Agriculture Union calls for swift implementation of House of Commons Agriculture Committee recommendations and call for inquiry into CFIA actions over listeriosis

Chalk up another victory for food safety and the influence of the Agriculture Union with federal politicians.

In an eagerly-awaited report, issued June 18, the House of Commons Agriculture Committee called for a number of measures to tighten up the country’s food system, including a public inquiry into the response of both the Conservative government and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency into last year’s listeriosis crisis.

What follows is a CBC report — one of the first media reactions — to the Committee’s report. As can be seen, our union is already calling for swift implementation of the Committee recommendations:

Agriculture committee calls for public inquiry into listeriosis crisis

CBC News, Thursday, June 18, 2009

A parliamentary committee is calling for a public inquiry into the actions of the federal government and its agencies during last summer’s deadly listeriosis outbreak.

It is one of a dozen recommendations in a House of Commons Agriculture Committee report released Thursday. It also features a dissenting report from the committee’s Conservative members.

During committee hearings, opposition MPs questioned whether the Canadian Food Inspection Agency realized the severity of the crisis and acted soon enough to stem the outbreak, which led to the deaths of 22 people and made hundreds of others sick after they ate contaminated deli meats from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto.

The report says Canada’s food supply chain, from farmers to consumers, is “highly fragmented” among many stakeholders, and that hazards can originate anywhere in the food production system.

But the committee’s opposition members said they are left with many questions over how many food safety inspectors actually work in Canadian food plants.

Briefing notes tabled before the committee cast doubt on the Conservative government’s claims that it has hired 58 additional food inspectors this year, as it was determined that none of the newly hired inspectors actually works in meat-processing plants, the CBC’s David McKie, who has been investigating the listeriosis outbreak, said Thursday.

The committee report also recommends:

  • Food safety standards in provincial and federal food plants be harmonized.
  • The federal government set up an ongoing review of Canada’s food safety standards to ensure up-to-date food safety and processing technologies, and new scientific evidence be included in all risk assessments.
  • Ottawa review the training and resources CFIA inspectors need to “implement, execute and enforce” all food inspection activities, and make the results of the review public.
  • The CFIA, in co-operation with the food safety inspectors union, work to provide “accurate, real-time evaluation” of inspectors’ resources.

The Conservatives said they will await the findings of independent investigator Sheila Weatherill, who was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to probe the crisis.

Among the Tories’ recommendations is a call for a review of the “compliance verification system,” a self-policing auditing system that allows companies to inspect themselves while the CFIA inspectors review the company’s paperwork.

Bob Kingston, President of Agriculture Union – PSAC, which represents government food inspectors, praised the committee’s report and called on Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to implement its recommendations as quickly as possible.

He said the CFIA had failed to meet the expectation of providing Ritz and the cabinet “accurate and timely” information on inspector resources.

“It is an essential first step to address the inspector shortage that is undermining food safety and consumer confidence,” Kingston said in a release Thursday.

The CFIA has defended its performance during the outbreak and said it has already brought in new measures in the wake of its own and other investigations into the crisis.

Weatherill is due to present her findings to Ritz next month.

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