CFIA slams union claims on food safety

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

The union said spending cuts would translate to cuts of 548 positions, citing CFIA forecasts
The union said spending cuts would translate to cuts of 548 positions, citing CFIA forecasts

Related tags Food safety Inspection

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has slammed claims made by the Agriculture Union calling some of them ‘false’.  

CFIA said the union, which represents meat inspectors, is unnecessarily undermining confidence in the food safety system.

Claims that food safety activities have been cut in Northern Alberta are false, said the agency in a statement signed by Bruce Archibald, president and Kelvin Mathuik, area director general, Western Operations.

Union claims cuts

The Agriculture Union, which represents the CFIA's inspectorate, said the CFIA instructed staff in Northern Alberta to cut general sanitation inspection activities by 50% and pre-operation inspections by 30% from early January.

It added inspections are taking place with regularity so meat production management know when to expect them and cuts apply to establishments producing for domestic and export markets.

CFIA reduced its Northern Alberta inspectors’ daily presence by 40% in meat facilities for the domestic market while maintaining daily presence in plants eligible to export meat to the US to meet American standards, said the union, quoting internal CFIA sources.

CFIA said differences in meat inspection systems are related to trade standards - not food safety and gave an example of additional activities that certify labelling and meat cut classifications.

It added field inspection staff has grown by 19% 2007 but can vary throughout the year due to changes in demand for service.

“After Maple Leaf, CFIA tightened verification of meat production facilities’ sanitation because Sheila Weatherill found lingering contamination was a factor contributing to the disaster,” ​said Bob Kingston, president of the food inspectors union.

“To deal with its financial crisis, the CFIA is now starting to roll back those measures.

“The government has chosen to starve food safety inspection, now Canadians are suffering the consequences of this choice.”

The union said the government plans to cut spending on food safety by 21% by 2016–17.  This will translate to staff cuts of 16.5%, or 548 positions, according to CFIA forecasts.

In Northern Alberta, only 12 of 18 meat hygiene inspection positions are currently filled and new hiring has been frozen and training has been deferred, it added.

CFIA spending response

CFIA responded by saying the government has invested over $517m in food safety, since 2008.

In the 2014 Budget, the government provided $153.6m over five years to strengthen theCFIA's preventive food safety oversight programs, it added.

“The Agriculture Union is aware that the number of Field Inspection Staff in regions fluctuates due to changes in demand for service and the nature of inspection work focusing on areas of highest risk which can include regional emergencies and enforcement action,” ​said the CFIA.

“Whether it's federal or industry staff, a food safety inspector is on the ground at all times in every federally-registered meat slaughter plant in Canada. A comprehensive system of inspection tasks are routinely carried out in federally-registered meat processing plants.”

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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