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Agriculture Union news releases can be viewed by clicking on the year indicated below.

                            


2014 News Releases

News releases issued by the Agriculture Union in 2014, beginning with the most recent, are listed below. Click on the title to read the entire text.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency cuts sink consumer protection against food fraud in Metro Vancouver

(April 22, 2014)


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                    April 22, 2014

Canadian Food Inspection Agency cuts sink consumer protection against food fraud in Metro Vancouver

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.

Toronto

 1 inspector, 2 positions vacant

Markham

 2 inspectors

Hamilton

 2 inspectors, 3 positions vacant not being filled

London

 2 inspectors, 2 position vacant

Barrie

 1 inspector

North Bay

 1 position vacant

Belleville

 1 position vacant

Thunder Bay

 1 inspector

Ottawa

 2 inspectors

“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.

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For more information:

Jim Thompson
613-447-9592
jim@thompsoncom.ca

Bill Tieleman,
Weststar Communications
Cell 778-896-0964  Office 604-844-7827

Backgrounder

The federal government plans to cut the CFIA’s food safety program by $35 million and 192 positions by 2016/17.

Food Safety Spending and Staff

Source: CFIA 2014-15 Estimates Report on Plans and Priorities, Tresury Board of Canada

Speaking Notes

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - Canadian Food Inspection Agency cuts sink consumer protection against food fraud in Metro Vancouver

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2013 News Releases

News releases issued by the Agriculture Union in 2013, beginning with the most recent, are listed below. Click on the title to read the entire text.

C-4 encourages unsafe workplaces

(November 20, 2013)

News conference advisory: Work will be more dangerous under Bill C-4

(November 19, 2013)

More food inspectors lost due to federal cuts

(January 25, 2013)


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                    November 20, 2013

C-4 encourages unsafe workplaces

Bob Kingston signs Rob Ellis' Canada Cup Jersey in support of the right to refuse unsafe work. More than 150,000 Canadians have added their names to date.

Bob Kingston signs Rob Ellis' Canada Cup Jersey in support of the right to refuse unsafe work. More than 150,000 Canadians have added their names to date.

Ottawa – Work will be more dangerous if proposed changes to health and safety laws in Ottawa’s latest omnibus budget measure, Bill C-4, become law, according to Rob Ellis, whose teenage son was killed at work during his second day on the job.

Ellis, a workplace health and safety advocate, and Bob Kingston, President of the PSAC’s Agriculture Union, are in Ottawa today to urge parliamentarians to change the Bill.

“These proposals undermine the right to refuse unsafe work. My tragic story will be more common if these changes are passed into law,” said Rob Ellis.

An overlooked provision of the Bill would give the Minister of Labour authority to throw out any unsafe work refusal complaint without investigating it, leaving the employee open to discipline, including dismissal. If the Minister chooses, an investigation can be undertaken in secret.

“The threat of losing your job is a powerful incentive to keep your mouth shut even if you feel your workplace is not safe,” said Bob Kingston who co-chairs with the Treasury Board the public Service-Wide Occupational Health and Safety Committee.

“We should encourage, especially young people, to exercise this right rather than threaten people with losing their job if they do,” Ellis says.

The changes would affect almost 1.5 million people with jobs in marine shipping, pipelines, uranium mining, broadcasting, transportation and other federal sectors, and potentially many others should emboldened provincial governments follow suit.

Ellis has appealed to the Prime Minister and Laureen Harper as parents of teenage children for the government to drop these changes. In a letter to the Harpers, Ellis described his son’s death:

“On his second day of work at a temporary position in a bakery, Ellis’ 18-year old son David was killed on the job. He was pulled into an industrial mixer that was operating without a safety guard and lockout. David lacked the experience to comprehend the dangers of the workplace.

“We should not assume that new workers have enough experience to recognize or categorize the level of danger of every workplace condition. New or young employees should be encouraged to say no to unsafe work. And when they do stand up and say no, they should not be subject to discipline if their complaint is rejected without investigation, as Bill C-4 proposes.”

Workplaces considered dangerous under the current law will be considered safe under these proposals because the definition of danger has been restricted. Under the amendments to the Canada Labour Code in Bill C-4, a workplace would be considered dangerous only if the threat is imminent.

The common sense protections from potentially hazardous conditions, including exposure to hazardous substances likely to result in chronic illness or disease, and damage to a worker’s reproductive system, would disappear under the amendments contained in Bill C-4.

“What problem this Bill is intended to address is a mystery? No employer has ever called for these changes or even raised them for discussion,” Kingston said.

That the federal government is exposing people to workplace dangers while advocating measures to protect people from crime in their communities is equally bewildering,” Kingston said.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada will call for changes to Bill C-4 concerning health and safety during an appearance tomorrow before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

“We will make sure the Committee members understand the important point of view Mr. Ellis has brought to Ottawa today,’ Kingston said.

Kingston and Ellis will be meeting with opposition MPs Alexandre Boulerice and Rodger Cuzner today to discuss their concerns.

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Jim Thompson 613-447-9592

Jonathan Choquette, PSAC Communications, 819-773-2511

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                    January 25, 2013

More food inspectors lost due to federal cuts

Thunder Bay/Chatham, ON -- The Conservative federal budget Bill, C-45, contains amendments to the Canada Grain Act that will remove requirements that protect grain producers from multinational grain companies, by eliminating the impartial weighing inspection of grain being received at terminal elevators. It will also increase self-regulation and decrease overall inspections.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) represents 100 grain inspectors and weighers employed in Thunder Bay, of which 70 may lose their jobs due to the changes in the Act. PSAC also represents 12 weighers and inspectors in Chatham that may also be losing their employment due to these changes.

Inspectors collect grain samples from every rail car that comes to the elevators and inspect for quality, pests and diseases, as well as toxins, foreign materials or anything that could be damaging to the grain or harmful for human consumption.

Weighers weigh the grain received at elevators and that are loaded onto ships to ensure producers receive fair compensation for their product.

"Canada's grain handling system is the best in the world, and now through the elimination of these inspectors and a potential 85% reduction in federal funding to the Canadian Grain Commission, we are jeopardizing the entire system", states Bob Kingston, National President of the Agricultural Union, a component of the PSAC.

"What's startling is we've seen what happens when an industry self-regulates, shortcuts are taken and quality is jeopardized. When you cut inspectors and remove regulations, you take away the assurances that the industry relies upon to sell grain at a higher value," says Sharon DeSousa. "Canada's international reputation for high quality grain should be a government priority, as the grain industry is one of the largest industries in Canada."

PSAC is warning Canadians of the changes to this industry and the potential impacts for the economy, farmers and the public.

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2012 News Releases

News releases issued by the Agriculture Union in 2012, beginning with the most recent, are listed below. Click on the title to read the entire text.

Canadians kept in the dark for days after US border closed to XL Food products

(September 26, 2012)

New food safety law needs enforcement teeth

(June 7, 2012)

Backroom CFIA decisions keep Canadians and Minister Ritz in the dark

(April 24, 2012)

Food safety gouged

(April 11, 2012)

Food Inspectors Union Warns Consumers That Federal Budget Cuts May Reduce Canadian Food Inspection Agency examination of Imports to Below 2%; May Cut Other Food Safety Inspection As Well

(February 28, 2012)

Release hidden audit and put language teacher layoffs on ice

(February 16, 2012)

Listeriosis funding to be cut: Agriculture Union asks food industry to object

(January 16, 2012)

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                   September 26, 2012

Canadians kept in the dark for days after US border closed to XL Food products

Ottawa – United States authorities closed the border to products from the E. coli 0157:H7-tainted XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alberta days before Canadian consumers were advised and a product recall was launched in Canada.

According to a bulletin from the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, the XL Foods plant was “de-listed” on September 13th, four days before the potentially tainted beef trim and associated products were recalled in Canada. “De-listing” means that the company is forbidden from shipping its products to US markets.

“This is more evidence that too much authority has been handed off to the industry to self-police that has resulted in this unacceptable delay,” says Fabian Murphy First National Vice President, of the Agriculture Union - PSAC.

Although the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has the authority to force a product recall this power is rarely used in favour of persuading companies to “voluntarily” recall hazardous product, a process that takes too long.

