Canadians count on the government to make sure the food we eat is safe, yet when it comes to the inspection system, MP Richard Harris and the Conservative government refuse to own up to their own mistakes.
An independent review of last year’s XL Foods E. coli outbreak, which led to the largest beef recall in Canadian history, found that the outbreak was entirely preventable.
It found that there was not “a strong food safety culture” in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency at all levels. Staff were inadequately trained and inspection practices weren’t good enough.
Our government failed.
Many of these problems would have been fixed if the Conservatives had followed through on their commitment to implement the recommendations of the Weatherill Report on the listeriosis contamination at Maple Leaf Foods in 2008, a serious shortcoming they refuse to admit.
The Conservatives claim they have been “bolstering” our food inspection system and that they have “added 20 per cent to the personnel.”
In fact, documents reveal they plan to cut hundreds of food safety and inspection staff at CFIA, which will reduce, not strengthen our food safety system.
They also failed to implement the final recommendation of the Weatherill Report, which called for an independent, comprehensive resource audit to ensure that the CFIA had the resources, human and otherwise to carry out its mandate.
Even the former President of the CFIA, Carole Swan, said that what they did do was not the audit the Weatherill report called for. That could have prevented many of the problems.
This slapdash approach allowed problems at XL Foods to go unchecked for years, allowing the E. coli contamination that caused 18 Canadians to get sick, cost $16-27 million to the beef industry and undermined consumer confidence in our food safety system.
Will Mr. Harris and the Conservatives actually implement the recommended changes to food inspection to prevent a third major food crisis on their watch?
Don’t hold your breath — when I asked in question period, they refused to commit to an implementation date.
Frank Valeriote, MP
Liberal Party of Canada