FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
29 March 2020
Ottawa – Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is wrong to assert that the Harmony meat plant was shut down because federal inspectors refuse to work there. There have been no work refusals by federal food inspectors in Alberta to date. The Premier is also irresponsible to suggest provincial meat inspectors should step in to a plant operating in a potentially unsafe manner, a move that could contribute to the spread of COVID-19, according to the union representing inspectors who work for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Production at the Harmony Beef plant was halted Friday, March 27, after one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19. The plant could start up again on Monday if management comes up with a plan that would allow it to operate safely with the proper social distancing and other measures designed to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.
“Without a plan to operate safely, Kenney’s cavalier approach would only risk infecting more people. Contrary to what Mr. Kenney may believe, CFIA inspectors are not equipped with hazmat suits. In fact, our inspectors have been working without masks and have been struggling even to get hand sanitizer in some spots,” said Fabian Murphy, President of the Agriculture Union.
Inspector shortage denied by CFIA
Until recently, the CFIA has denied the existence of a shortage of frontline inspectors. Only recently has the shortage been acknowledged by the federal Minister of Agriculture, Marie-Claude Bibeau. The Agriculture Union’s own research shows most CFIA programs are run with bare minimum number of employees.
“CFIA management has routinely denied there is a shortage of federal inspectors, even in the face of evidence we have put before them including surveys of their inspector staff we have conducted,” Murphy said.
A survey of frontline inspectors conducted in 2016 found more than half (55%) of respondents describe the current complement of inspection staff in their immediate work group as “inadequate to complete all tasks needed to ensure compliance with food safety requirements”. At the time, CFIA characterized this finding as an “overstatement”
The survey found the shortage is most acute in meat plants where seven-in-ten (71%) inspectors in process meat plants and 60% in slaughter facilities report staffing levels in their immediate work team that are inadequate to ensure safety compliance.
“Neglect of this shortage is now coming home to roost and should be addressed on an emergency basis,” Murphy said.
For information: Jim Thompson firstname.lastname@example.org 613-447-9592