Lack of inspectors threatens Canadian meat safety, warns union

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

There are too few federal inspectors to guarantee the safety of meat in Canada, warns the agriculture union of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Meat inspectors can complete minimum safety tasks effectively in just two plants but are expected to check 4.6 plants in the Toronto area, said the union. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has appointed 34 inspectors to monitor safety standards in 117 production and storage facilities around the city.

In the Vancouver area, each federal meat inspector is assigned to nearly six plants at peak work times.

The union revealed the mis-match between workload and workforce as part of its staffing survey in advance of a Canadian government parliamentary sub-committee investigating the country's meat inspection system. The probe follows last year’s fatal outbreak of listeriosis traced to contaminated meat produced at a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto.

Mathematically impossible

"We've shown that it's mathematically impossible for inspectors to do what they've been given to do,"​ said Bob Kingston, president of the union representing CFIA inspectors. "There are less than 200 meat inspectors in Canada. The best guess we have ... is that they need close to double that."

The survey of inspectors included those working in big processing plants that prepare ready-to-eat meat and the cold storage plants where food is certified for import and export. About 800 hours a year are needed to complete mandatory inspections required by the country’s Compliance Verification System inside each ready-to-eat facility, calculated the union.

Inspectors are required to complete specific tasks on a checklist within certain times to ensure operators are following food safety protocols.

Environmental testing

Last month, new rules were introduced requiring inspectors to conduct product and environmental testing for listeria at least six times a year, and to review company-generated tests throughout the year.

A CFIA spokesperson said the agency has yet to study the staffing survey.

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