Briefing Note: Has a secret deal scuttled food inspection investment?

Ottawa (June 1, 2011) – Finance Minister Flaherty’s March 22nd budget included an investment to bolster food inspection of $100 million over five years, right?

Well, maybe not.

According to sources within the CFIA, a secret deal to win mention in the March 2011 budget that will be re-tabled next week may actually result in a cut to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency budget.

The CFIA is said to have made a commitment, no one has publicly disclosed, to cut its own spending by $35 million in exchange for the boost to its food inspection allocation contained in the pre-election budget. 

The problem for food safety is that Flaherty’s plan has only $18 million flowing to the CFIA in the first two years, leaving the Agency in a financial hole in the short term, with the balance apparently coming in 2013 and beyond.

Official spokespeople for CFIA have refused comment on this story citing budget confidentiality.

“If this is true, Finance Minister Flaherty has misrepresented a food inspection budget increase as something much bigger.  And, the CFIA has agreed to a $35 million budget cut in exchange for $18 million and an IOU that may never be honoured given the government’s intention to slash spending,” said Bob Kingston, President of Agriculture Union – PSAC, which represents federal food inspectors.

The upcoming operating and strategic review will require departments and agencies to cut spending by 10% or more which represents $72 million to the CFIA’s budget.  In addition, the CFIA has already had to absorb salary increases from existing budgets which has reduced the Agency’s food safety capacity.

According to the Budget tabled in Parliament on March 22nd the $100 million investment over five years was to “enable the Government to complete its response to all of the recommendations of the Weatherill Report through targeted investments in inspector training, additional science capacity, and electronic tools to support the work of front-line inspectors”.

“The bad news for consumers is that Ottawa has not come close to fixing the food safety and inspection problems that Sheila Weatherill found at the root of the Maple Leaf deaths.  And, if this behind the scenes deal is true, the CFIA will not be able to.  I hope Minister Flaherty comes clean on June 6th and comes up with the resources our food safety system so desperately needs,” Kingston said.