Microbiological testing of a shipment of XL product destined for the United States by US inspectors at the Sweetgrass, Montana inspection station originally uncovered a positive test result for the E. coli bacteria.

The Canadian and US federal government are currently negotiating the elimination of the border inspection program that uncovered the problem. The “Beyond the Border” initiative would allow certain Canadian meat processors to leapfrog traditional border inspection. The program is at the pilot phase right now.

“XL Foods is a perfect example of why we need to keep and strengthen food inspection at the border, not eliminate it. Ottawa should cancel the pilot project and back away from this dangerous idea,” Fabian Murphy said.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                        June 7, 2012

New food safety law needs enforcement teeth

Ottawa – The food safety bill introduced this afternoon is a good start at improving the safety of our food, according to the Agriculture Union which represents federal food inspectors.

“Generally speaking, the bill is a good start but we need to ensure that the proposed appeal mechanism does not give industry too much power to undermine the work of CFIA inspectors,” said Bob Kingston, President of the Union.

To avoid becoming just a paper exercise, the government must ensure the CFIA has adequate inspection resources. Currently the CFIA does not have adequate resources to ensure compliance with the new rules, especially with respect to imported food products.

Noting that the number of process meat inspectors almost doubled from 225 to 400 after the CFIA reviewed its inspection resource needs in that program following the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis outbreak, Kingston predicted a similar review of the CFIA’s other inspection programs would produce a comparable result.

“To make sure that all food safety systems are working properly to ensure the lowest risk to Canadians from the food we eat, the CFIA needs to double the inspection force,” Kingston said.

As many as 100 food inspectors will be fired as a result of the current downsizing of public services.

The bill proposes to increase financial penalties for companies that break the law.

“We hope the increased fines proposed by the government will send a message to the CFIA to take enforcement and prosecutions more seriously. Right now, too often the Agency walks away from prosecutions that are all ready to go for little reason,” Kingston said.

“The government has made an important policy statement today with the tabling of the Safe Food for Canadians Act. Now it’s up to the government to provide the CFIA with the resources to enforce the new rules and CFIA management to adopt a prevention mindset,” Kingston said.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                       April 24, 2012

Backroom CFIA decisions keep Canadians

and Minister Ritz in the dark

Ottawa – CFIA cuts to food safety programs and plans to overhaul food inspection are being withheld from the public amid conflicting statements from the Minister and his senior executives about the cuts and changes, according to the Agriculture Union – PSAC, which represents federal food inspectors.

While Minister Ritz insists that frontline inspectors will be unaffected by budget cuts, CFIA executives say “I don’t know how you take 10% of your budget and not deal with the front line”.

This contradiction and some details of the cuts and changes emerged during internal staff briefings held last week, where CFIA executives revealed that industry pressure and a shortage of resources at CFIA are driving plans to:

         • Eliminate the special program to pre-clear imported meat, a decision that will result in less inspection

                scrutiny of these high risk imported products.

         • Conduct a full scale review of the Consumer Protection program while suspending delivery of parts of the

                program involving food labels, restaurant menu and nutrition verification sampling, activities which protect

                consumers from fraudulent claims and inaccurate product information in grocery stores and restaurants.

         • Kill pre-approval of all meat product labels, a proactive program that recognizes the high risk nature of

                meat.

The announcements directly contradict assurances the Minister gave Canadians only days before about food safety and labelling for meat and other products. Appearing on the CBC Radio program The House on April 14th, Minister Ritz said:

The CFIA “will continue to do spot checks on the shelves after the fact and make sure that the audits follow through, that the labels are factual that they have the information consumers need”, and, “when it comes to meat, labels are still pre-approved, they’re still checked before anything hits the shelf.”

“It appears CFIA executives did not tell the Minster that staff who perform these functions have already been told their jobs and the program will be eliminated. Conflicting statements like these have CFIA employees concerned that very important decisions are being made without the best, or even accurate, information being available for the politicians who are calling the shots,” said Bob Kingston, union President.

CFIA staff was also briefed on a new approach that, in the words of the executives, will “radically” alter food inspection. Soon CFIA will unveil a new inspection model that could revisit the mistakes that contributed to the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis outbreak. The new inspection model would:

          • By design, convert food inspectors to systems inspectors only. This industry self-policing model is

                 reminiscent of the conditions in place just prior to the listeriosis outbreak when staff shortages and

                 confusion arising from the introduction of a new inspection system, CVS (Compliance Verification

                 System), were in play

          • Strip commodity expertise as inspectors for programs such as fish and meat are combined into a single

                 class of systems inspectors

          • Hand off a “big role” to Industry associations for enforcement of food safety requirements

“These cuts and changes were planned behind closed doors and without the benefit of public input or the perspective of those who work on the front lines. We will be doing all we can to make sure politicians and the public understand the impact of these cuts and hopefully the government will live up to its promise that food safety will not be compromised,” Kingston said.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                       April 11, 2012

Food safety gouged

 

Ottawa – The federal government is stripping as many as 100 food safety inspectors from its ranks as a result of budget cuts, more than reversing increases to the inspection force put in place in response to the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis outbreak which killed 23 Canadians.

“This decision will make the inspector shortage worse, not better. And because the government has failed to consult its own inspectors, they are cutting food safety blindly with little understanding of the consequences,” says Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union – PSAC, which represents federal food inspectors.

Sheila Weatherill, the investigator appointed by Prime Minister Harper to get to the bottom of the Maple Leaf outbreak, found and commented on shortage of inspectors prior to the outbreak. In response, the federal government hired an additional 70 food inspectors to oversee ready-to-eat meat production facilities in September 2009.

Overall, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will lose 308 employees as a result of budget cuts announced on March 29.

“With fewer independent food safety professionals working in the public interest, industry self-policing will increase and consumers will be left to fend for themselves,” Kingston said.

According to the CFIA, about half of the positions to be cut are from the workforce in Ottawa and will have little impact on food safety, a claim disputed by Bob Kingston.

The work done by those in many of these positions in Ottawa has a direct impact on the safety of food purchased by Canadians. For example, the Ottawa-based unit responsible for approving meat product labels will be dismantled by these cuts in favour of ‘downstream enforcement’, whereby inspectors would catch fraudulent claims when products hit stores shelves. Right now, there are too few inspectors to do this work and there will even fewer after these cuts are implemented.

“After these cuts, Canadians can expect more fraudulent meat labels like we have seen for other products because CFIA pre-approval of meat product labels will be eliminated,” Kingston said.

The government is proposing that citizens take on the job of ensuring the accuracy of product labels. The March 29th budget includes this incredible statement:

“The CFIA will introduce a web-based label verification tool that encourages consumers to bring validated concerns directly to companies and associations for resolution."

In conjunction these budget and staffing cuts, the federal government is scaling back its regulatory oversight of food safety in Canada.

“The federal government is turning its back on consumers with these cuts, taking food safety professionals out of the field. With no cop in the rearview mirror, food companies will have greater latitude to play fast and loose with our safety,” Kingston concluded.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                    February 28, 2012

Food Inspectors Union Warns Consumers That Federal Budget Cuts May Reduce Canadian Food Inspection Agency examination of Imports to Below 2%; May Cut Other Food Safety Inspection As Well

Vancouver – The union representing federal food safety inspectors is warning consumers that significant cuts to the public service expected in next month’s budget may reduce the inspection of imported foods to less than two per cent of all products examined by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.


And the Agriculture Union, a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says a planned Conservative government cut of 10% of all ministries could also reduce the number of food safety staff to levels lower than when the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis crisis hit in 2008, killing 23 consumers and making hundreds seriously ill.
PSAC says dramatic reductions to food inspection is just one of hundreds of needed public services that could suffer if Conservative budget cuts are imposed.


“Canadian consumers don’t know that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency today only inspects two per cent of all imports – and that percentage may drop even further if budget cuts of 10 per cent are imposed on CFIA,” said Agriculture Union President Bob Kingston.


“Ensuring that the food we eat is safe is one of the most important roles government workers have but the federal government seems ready to take risks with food safety,” Kingston said.


