Responding to the CFIA’s latest economic plan, which said food safety inspection budgets would be slashed by $21.5m in 2013/14, national president of the Agriculture Union Bob Kingston warned the cuts posed a risk to human health and a potential threat to industry.
In an open letter to food industry leaders, he said: “In our opinion, these plans will cripple the food safety and inspection program at CFIA and introduce new doubt among Canadian consumers that processed meat and other food products are as safe as they should be.
“Further, these cuts will raise red flags among US safety regulators, who require the higher frequency of inspection for Canadian meat products to be eligible for importation to US consumers.”
Canada scaled up its meat inspections and food safety precautions in the wake of a listeriosis outbreak at Maple Leaf Foods in 2008, which left 23 dead. However, in its report on plans and priorities for the next three years, the CFIA said: “Resources will sunset for listeriosis, and for the increased frequency of food inspection in meat processing establishments.”
The report forecast an overall reduction in CFIA budgets of CAD$21.5m in 2013-14 compared to 2011-12, alongside a staff reduction of 234. CFIA’s Food Safety Programme will bear the brunt of the cuts, with a CAD$21.5m cut to funding and 207 staff cuts.
“Cuts of this magnitude would leave the food safety program reeling and severely diminish an inspector’s ability to complete assignments – and that means risk of another major food-borne illness outbreak will be elevated,” said Kingston.
The Agriculture Union is now launching a campaign to encourage major players in Canada’s food industry to oppose the cuts, starting with Maple Leaf Foods, which Kingston said was “symbolic of a failed food system”. In addition to its own letter to industry heads, the union has called on consumers to put pressure on food companies by sending a message via its website – www.foodsafetyfirst.ca.
The Canadian government published its final report on the 2008 listeria outbreak last month, in which it outlined what actions had been taken in the wake of the outbreak. These included an additional CAD$13m assigned to the CFIA’s annual budget in 2010 and 2011 to fund increased inspection capacity for meat and poultry processing facilities and the hiring of 170 additional full-time inspectors to improve presence in meat plants.
“Food safety is a priority for this government,” said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. “We continue to work with consumers, producers, industry and our provincial and territorial partners to ensure that our food safety system remains one of the best in the world.”