Bar-b-quers beware

For immediate release

Toronto – Every meat slaughter inspection group in Toronto and throughout Ontario is working short-handed, often operating below staffing levels required to ensure meat packing houses are following all safety requirements.

“There is a critical shortage of meat inspectors in Toronto and in other parts of the country as well. This means that corners are being cut when it comes to safety. Summer bar-b-quers should be aware and concerned, ” said Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union that represents federal food inspectors.

This high-risk situation was revealed in a staffing survey released in Toronto this morning by the federal food inspectors’ union that examined the number of meat inspectors typically available to oversee the operations of slaughter facilities in Toronto and southern Ontario.

The survey found Toronto area inspection teams frequently operate with only two-thirds of the required number of slaughter inspectors. Central and South Western Ontario regions are also operating with fewer than the number of inspectors needed to ensure compliance with safety requirements.

Slaughter inspector survey – Ontario
Region Required number of Inspectors Number of Inspectors typically on the job[1] % below minimum required
Toronto 20 12.25 39%
GTA West 30 21 30%
Central Ontario 28 22 21%
South West Ontario 10 8.8 12%

Through internal sources, the Union surveyed staffing levels at slaughter establishments throughout Ontario. Maple Lodge, the largest poultry slaughter facility in Canada, was included in the survey as were slaughter plants whose cut meat can be “needle tenderized”, a process that lead to the recent E. coli outbreak at XL Foods.

In large poultry factories, chicken carcasses can whiz by inspectors at the dizzying pace of 250 birds per minute per production line, a rate that far exceeds the safe pace set in the US (140 carcasses per minute) by the USDA. That’s almost 15,000 birds per hour inspectors are supposed to examine. Of these, only about 12 carcasses per hour are removed from the line for closer inspection.

“It is impossible to fully complete all the tasks that are essential to ensuring meat is safe. Typically, processes to ensure humane treatment of animals are neglected. There are simply not enough hours in the day,” said Rob MacDonald, the Agriculture Union’s Regional VP for Southern Ontario.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is in the process of downsizing its meat inspection staff and program after the Harper government cut its budget. The Agency plans to eliminate 273 positions as it grapples with a $35 million budget cut.

“In the rush to cut, appropriate assessment of the risk associated with their new program for inspecting slaughter houses has not been conducted but the changes have already been announced,” Kingston said.

In the meantime, the Agency is allowing the current slaughter inspectorate to atrophy, refusing to fill vacant positions and turning a blind eye when meat slaughter establishments operate with short-handed inspection teams.

“It’s a recipe for disaster. These are frighteningly similar to the circumstances that led to the Maple Leaf listeriosis outbreak that killed 22 unsuspecting people,” Kingston said.

CFIA’s food safety programs are short staffed across the country:

  • There is only one consumer protection inspector responsible for every restaurant and retail food outlet in the entire city of Toronto.
  • Meat inspectors working in meat processing plants throughout Alberta that produce the highest risk ready-to-eat products have been operating 33% below required minimum staffing levels for more than a year.
  • Inspection tasks in meat plants there have been reduced as a result and a two tier system has been introduced that inspects meat destined for dinner tables in Canada to a lower standard than meat produced for export. After Health Minister Rona Ambrose called the Union’s revelation “inaccurate and irresponsible” an internal CFIA document was leaked substantiating the Union announcement.
  • Meanwhile, the entire consumer protection unit in British Columbia has been disbanded.

The union is calling on the government to increase food safety inspection resources and place them where they are needed on the frontline to allow the CFIA to meet its inspection requirements.


For information:

Jim Thompson

[1] Includes a 25% leave factor to account for sick, long term, annual, maternity, paternity, training and other kinds of leave.