Bob Jackson, BC Regional Executive Vice-President of the PSAC, said there are literally thousands of different foods imported from dozens of countries around the world available to Canadian consumers but most are never inspected by CFIA before being sold.


“As consumers we can buy white asparagus from Peru, lettuce and tomatoes from Mexico, garlic and snow peas from China, spices from India, tilapia fish from Chile and prawns from Indonesia – but how do we know it’s all safe to eat?” Jackson asked.


“Can and should we trust that foreign countries have the high food safety standards Canadians expect and that they do proper inspections of everything they export?” he added.


Jackson said that already in February alone there have been nine “health hazard alerts” issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency involving food contaminated with listeria, e coli, salmonella or other bacteria, including several imported products.


And in December 2011, for example, fresh jalapeno peppers imported from the United States and sold in bulk unlabeled in Safeway, Real Canadian Superstore, Loblaws, Supervalu and other stores across western and northern Canada were voluntarily recalled due to salmonella contamination.


Jackson said according to the CFIA, 79% of food imports come from ten countries – the United States, Mexico, China, France, Italy, Brazil, Chile, Thailand, Australia and the United Kingdom.


Kingston said the Conservative government has ordered every ministry to prepare for a 10 per cent cut in the March budget. CFIA’s 2011-2012 Estimates Report on Plans and Priorities forecasts a cut to its Food Safety Program of $21.1 million and 207 fewer food safety staff – even though food safety represents less than half of overall spending by the CFIA and 46% of its total staff.


“Inspection staff at CFIA are already in short supply – cutting their budget at this time could mean greater food safety risks for Canadians,” Kingston said.


Jackson warned that food safety is not the only government program that could be seriously impacted in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s upcoming budget.


“From search and rescue, to fisheries and oceans, to administering Employment Insurance and other programs – Canadians expect government to deliver needed public services, not jeopardize them.” said Jackson.
“Food safety is a critical public service that is at risk in the upcoming budget and Canadians need to tell the government that reckless slashing will literally put lives in danger”, Jackson concluded.


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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                    February 16, 2012

Release hidden audit and put language teacher
layoffs on ice

Ottawa The Canada School of the Public Service is hiding an internal audit of its language training program that could show its decision to lay-off 190 language teachers is a bad economic move. Treasury Board President Tony Clement, the Minister responsible, should place the School’s plans on hold until it can be determined if the lay-offs are justified, according to the teacher’s union.


The School promised Parliament in its 2011/12 Report on Plans and Priorities that it “will perform an audit of language training”, but has never disclosed the findings of the audit. Currently, the School is planning to abandon the delivery of language training within the federal government completely to the private sector.


“We suspect that audit has been withheld because it would show the current language training services the School provides as being the most cost efficient and the highest quality way of delivering the service,” said Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union – PSAC, which represents the teachers.


The union has written to Minister Clement urging him to withdraw the School’s plans and release the audit so it can be determined if the lay-offs are justified.


“It is our view that language training provided by the School is the most cost effective way of delivering the service, and the available evidence supports this view,” Kingston said.


According to a report published in the Ottawa Citizen, language-training expenses have jumped nearly fivefold at the Treasury Board Secretariat in the last five years, from $428,490 to $2.1 million in the 2009-10 fiscal year, and the average language training cost per employee at Treasury Board doubled during the same period.


Coincidentally, government departments were encouraged to purchase training from private sector suppliers and not the Canada School of the Public Service during this period.


The “shared service” model is widely recognized within government as a cost effective way of providing services that all government departments and organizations need. The government credits this approach for significant savings in the delivery of Information Technology and Payroll services.


“The government could and should use the sharing principle when it comes to language training because it will save money and provide the best service,” Kingston said.


At the end of the day, the School might be saving a few dollars, but they are most likely sticking Canadian taxpayers with a much larger bill. These layoffs will drive up the cost of language training while also reducing the quality of teaching.


“This decision is fiscally irresponsible and we think the audit will prove it. Canadians should be outraged,” Kingston said.


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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                January 16, 2012

Listeriosis funding to be cut:
Agriculture Union asks food industry to object

Ottawa The federal government has quietly announced plans to cancel important food safety initiatives put in place to shore up a weak inspection system and to address a chronic shortage of inspectors after the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis outbreak killed 23 Canadians in 2008.

The CFIA’s latest plan declares that “resources will sunset for Listeriosis, and for increased frequency of food inspection in meat processing establishments” in 2013-14. This plan comes to light amid news that the CFIA is embarking on an extensive review of its regulations to make them more friendly to industry.
“This looks like an exercise to make regulation cheaper, not safer or smarter. Ottawa should worry about undermining public confidence with food safety cuts because that will be bad for the industry,” said Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union – PSAC, which represents federal food safety inspectors.

The Agency’s 2011-12 Estimates Report on Plans and Priorities forecasts a smaller CFIA by 2013-14 with $21.5 million less funding than current levels and 234 fewer staff.

The CFIA’s Food Safety Program will bear the overwhelming burden of these cuts -- $21.1 million and 207 fewer food safety staff – even though food safety represents less than half of overall spending by the CFIA and 46% of its total staff.

At a news conference in Ottawa today, Kingston was joined by Karen Clark, whose mother Francis died in 2008 from listeriosis after eating tainted cold cuts.

"It scares me, quite honestly, to see the federal government’s attitude. It looks like they think Canadians have forgotten about the listeriosis outbreak and all the people it affected. That they can reduce these inspectors and safety programs and no one will notice. Something terrible happened to me and my family. We’re not special. If the federal government does not maintain adequate safety oversight and inspection it could happen again to anyone’s family,“ Clark said.

Cuts of this magnitude would leave the food safety program reeling and severely diminish an inspector’s ability to complete assignments, and that means risk of another major food borne illness outbreak will be elevated,” said Kingston.

At best, this decision sends the wrong message that everything is fine in Canada’s food safety system. At worst, these cuts could unravel important improvements to Canada’s food safety oversight made over the past few years and potentially threaten access to US markets for Canadian producers.

The CFIA’s move to increase the frequency of its inspections was made in direct response to US regulators who demanded that Ottawa station inspectors in slaughter and meat processing facilities every 12 hour shift in order to meet more stringent US requirements.

“US regulators pushed the government of Canada to increase the presence of food safety inspectors in plants producing for export to the US. Ottawa’s current plans to cut funding the CFIA needs to meet US inspection requirements will send warning signals to regulators south of the border,” Kingston said.

Like other government agencies and departments the CFIA is facing up to a 10% cut to its budget as part of the federal government’s strategic and operating review. This could translate to an additional cut of $74 million.

“If Ottawa proceeds with the cuts it has already announced, plus another 10%, the federal government will be playing roulette with the health of Canadians. Producers and processors should be up in arms about these cuts. We hope they will join us in urging Ottawa to re-consider,” Kingston said.

The Agriculture Union announced that it is launching a campaign to recruit major players in Canada’s food industry to oppose these cuts, starting with Maple Leaf Foods. The online campaign at www.foodsafetyfirst.ca features an action centre anyone can use to send a message to food industry leaders urging them to get on board.

“To begin, we will be inviting our supporters to urge Michael McCain to tell Ottawa to re-consider these cuts. Maple Leaf Foods is symbolic of a failed food safety system. Their company suffered tremendous reputational and economic damage when the food safety system failed Canadians,” Kingston said.

The campaign will also reach out to other Canadian food producers and manufacturers.

“We hope Stephen Harper will listen to industry even if he won’t listen to the concerns of ordinary Canadians who are worried about the safety of their food,” Kingston said.

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2011 News Releases

News releases issued by the Agriculture Union in 2011, beginning with the most recent, are listed below. Click on the title to read the entire text.

CFIA abandons key consumer protections

(April 28, 2011)

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                  April 28, 2011

CFIA abandons key consumer protections

Ottawa The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has abruptly and without explanation cancelled or deferred inspection activity in important areas designed to protect consumers from unsafe food products and fraudulent practices.


According to CFIA documents, the CFIA has indefinitely deferred inspection activities related to ensuring that consumer products available in retail outlets are not fraudulently under weight. In addition, sources have revealed that the CFIA has cancelled outright its restaurant menu verification program.


