A government plan to transfer key parts of food inspection to industry so companies can police themselves will put the health of Canadians at risk, according to leading food safety experts who have reviewed the confidential blueprint.
The plan, drafted by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and approved by the Treasury Board details sweeping changes coming to food inspection in Canada.
The document, addressed to the president of the agency, details how the inspection of meat and meat products will downgrade agency inspectors to an "oversight role, allowing industry to implement food safety control programs and to manage key risks." (emphasis added)
Ritz denied the new meat inspection regulations were in place at processing plants, suggested they apply only to slaughtering processes:
Ritz denied reports based on a leaked government memo that suggested anticipated changes to the federal food inspection system may have already been in use at the Toronto plant.Globe report contradicts Ritz, says the new meat inspection regulations have been in place at the Maple Leaf meat processing plant which is ground zero of the listeriosis outbreak since March:
Ritz said the memo actually dealt with slaughtering processes, not processing guidelines, and wasn't relevant to the listeria outbreak.
This is the Harper cabinet in action, ladies and gentlemen...it's not just the callous remarks unbecoming of a Minister, it's the competence that's in question.
A leaked cabinet document that outlined plans for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to give the food industry a greater role in the inspection process raised the ire of opposition politicians last week.
However, some of the plans have been in place since March 31, according to a CFIA manager and an official from the union that represents the federal inspectors.
At the Maple Leaf plant behind the listeria outbreak, a single federal inspector was relegated to auditing company paperwork and had to deal with several other plants, the manager and the union official said, contradicting the impression that officials had left last week that full-time watchdogs were on-site.
Under the new system, federal inspectors do random product tests only three or four times a year at any given plant. And meat packers are required to test each type of product only once a month.
Under the old system, inspectors had a more hands-on role on the plant floor, did more of the tests themselves and had more freedom to investigate, said former CFIA inspector Bob Kingston, who is national president of the Agriculture Union, a branch of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.