‘Critical shortage’ of meat inspectors, claims union
The Agriculture Union, which represents the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA) food inspectors, put together a staffing survey which it says is based on internal sources.
Meat processing reported staffing shortages between 22%-33%, said the union.
Slaughter sites in Montreal East and West, Quebec and St-Hyacinthe were between 16%-19% below minimum.
Claimed staff shortages
It checked levels at meat processing and slaughter sites in Quebec, including positions not filled.
In Quebec for processing, it said a minimum of 19 were required but 16 position filled ad 13 on the job.
For the slaughter sites, 54 was the minimum required and it found 49 positions filled and 44 on the job.
The number of inspectors on the job was due to staff on leave. It is recommended employers plan for a 30% leave factor when deploying staff, according to the union.
Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union, said there is a critical shortage of meat inspectors in Quebec and other parts of the country.
“This means that corners are being cut when it comes to safety. Further cuts to CFIA funding rumoured to be in tomorrow’s budget would come with high risk for consumer safety.”
Increase resources call
The union is calling on government to increase food safety inspection resources and place them where they are needed on the frontline to allow the CFIA to meet its minimum inspection staffing requirements.
“Much essential training has been cancelled and many requests for leave are being denied because of this staffing crisis,” said Rick Cormier, second national executive VP of the agriculture union.
CFIA responded to concerns around inspections raised by the union last month.
The agency said field inspection staff has grown 19% since 2007, though the number can fluctuate due to changes in demand for service, such as opening and closures of federally registered sites, so it may change by as much as 5% or 150 to 200 field inspection staff.
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, it added.
“The CFIA is a science-based agency that takes a modern, risk-based, outcome based approach to all its activities, operating with the first priority to be food safety,” said an agency statement.
“Inspection work focuses on areas of highest risk first, the areas of focus may change during the year based on emergencies and shifting priorities.
“As these decisions are made, the effective delivery of the CFIA's food safety programs and the overall health and safety of our food system is always top of mind.”
The Government of Canada has invested more than $517m in food safety initiatives, since 2008 and in the Budget 2014, the government provided $153.6m over five years to strengthen theCFIA's preventive food safety oversight programs, the agency added.