Widespread fraudulent activities related to deliberate mislabeling of products in grocery stores has recently come to light as a result of media investigations, work that should be done by the CFIA. And, new studies have just been published demonstrating that consumers can be fooled by inaccurate and misleading labels into buying products they would not otherwise purchase.


“What would our political leaders say if they became aware that the CFIA is ramping down its consumer protection activities, at the very time when industry practices show clearly consumers need protection?” asked Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union – PSAC, which represents federal food inspectors.


CFIA has gradually been reducing its regulatory oversight activities in the area of consumer protection. According to the documents released this morning, routine CFIA surveillance of the declared weight of products has been “deferred”. This means that any producer or retailer is now free to fraudulently claim that their product weighs more than it does in fact.


“Just like everywhere else, there are bad apples in the food industry that have demonstrated time and again they cannot be trusted. When the CFIA withdraws from its regulatory oversight responsibilities – as they are now doing -- food manufacturers and retailers take advantage, to the detriment of consumers”, said Bob Kingston.


In addition, the CFIA has indefinitely cancelled inspection activities related to ensuring that restaurants menus are accurate and not fraudulent descriptions of their offerings. This means that restaurants are now free to make whatever claims they want about the nature of the foods on their menus.


“Claims that menu items are organic, or free of trans fats, or locally produced, can now be made by restaurants safe in the knowledge that no inspector from the CFIA will be checking, unless someone complains,” Kingston said.


“CFIA does not have the resources to fulfill its mandate. As a result, it is dropping activities it considers to be ‘low risk’, all the while hoping that nothing bad happens as a consequence,” Kingston said

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2010 News Releases

News releases issued by the Agriculture Union in 2010, beginning with the most recent, are listed below. Click on the title to read the entire text.

 

Government spins food safety

(November 4, 2010)

Reality Check

(March 17, 2010)

Canadian meat inspection inadequate: USDA

(March 15, 2010)

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                             November 4, 2010

Government spins food safety

Ottawa -- The federal government has failed to meet some of the most important recommendations for reform of Canada’s food inspection system made in the wake of the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis disaster, in spite of claims to the contrary, according to the federal food inspectors’ union.


The Agriculture Union - PSAC leveled this charge as the House of Commons Health Committee begins hearings this morning on the implementation of recommendations following Canada’s deadliest food borne illness outbreak.


“Many of the shortcomings that contributed to the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis disaster two years ago continue to plague the Canadian meat inspection system today,” said Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union - PSAC.


Sheila Weatherill was appointed by the Prime Minister to investigate the outbreak. Among her 57 recommendations, Weatherill called for an independent audit of the number of inspectors needed to make a new inspection system called the Compliance Verification System, or CVS, work properly.


The federal government claims to have fulfilled this recommendation based on a report it commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers.


According to a government prepared summary, PwC concludes that 260 full time inspectors are required to effectively implement CVS, a finding that conveniently confirms the CFIA estimate


This totally misrepresents the PwC report which clearly states that “This review does not constitute certification or guarantee the accuracy of CFIA’s calculation (of the number of inspectors required to effectively implement CVS).”
Fifteen months after Sheila Weatherill called for an independent resource audit, the government’s own study says the results are not conclusive

.

“Effectively, this means that consumers are eating high risk ‘ready to eat’ foods that may not have been adequately inspected, produced in factories that may or may not be meeting safety requirements,” Kingston said


The Agriculture Union estimates that there were more inspectors working in non-slaughter meat establishments before the Maple Leaf Foods outbreak than the number of inspectors CFIA estimates are required today. Prior to the outbreak, there were approx. 220 inspectors who devoted the vast majority of their working day to CVS tasks in these meat establishments. Today, CFIA estimates it needs only 155 FTE inspectors to cover the same territory. Even adding FTEs for non-CVS work, the total would still fall short of staffing levels before the outbreak.


“The CFIA has yet to explain the number of inspectors it has or needs more than two years after the outbreak. These numbers truly are inconsistent with all we know and should have raised red flags with CFIA management,” Kingston said.


Sheila Weatherill established several damning facts about the food inspection system in Canada. She found that:


          • The Compliance Verification System (CVS) implemented just before the Maple Leaf Foods outbreak was

                flawed and in need of “critical improvements related to its design, planning and implementation”.


          • CVS was “implemented without a detailed assessment of the resources available to take on these new

                 (CVS) tasks”.

          • A shortage of food safety inspectors was in play before the outbreak.

According to an internal CFIA assessment conducted in March and April this year and based on interviews with frontline CFIA inspectors, many of the problems Weatherill identified continue to plague food inspection in Canada. Among the assessment findings:


           • “several participants commented that, in their experience, there was insufficient staff to ensure full delivery

                 of CVS in all plants.”


           • the new inspection system does not allow inspectors enough time to complete verification tasks and lacks

                 effective compliance and enforcement tools when food companies violate safety requirements.


            • While some inspectors have access to laptops and high speed internet connections, others “continued to

                 work primarily with pencil and paper”.


            • Inspectors are further hobbled because they do not have direct access to historical information about

                 companies’ food safety records contained in the central CVS database.

“The federal government owes consumers answers about why these problems have been allowed to persist and how the inspection deficit will be addressed,” Kingston said.


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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                               March 17, 2010

Reality check

Ottawa -- Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s appearance before the Agriculture Committee this afternoon will be an opportunity for the Minister to set the record straight on inspection of ready-to-eat meats produced for Canadian consumers.

On Monday, the Minister misinformed the House of Commons. He said that plants that make ready-to-eat meat exclusively for consumption by Canadians consumers is inspected on the same frequency as plants that produce for the US market.

“The inspection rate for domestic consumption, as well as for international trade, is exactly the same. It works on a 12-hour cycle,” Mr. Ritz said.

In fact, the CFIA practices two separate inspection frequencies for plants that produce ready-to-eat meat products:

 Plants that ship to the US are subject to a “daily inspection presence” requirement. This is a standard set by the

          USDA which defines daily presence as once every 12 hours of production. Until recently, the CFIA required

          a meat inspector to visit a meat processing facility licenced for export to the US once a day. In November

          last year, the CFIA moved to close this standards gap after the USDA objected.

 Plants that produce only for domestic consumption are normally subject to an inspector’s presence only once a

          week. This frequency of inspection for plants producing only for the Canadian market has not changed even

          since CFIA began inspecting to the USDA’s 12 hour requirement in November 2009.

Today’s appearance before the Agriculture Committee will also be an opportunity for the Minister to explain:

 Why the CFIA has failed to complete an audit of the controversial new meat inspection system called the

         Compliance Verification System or CVS eight months after Sheila Weatherill found the CVS was

         “implemented without a detailed assessment of the resources available to take on these new (CVS) tasks”.

         Minister Ritz promised this review would be done months ago.

 Why nothing changed when it comes to the number of ready-to-eat meat processing plants inspectors are

          responsible for. Pre-Maple Leaf, each inspector was responsible for an average of 4 – 5 plants. The ratio

          remains the same today even though it means that the food inspection system is stretched so thin that

          inspectors don’t have enough time to do their jobs properly.

 Why no additional food inspectors have been added to the CFIA front lines almost two years after the Maple

          Leaf outbreak and 8 months after the Weatherill report.

In response to the inspection deficit, the federal government has given more responsibility to the food industry to police its own safety practices with less direct supervision from government inspectors. The government’s approach may be changing, however.

Yesterday, Transport Minister John Baird said: "it’s simply wrong for industry to regulate itself.”

Does Minister Ritz agree with his colleague?

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                               March 15, 2010

Canadian meat inspection inadequate: USDA

Minister Ritz has failed to deliver promised new investments for food safety

Ottawa – Canada has been quietly called out for inadequate inspection of meat processing plants by the US Food and Drug Administration which has demanded that Canada increase its inspection frequency in order to meet US safety standards and continue to have access to US markets, according to internal Canadian Food Inspection Agency documents.

The food inspectors union released the text of an internal staff memo today which discusses the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency’s approach to the additional USDA safety requirements.

According to the memo, “…the CFIA will be providing additional inspection coverage… to better meet the USDA’s technical requirements for products exported to the US.”

