Niagara Falls, ON– Two of the four major land crossings from the US into Canada in the Niagara Region are unattended by inspectors from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, leaving agricultural producers in the Niagara Region wide open to pests and diseases that could devastate the industry and threaten Canada’s bio-security.
In 2014, the Rainbow and Whirlpool bridges, which convey millions of private vehicles into Canada from the US, were unattended by CFIA. The two commercial land crossings into Canada at the Peace and the Queenston-Lewiston bridges saw federal inspectors present checking commercial vehicles for pests and other threats only one day out of 38 because they can’t afford to be there more often.
At a news conference this morning with NDP candidates Malcolm Allen (Niagara Centre), the Official Opposition critic for Agriculture and Agri-Food, and Carolynn Ioannoni (Niagara Falls), the unions representing food and plant inspectors and border guards released information obtained from front line inspectors that shows Canadian Food Inspection Agency border presence is woefully inadequate.
|Major Ontario Border Crossings
|Frequency of CFIA presence in 2014
|Niagara Region (commercial crossings only)
|1 in 38 days
|1 in 30 days
|1 in 60 days
At Port Metro Vancouver, the busiest seaport in all of Canada, CFIA inspectors will be on site for general import inspection twice in 2015. And at the busiest land crossing in the west, Pacific Highway, there will be no CFIA inspectors conducting import inspections on site at any time during the year.
“This is happening across the country, not only in Ontario. While we are not watching, serious pests and diseases are likely crossing the border, embedded in wooden packing materials or in the trunk of one of the millions of cars that freely enter into Canada every year without inspection. We have our guard down and there could be a disaster in the making right nowbecause it can take up to a decade for harmful pests and diseases to be noticed. By then, it’s too late to control them,” said Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union – PSAC.
For the CFIA, it’s all about a lack of resources. Since 2012, the federal government has cut the CFIA’s budget for plant protection by 14%.
Fruit growers and the economy in the Niagara region could face devastating consequences on a scale similar to the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive alien species that has cost the Canadian economy $500 million in damage since it became established or the Plum Pox Virus which is already hurting stone fruit producers in Canada.
NDP MP Malcolm Allen and candidate in Niagara Centre said: “Willful neglect on the part of the Harper government is placing an industry vital to our region at risk. An NDP government would not allow this. We have a plan to boost inspection and it can’t happen soon enough as far as I am concerned.”
In 2005, responsibility for border control of food products and agricultural pests and diseases was transferred from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to the Canadian Border Services Agency. But the CBSA has other priorities and defence of Canada’s border from threats to Canada’s biosecurity has fallen through the cracks as federal budget cuts have forced the CBSA to shed 1100 positions since the beginning of 2013.
A measure of this decline is the number of insect pest interceptions submitted to CFIA testing labs which have plummeted from almost 600 in 2005 to fewer than 60 in 2014. Testing for agricultural/forestry diseases are almost nil.
“The CBSA simply does not have the resources to protect Canada’s bio-security. Our members are directed to pursue other priorities at the border,” said Jean-Pierre Fortin, National President of the Customs and Immigration Union.
On paper, the CFIA and the CBSA co-operate to do some border inspections. But the Harper government’s first priority of a balanced budget and deep tax cuts means this effort is falling short. In spite of promises to conduct 100 joint “border blitzes” – the main import control tool used by the CFIA in conjunction with the Canadian Border Services Agency – they are on track to do only a fraction of this promised surveillance this year.
“Ottawa has a duty to protect Canadian farmers and our bio-security, a duty the Harper government is failing at miserably,” said Carolynn Ioannoni, NDP candidate for Niagara Falls.