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.