But because of a lack of resources, CFIA has been unable to hire new inspectors to comply with US safety requirements. At the moment, the CFIA is meeting the US regulator’s safety standards by scheduling overtime among the existing inspectorate, an approach that is not sustainable.

The CFIA memo says “the Agency will need to hire additional inspection staff” but notes that “the CFIA continues to explore funding options as we refine how we deliver these food safety enhancements. In the short term we will be looking to our current inspection staff to work hours in addition to their regularly scheduled shifts.”

“Unless the government makes new investments in food safety, the CFIA will face a choice: ignore the USDA’s demands and risk losing access to the US market for Canadian processed meat products, or elevate food contamination risks for Canadian consumers by diverting scarce resources away from other inspection programs,” said Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union – PSAC which represents federal food inspectors.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz promised an additional $75 million for food safety including 70 new meat inspectors in September 2009 in response to the Weatherill Report on the Maple Leaf Foods listeria outbreak. However, new inspector positions the CFIA may be creating have been more than offset by attrition.

“The lack of action in response to the Weatherill Report is bad enough. Now the government has side-swiped real improvements to food safety inspection with the spending cuts it imposed in the budget,” Kingston said.

The only new funding received by CFIA for food safety since Ms. Weatherill released her report is $11 million contained in the 2010/11 Main Estimates that were tabled in the House of Commons on March 3rd, an amount that won’t come close to delivering on the Minister’s promise or addressing the safety standards gap with the US.

Until recently, Canada required a meat inspector to visit a meat processing facility once every 16 hours of plant operation, while the US standard requires an inspector visit once every 12 hours.

According to the memo, “…the CFIA will be providing additional inspection coverage starting in early November (2009), initially on each 12 hour processing shift in certain establishments processing meat products. This will allow us to better meet the USDA’s technical requirements for products exported to the US.”

It is estimated that up to 50 additional meat inspectors are needed to meet the USDA requirements.

“Overtime dollars don’t grow on trees, especially at the CFIA. In order to comply with US requirements for a daily inspector presence in meat processing plants, CFIA will be forced to bleed inspection resources once intended to safeguard Canadian consumers since the government has not delivered on its promise of more food inspectors to date,” said Kingston.

The food inspectors union regards this as the latest example of chronic and critical under resourcing of food safety and inspection in Canada.

The full text of the CFIA staff memo follows:

Memo to Inspection Staff
November 6, 2009

As part of Canada’s continued efforts to enhance food safety, the CFIA will be providing additional inspectional coverage starting in early November, initially on each 12 hour processing shift in certain establishments processing meat products. This will allow us to better meet the USDA’s technical requirements for products exported to the US.

In order to carry out this initiative, the Agency will need to hire additional inspection staff. The CFIA continues to explore funding options as we refine how we deliver these food safety enhancements. In the short term, we will be looking to our current inspection staff to work hours in addition to their regularly scheduled shifts. As much as possible, overtime hours will be assigned on a voluntary basis beginning in early November.

We continue to discuss these plans with PSAC and the meat industry. We appreciate their cooperation in addressing this challenge.

Employees are encouraged to speak to their managers for more information on these new food safety enhancements and the requirement of overtime hours. A set of Qs and As has been drafted and are attached for your use.

Please share them with your staff as you see fit.

Thank you for your ongoing support.

Cameron Prince
Vice-President, Operations

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2009 News Releases

News releases issued by the Agriculture Union in 2009, beginning with the most recent, are listed below. Click on the title to read the entire text.

Canadians place food safety trust in government - Nanos poll

(May 20, 2009)

Rejection of legislation to gut the Canadian Grain Commission applauded

(April 2, 2009)

Attack on grain farmers renewed

(February 24, 2009)

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                               May 20, 2009

Canadians place food safety trust in government

- Nanos poll

(N.B. Poll results are after the news release)

Ottawa – The vast majority of Canadians want government to step in and play a much more active role to ensure food safety because they don’t trust industry to do the job, according to a new Nanos survey.

Seven in ten Canadians believe Ottawa should invest more resources and be more hands-on in policing the safety of food, while only one in five believe the government should rely more on the food industry to police its own safety processes.

The survey also found that only four per cent of Canadians have a high level of trust in food companies to assess themselves when it comes to compliance with safety rules.

“Public opinion is far ahead of Ottawa’s current approach to inspecting food companies for compliance with safety rules. Currently, there simply are not enough inspectors to verify that processed meat producers are following the safety rules and that’s not good enough for Canadians,” said Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union – PSAC, which commissioned the poll.

On Monday, May 25 at 4 pm, Bob Kingston will be testifying before the parliamentary committee investigating the listeriosis outbreak.

The survey found that 64 per cent of Canadians either blame the government for turning over critical inspection duties to industry or business for cutting food safety corners to save money. Only 27 per cent subscribe to the view that the outbreak was simply an unfortunate and unavoidable accident.

“Canadians reject industry and government’s explanation that an unforeseen and unavoidable risk led to last summer’s food poisoning outbreak that left 22 people dead. This was a failure of the inspection system, in spite of what business and government decision-makers would like us to believe, and Canadians want it fixed,” Kingston said.

Some MPs on the parliamentary committee investigating the listeriosis outbreak and food safety have been troubled that government officials, including Minister Ritz and Canadian Food Inspection Agency President Carole Swann, have refused to accept ultimate responsibility for what happened last summer.

On the question of who should be responsible, Canadians are very clear: 73 per cent think the government should take the lead role in ensuring food safety standards are met, while only 18 per cent think food business can ensure food safety standards are met for the foods they produce.

Nanos Research conducted a random telephone survey of 1,001 Canadians, 18 years-of-age and over, from April 25th to May 3rd to produce these data. A sample of this size produces a margin of accuracy of plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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POLL QUESTIONS

Q1. Which group do you trust most to ensure that the food consumed by Canadians is safe: [Rotate] Government food inspectors and scientists, food company employees, grocery store employees?

Government food inspectors and scientists                                                                72.4%

Food company employees                                                                                            13.7%

Grocery store employees                                                                                                 5.9%

Unsure                                                                                                                                7.9%

Q2. Do you think that [ROTATE] the government should rely more on the food industry to police its own safety processes or that the federal government should invest more resources and be more hands on in policing the safety of food?

The government should rely more on the food industry to police its own safety processes                     21.9%

The federal government should invest more resources and be more hands-on                                        70.5%

in policing the safety of food

Unsure                                                                                                                                                                  7.5%

Q3. On a scale of 1 to 5 -- where 1 is not at all trust and 5 is very much trust -- how much trust would you place in unverified safety compliance assessment reports food companies conduct themselves and provide to government?

Not at all trust               2               3                4                  Very much trust                  Don’t know

        23.0%                27.3%        33.0%       8.4%                        4.0%                             4.3%

Q4. Some people think that [ROTATE] food businesses can ensure food safety standards are met for the foods they produce, others think that the government should take the lead role in ensuring food safety standards are met. Which of these views best reflects your personal view?

Food businesses can ensure food safety standards are met for the foods they produce                         18.0%

The government should take the lead role in ensuring food safety standards are met                               72.7%

Unsure                                                                                                                                                                    9.4%

Q5. As you may know, and outbreak of listeriosis last summer killed 22 people and left many others ill. Which of the following do you think best describes why these incidents occurred?

They are simply unfortunate and unavoidable accidents                                                                               27.3%

Businesses cut food safety corners to save money                                                                                       37.9%

The government turned over critical inspection duties to industry                                                                25.7%

Unsure                                                                                                                                                                  9.1%

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                        April 2, 2009

Rejection of legislation to gut the Canadian Grain Commission applauded

Ottawa – Canada’s grain inspectors and their union applaud the move today by the opposition parties in the House of Commons to reject Bill C-13, an act that would gut the Canadian Grain Commission and undermine the interests of farmers.

“The government has known since last year that this bill was fatally flawed so it should come as no surprise that the opposition pushed today to remove it from the agenda of the House of Commons,” says Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union – PSAC which represents grain inspectors.

