:
The federal government plans to cut the CFIA’s food safety program by $35 million and 192 positions by 2016/17.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014 – Canadian Food Inspection Agency cuts sink consumer protection against food fraud in Metro Vancouver