The new Trudeau government is coming under pressure from south of the border to make good on its election promise to reverse Conservative cuts to Canada’s food inspection program.
The U.S. Agriculture Department has identified significant food safety and sanitation concerns as the result of its own 2014 audit of Ontario and Quebec exporting slaughter and processing plants.
While the Americans found the Canadian Food Inspection Agency met their ‘core criteria’ for overall food inspection, a final report submitted to the Agency on January 14 uncovered ‘operation weaknesses’ related to government oversight, plant sanitation and microbiological testing for listeria, salmonella and E. coli.
The CFIA has until mid-March to satisfy the U.S. Department that the issues have been addressed.
The Agency’s response to the U.S. report was all too typical, claiming that consumer health was not endangered and that it was working on fixing the identified problems. Yet, shockingly, a senior CFIA manager earlier tried to talk the Americans into changing their minds and instead give the Agency a higher and less controversial ‘average’ finding.
Bob Kingston, Agriculture Union National President, said the American audit points to a heightened need for the Liberal government to act quickly before another food safety crisis impacts both domestic consumer confidence and foreign export markets.
“It’s like getting a D grade in university. You pass, but it’s nothing to write home about. These are the reasons why we are saying experienced inspectors belong on plant floors. While the Americans seem to think this important that we do this, I have no knowledge that CFIA is doing so. Our inspectors are too busy examining carcasses on the assembly line to properly monitor for poor sanitation and hygiene, which is left to plant employees.”
Among its findings, the American audit noted:
- sanitation issues such as open ceilings, leaking condensate and rust that could contaminate food;
- that CFIA does not conduct ongoing environmental sampling and testing in food-production plants for Listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria that contaminated cold cuts produced by Maple Leaf Foods in 2008 that resulted in the death of 22 Canadians.
- that plant inspectors are not checking for the presence of manure, ingesta or milk contamination on carcasses prior to the final wash, and
- food-plant employees test the surfaces where ready-to-eat meat and poultry is packaged but do not collect samples or test for the presence of listeria on non-food contact surfaces.