Instead of helping Canada’s grain producers in these troubled economic times, the amendments to the Canada Grain Act in Bill C-13 would:

          • Shift the purpose of the Grain Act away from protecting producer interests;
          • Expose producers to financial harm by eliminating the requirement for grain buyers to post security bonds;           • Dismantle the Grain Appeals Tribunal which protects producers from unscrupulous behaviour on the part

                 of grain companies; and
          • Eliminate Commission inspection services that independently determine the quality and quantity of grain

                  grown by individual farmers and introduce new safety concerns.

“Today’s development will give the government an opportunity to do the homework and make improvements to this bill that so many have called for. We welcome this development and urge the government to go back to the drawing board,” Kingston said.

“These changes will hurt grain producers just like the Conservative’s effort to strip farmer control of the Canadian Wheat Board which has been vigorously opposed by grain farmers,” Kingston concluded.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                           February 24, 2009

Attack on grain farmers renewed

Ottawa – Amendments to the Canada Grain Act tabled in Parliament yesterday signal a renewal of the federal government’s attack on grain farmers, according to the Agriculture Union - PSAC.

Instead of helping Canada’s grain producers in these troubled economic times, the amendments to the Canada Grain Act in Bill C-13 would:

          • shift the purpose of the Grain Act away from protecting producer interests;

          • expose producers to financial harm by eliminating the requirement for grain buyers to post security bonds;

          • dismantle the Grain Appeals Tribunal that protects producers from unscrupulous behaviour on the part

                  of grain companies; and

          • eliminate Commission services that independently determine the quality and quantity of grain delivered,

                  returning producers to the position of not knowing if they are receiving fair payment.

“These changes will hurt grain producers just like the Conservative’s effort to strip farmer control of the Canadian Wheat Board. They also threaten the quality advantage Canadian producers enjoy over competitors,” says Agriculture Union President Bob Kingston.

Bill C-13 which was introduced today replicates the changes to the Canada Grain Act which were scorned by the opposition parties during the last Parliament. Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs were united in panning the government’s proposal.

“Based on the reception this bill received during the last Parliament, I expect it will be amended by the opposition MPs on the Agriculture Committee in order to better reflect the interests of grain producers,” says Bob Kingston.

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2008 News Releases

News releases issued by the Agriculture Union in 2008, beginning with the most recent, are listed below. Click on the title to read the entire text.

Conservatives to kill meat inspection in Manitoba

(September 18, 2008)

Tainted food sparks national safety campaign

(September 12, 2008)

Minister Ritz misleads Canadians

(August 28, 2008)

Grain Commission funding cuts mean higher producer costs; Safety and quality threatened

(May 14, 2008)

Campaign launched against Conservative Bill that will cost Thunder Bay one hundred jobs

(March 26, 2008)

Community to call for action with one hundred Thunder Bay jobs on the line

(March 25, 2008)

New Grain Commission chief tells Parliament where to go!

(February 12, 2008)

Retract Grain Commission Gag Order

(February 6, 2008)

Withdraw Conservative bill that threatens Canadian grain producers and valuable exports

(February 1, 2008)

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                        September 18, 2008

Conservatives to kill meat inspection in Manitoba

Winnipeg – If elected, a federal Conservative government plans to stop delivering provincial meat inspection programs in Manitoba leaving local consumers exposed to the risk of unsafe meat.

The plan is revealed in a secret Treasury Board of Canada decision record, dated May 6, 2008, documenting the acceptance of a proposal concerning "Provincial Meat Slaughter Establishments (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia)" which calls for the "elimination of federal delivery of provincial
meat inspection programs."

"Meat produced in provincially registered facilities in Manitoba would not be inspected by anyone under this plan," says Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union - Public Service Alliance of Canada, which has launched www.foodsafetyfirst.ca, a tool for voters to email their local candidates during the federal election to urge them to make a commitment to food safety. The campaign is being organized jointly with the Professional Institute of the Public Service Canada.

The Treasury Board decision record says that following approval of a detailed implementation plan, "including risk mitigation and communications strategies," the cuts will come into force.

In Manitoba, the federal government delivers provincial meat inspection programs ensuring provincially registered slaughter facilities meet sanitation and other safety regulations. There are more than 30 provincially-registered meat establishments in Manitoba that produce everything from beef to bison, ostrich to turkey and whose products cannot be shipped outside the province.

"As we've seen during recent weeks, the federal government should be increasing food inspection, not cutting it," Kingston says. The government of Stephen Harper has steadily cut funding for food safety programs and shifted responsibility for safety assurance to the food companies themselves.

According to current Treasury Board of Canada forecasts, funding for food safety programs will have declined by almost 30% from $359 million in 2006/07 to $254 million in 2010/11 under Mr. Harper's watch.

Meanwhile, the government plans to expand industry self-policing of safety. The same Treasury Board record also reveals plans to: "shift from full-time Canadian Food Inspection Agency meat inspection presence to an
oversight role, allowing industry to implement food safety control programs and to manage key risks."

The Food Safety First campaign is urging federal candidates to endorse a
four-point commitment to food safety:

          • Hire 1000 additional inspectors and veterinarians to improve industry compliance with safety regulations.
          • Place a moratorium on industry self-policing.
          • Remove obstacles that prevent CFIA inspectors and vets from taking immediate action when they

                 encounter potential public health risks in the plants they inspect.
          • Restore the system of public audit reports which were cancelled under pressure from the meat industry.

"Voters can visit www.foodsafetyfirst.ca to send a message asking their candidates to make a commitment to food safety. When the candidates are asking voters for their support, there's no better time to ask the candidates to make this commitment," Kingston said.

The Agriculture Union - PSAC represents federal food inspectors and its President Bob Kingston is an Inspection Supervisor on leave from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Before going on a leave of absence to serve as an elected union officer, Kingston spent 25 years as a CFIA and Agriculture Canada inspector, including 15 years as a multi-commodity supervisor, a senior level inspector position.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                           September 12, 2008

Tainted food sparks national safety campaign

Toronto – Federal candidates across the country are being asked to make a Commitment to Food Safety as part of a national campaign launched in Toronto this morning.

“The outbreaks of listeriosis due to tainted food products have shaken the country's confidence in our food protection system. The system is broken and needs fixing,” says Patricia Ducharme, Executive Vice-President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The campaign features a website – www.foodsafetyfirst.ca – which allows visitors to send a message to ask local candidates to take make a Commitment to Food Safety, a four-point action plan to fix the system. Radio, print and online ads will be used during the federal election to spread the word about the campaign, as will events across the country.

“Our unions are launching this campaign now, because of the urgent need for action and political commitment on the issue of food safety before more Canadians lives are put at risk,” says Michèle Demers, President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

The government of Stephen Harper has steadily cut funding for food safety programs and shifted responsibility for safety assurance to the food companies themselves.

According to current Treasury Board of Canada forecasts, funding for food safety programs will have declined by almost 30 per cent from $359-million in 2006/07 to $254-million in 2010-2011 under Mr. Harper's watch.
Meanwhile, the government plans to expand industry self-policing of safety. A secret government document brought to light by a CFIA employee who was subsequently fired reveals plans to “shift from full-time Canadian Food Inspection Agency meat inspection presence to an oversight role, allowing industry to implement food safety control programs and to manage key risks” and “eliminate federal delivery of provincial meat inspection programs” in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

“There are too few inspectors who spend too much time reviewing company-generated reports in a system that relies too much on the food industry to police itself when it comes to safety," says Agriculture Union President Bob Kingston, a food inspection supervisor on leave from the CFIA.

The campaign aims to drum up support among candidates and the federal parties for the following policies to improve food safety in Canada:

• Hire 1,000 additional inspectors and veterinarians to improve compliance:

There are almost 800 federally regulated meat processing facilities scattered across Canada, many processing thousands of animals everyday. There are also thousands of cheese, produce and other food production facilities, as well as delis and other retail outlets, all of which are potential sources for deadly food-borne bacteria. This territory is far too vast for the 1,100 fully-qualified process food inspectors and 230 meat hygiene veterinarians currently on staff. While the problem of food-borne illness is complex, one dimension of the problem is clear: our food inspectors are too few and spread too thinly.

For example, the inspector responsible for the Maple Leaf plant which was the source of tainted meat in the latest food-borne bacterial outbreak also is responsible for six other facilities. In order to ensure companies follow food safety regulations we simply need more inspectors.

