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.