Place an immediate moratorium on industry self-policing policies:

Under changes introduced on March 31st this year, including at Maple Leaf Foods in Toronto, meat inspectors are now directly supervising from the plant floor only 25 per cent of the time. The rest of the time, federal meat inspectors review company-generated reports. This reality falls far short of the target for inspectors to spend half their time inspecting hands-on under the new ‘Compliance Verification System’.

Beyond meat processing, industry self-policing has been extended to poultry; monitoring the health of birds was transferred from inspectors to the private sector in the fall of 2007.

Plans the Conservative government has approved but not entirely implemented will give industry more self-policing powers when it comes to safety. The Compliance Verification System, the Poultry Rejection Program and future self-policing plans should be put on hold.

Remove obstacles preventing CFIA inspectors and veterinarians from taking immediate action:

CFIA inspectors are discouraged from taking immediate action when serious health problems arise. Instead, they are strongly encouraged to give the offending company a ‘Corrective Action Request’ which states the nature of the problem and gives the company up to 60 days to address it. The theory of immediate action of the part of inspectors becomes more remote because under the ‘Compliance Verification System’ inspectors spend 75 per cent of their time at the plant reviewing company-generated reports, instead of inspecting facilities.

This approach is part and parcel of the move toward industry self-policing when it comes to safety.

Restore the system of public audit reports which were cancelled under pressure from the meat industry:

For 20 years, government inspectors reported and ranked the meat processing facilities they inspected. Under pressure from an industry lobby group called the Canadian Meat Council which complained about the bad press these reports created when obtained by reporters, the federal government cancelled the practice soon after Stephen Harper took office. Canadians need to know which companies are meeting safety standards and which companies are not and the public audit system should be restored.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                  August 28, 2008

Minister Ritz misleads Canadians

Ottawa – Assurances by Minister Ritz that Canada’s food processing industry is adequately supervised by government inspectors are misleading and dishonest, says Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union – PSAC.

Processed meats sold in Canada do not require the same level of hands-on oversight by government inspectors as products for export to the US market.

“Assurances by the Minister and CFIA officials that inspectors’ daily presence and direct oversight of product sampling are required do not apply to processed meats sold in Canada. These higher standards are required for processing plants to have access to US consumers,” said Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union – PSAC, which represents the inspectors.

There is no requirement for daily presence of inspectors in plants that do not export, so Canadians do not enjoy these more stringent standards and inspection procedures.

“Yesterday, the Minister made all kinds of sweeping claims about the safeguards that are in place when it comes to processed meats. He neglected to add that all these safeguards are not available to Canadian consumers. In terms of food safety, it would seem that Canadians are second class citizens as far as CFIA requirements are concerned,” Kingston said.

Kingston, an Inspection Supervisor on leave from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, dismissed the Minister’s assertion yesterday that inspectors spend half of their working day ‘on the floor of the plant’ as pure fiction.

“The inspector responsible for the Maple Leaf plant is responsible for a total of seven food processing and cold storage facilities, one of which requires his presence several hours a day,” Kingston said. “Inspectors cannot be ‘in place on a daily basis at federally regulated meat establishments’ as claimed yesterday by CFIA officials – there simply are not enough hours in the day,” Kingston said.

“Minister Ritz should come clean and stop misleading Canadians on such a critically important issue as food safety, especially in the tragic circumstances we are in,” Kingston said.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                      May 14, 2008

Grain Commission funding cuts mean higher producer costs: Safety and quality threatened

Ottawa – Conservative government plans to drastically reduce Canadian Grain Commission spending will hurt grain producers and Canada's international reputation for quality, according to three former senior officials of the federal agency and the Agriculture Union which represents employees of the CGC.

A new government spending forecast released this morning comes to light a day before Agriculture Minister Ritz is scheduled to testify on his department's spending before the Commons Agriculture Committee.

A spending forecast published by the federal government shows Grain Commission producer protection programs will be slashed by 67% while grain quality programs will be reduced by almost half and research programs will be cut by 60%.

“As Ottawa's contribution goes down, producer costs will rise,” said Albert Schatzke, a former Commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission.

The spending forecast is in line with a Conservative government legislative proposal – Bill C-39 – which would gut the Grain Commission's inspection, weighing and independent oversight that ensures producers are treated fairly.

The Canadian Grain Commission protects producers by ensuring their grain shipments are accurately weighed and graded so growers are properly paid. The Commission's independent arbitration process levels the playing field between individual producers and the powerful grain companies they must deal with when disputes arise.

“These cuts will undermine grain producers in their dealings with grain companies, which have never been more powerful. Canada's reputation for top quality grain will be hurt too. You can't protect producers and make these cuts at the same time,” said Bob Douglas.

These Commission activities would be eliminated by Bill C-39, against the unanimous advice of the all-party Commons Agriculture Committee which recently completed a study on the future of the Grain Commission.

Product safety is another important role of the Canadian Grain Commission.

Inward inspections conducted by the CGC before grain gets into the terminal elevator system identify dangerous contaminants like mercury and fungi such as ergot and fusarium -- bio hazards that are extremely dangerous to human health. Inward inspections also offer early warning alerts of the presence of glass, metal shavings, rocks and other safety hazards in grain shipments arriving at terminal elevators, as well as bug infestations. C-39 would kill inward inspection services by the Grain Commission.

“At a time when food safety is a top priority for Canadians, Bill C-39 is undermining the safety of Canadian grain products,” said Donna Welke.

“The Agriculture Union calls on the Government to withdraw this flawed legislation. Minister Ritz should also instruct the Canadian Grain Commission to, at the very least, maintain the level of service it now provides to producers,” concluded Bob Kingston, Executive Vice-President of the Agriculture Union (PSAC).

Albert Schatzke was Commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission (1997-2006); Donna Welke is the former Assistant Commissioner from Saskatchewan (1994 - 2006), Bob Douglas is the former Assistant Commissioner from Manitoba (2000 – 2006).

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                   March 25, 2008

Campaign launched against Conservative Bill that will cost Thunder Bay one hundred jobs

Thunder Bay - Local Canadian Grain Commission workers and their supporters are launching a campaign to stop legislation that will gut the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) and cost the Thunder Bay area one hundred jobs.

The campaign is aimed principally at local Conservative MP, Joe Comuzzi, who has been silent on the issue in spite of repeated invitations to join with others to stand up for our community.

At issue is the elimination of inspection and weighing services and regulatory oversight of grain shipments proposed in Bill C-39 which is currently before the House of Commons. If Bill C-39 becomes law, Thunder Bay will take a significant economic hit and grain producers, consumers and the grain sector as a whole will face a serious threat.

The end to “inward” inspection and weighing and the elimination of the CGC’s bonding program will put producers at a disadvantage when dealing with grain companies. Grain Commission inspection also serves to grade grains and identify and eliminate dangerous contaminants or bio hazards from the supply. Without these inspections both human health and Canada’s international reputation as a high quality producer will be at risk.

Despite repeated requests, workers whose jobs are in jeopardy have yet to meet with local Conservative Member of Parliament Joe Comuzzi. In a letter to Comuzzi on March 3rd, Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) regional representative Judith Monteith – Farrell wrote, “As you know, these changes will result in the loss of 90 to 100 high paying jobs in Thunder Bay. The negative impact of this loss will ripple through our local economy with serious consequences. I am taking the unusual step of hand-delivering this letter to your constituency office out of a sense of frustration. ”

In a subsequent meeting with Mr. Comuzzi’s assistant, the workers were told that their Member of Parliament would not be available for at least another two and one half weeks.

“If the loss of one hundred jobs and a direct threat to the grains trade which represents three quarters of the total shipments through the Port of Thunder Bay doesn’t qualify for the attention of a local MP, I can’t imagine what would,” said Don Beese, President of local 30 of the Agriculture Union - PSAC.

“The Union is asking the people of Thunder Bay to join us in demanding that Mr. Comuzzi stand up to his own government’s attempt to gut the Canadian Grain Commission,” added Beese.

A campaign website launched today at grainaction.ca will direct messages from the public to Mr. Comuzzi and the Conservative Government.

Bill C-39 will also deal a major blow to the Canadian grain economy as a whole. Experts expect that if C-39 becomes law it will undermine the Canadian Wheat Board and help to shift the flow of grain away from east-west, with Thunder Bay and its port in a key role, to a north-south trade pattern.

When it introduced Bill C-39, the Conservative Government ignored the unanimous advice of an all-party House of Commons Committee which called for further analysis and study before proceeding with any changes to the Canadian Grain Commission.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                   March 25, 2008

Community to call for action with one hundred Thunder Bay jobs on the line

Thunder Bay - Representatives of the one hundred Thunder Bay area Canadian Grain Commission employees who stand to lose their jobs if new federal legislation is enacted will be joined by political and community representatives to launch a campaign to stand up for Thunder Bay.

           When: Wednesday, March 26th at 9.30 AM
           Where: PSAC office, Suite 109, 1205 Amber Drive

Legislation currently before parliament Bill C-39 will cripple the Canadian Grain Commission by eliminating “inward” weighing and inspection and other services in Thunder Bay and communities across Canada.

Bill C-39 poses a triple threat to Canada’s important grain sector. Reduced services and bonding will hit grain producers hard; a dramatic reduction in grain inspection will increase the risk of contaminants or bio hazards and will undermine Canada’s international reputation as a quality producer.

The Conservative Government introduced Bill C-39 despite the unanimous advice of an all-party House of Commons Committee which called for further analysis and study before proceeding with any changes to the Canadian Grain Commission.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                              February 12, 2008

New Grain Commission chief tells Parliament where to go!

Ottawa – Former Reform MP Elwin Hermanson who was appointed chief commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission only weeks ago is advocating in favour of a controversial bill that has never been endorsed by Parliament.

Hermanson authored a strongly worded opinion article in favour of amendments to the Canada Grain Act in Bill C-39 which was published in the February 7th edition of The Western Producer. Mr. Hermanson declares in his opinion article: “As chief commissioner of the CGC, I strongly support this legislation… .”

The bill would gut or kill several services and regulatory oversight activities of the Canadian Grain Commission, leaving producers newly disadvantaged in their dealings with grain companies and undermining the quality and food safety assurance programs Canada’s international reputation for excellence are built upon.

C-39 has not cleared second reading debate in the Commons and many MPs report having serious reservations about it.

“Normally, senior public servants implement legislation or policy rather than telling Parliament what the law should be,” said Bob Kingston, Executive Vice-President of the Agriculture Union – PSAC, which represents most people who work at the Commission.

Kingston added: “Mr. Hermanson has set a new low for double standards given that the Commission recently threatened employees with disciplinary action if they criticize the government over the bill he is promoting.”

On December 21st, the Canadian Grain Commission issued a memo to employees forbidding them to publicly criticize Bill C-39, the government’s proposal to cripple the Commission. The memo from Diane Shapiro, Director of Human Resources threatens Canadian Grain Commission employees with possible disciplinary action if they criticize the government.

Mr. Hermanson’s 5 year patronage appointment to head the Canadian Grain Commission is effective January 21st. Hermanson was a Reform Party MP from 1993 to 1997 and leader of the conservative Saskatchewan Party from 1998 to 2004. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has close political ties to Mr. Hermanson, serving as his campaign manager during the 1993 election and constituency assistant thereafter.

“It seems clear Mr. Hermanson has his own agenda and it may well be different than Parliament’s,” Kingston said.

The Agriculture Union – PSAC represents 9500 people who work at Agriculture Canada, the Canadian Grain Commission, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and other workplaces.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                February 6, 2008

Retract Grain Commission Gag Order

Ottawa – Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz should retract a gag order which threatens Canadian Grain Commission employees who speak out against his government’s legislative proposal to gut the Commission, according to the Agriculture Union – PSAC which represents the employees.

On December 21st, the Canadian Grain Commission issued a memo to employees forbidding them to publicly criticize Bill C-39, the government’s proposal to cripple the Commission.

“We hope the Minister will disassociate himself from the Commission’s intimidation and assure employees they are free to express their opinion,” said Bob Kingston, National Vice-President of the Agriculture Union – PSAC.

The memo from Diane Shapiro, Director of Human Resources threatens Canadian Grain Commission employees with possible disciplinary action if they criticize the government.

“With the government’s recent track record of firing and silencing its critics, we are concerned that our members will feel threatened in the extreme by this gag order. We urge the Minister to direct the Commission to retract this effort to silence Commission employees,” Kingston said.

The full text of the Canadian Grain Commission’s gag order follows:

Question:

As a CGC employee what can I tell my MP about my response to C-39?

Answer:

You are free to convey your views to your Member of Parliament, so long as you do not publicly criticize the Government of Canada or otherwise bring into question your ability to perform your employment duties and carry out government policy and programs in an impartial manner.

Question:

As a CGC employee can I become involved in public campaigns to amend C-39, such as letters to the editor or other letter writing campaigns?

Answer:

The Supreme Court of Canada has acknowledged that while public servants have constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression, this freedom has limits. The Supreme Court and other courts have identified that a public servant has a legal duty of loyalty to the employer, and must not engage in public criticism of the employer where that criticism could create an impression that the employee may not be able to perform their duties, and carry out government policy and programs, in an impartial manner.

For example, if you identify yourself as a CGC employee in a letter to the editor that criticizes government policy relating to the CGC, you could create a perception that your views of government policy are not impartial and that you may not be able to follow or apply government policy in an impartial manner.

We would like to remind you that inappropriate behaviour by employees on web sites, blogs, and public fora (newspapers and meetings etc.) could result in administrative and/or disciplinary action.

The Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service <http://www.psagency-agencefp.gc.ca/veo-bve/vec-cve/vec-cve_e.asp> sets out the standard of behaviour expected of CGC employees. We count on each of you to refer to these codes to assist you in making ethical decisions. We encourage you to consult your manager should you need further clarification and guidance.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                February 1, 2008

Withdraw Conservative bill that threatens Canadian grain producers and valuable exports

Ottawa – The federal government should withdraw amendments to the Grain Act in Bill C-39 because it will hurt grain producers and it ignores the unanimous advice from an all-party Commons committee, according to the Agriculture Union-PSAC.

The Conservative government’s proposed legislation will gut the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC), the independent body that provides essential services to grain producers. Bill C-39 will be debated for the first time in Parliament today.

The legislation ignores the recommendation of an all–party committee by immediately and aggressively cutting the CGC’s regulatory responsibilities and services. After extensive study, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture recommended that the Commission receive increased funding to ensure that the essential services it offers to grain producers can be sustained.

“Instead of heeding the advice of politicians from all parties, the Conservative government is putting the future of farmers and of all Canadians who benefit from the grain trade at risk. This bill should be withdrawn and fixed before it is debated in Parliament,” said Bob Kingston, Executive Vice President of Agricultural Union - PSAC.

Bill C-39 will eliminate mandatory weighing and inspection by the Grain Commission which ensures that grains of different quality can be segregated, to protect higher grades from being diluted by lower quality grain. Farmers of high quality product stand to lose the premium paid by international buyers and Canada’s reputation as a producer of highest quality grain will be threatened.

Once this “quality incentive” to ship Canadian grain separate from American grain is lost, Canadian grain will be shipped overland, mixed with the lower quality American product and shipped through US ports threatening the Canadian transportation network, ports and other sectors that thrive on grain exports.

C-39 also ends the Commission’s key role in determining payments to farmers and protecting them from financial harm in the event of grain buyer bankruptcy or refusal to pay.

“This government appears to be willing to put one of our country’s most important export sectors at risk” said Patty Ducharme, Executive Vice-President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. “While we are concerned about the impact on our members who provide important services at the Canadian Grain Commission – more than 200 stand to lose their jobs, the long term damage C-39 will do to grain producers and Canada’s international reputation is a far greater threat to the future of our members and all Canadians.”

The Agriculture Union is over 9,000 members from coast-to-coast-to coast who share one common goal: to serve and protect the public interest. The Union represents most of the people who work at the Canadian Grain Commission. Our members are front-line defenders of public health, supporters of sustainable agriculture and guardians of a secure food chain.

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