Matt McClure – Calgary Herald

Leaked documents appear to contradict statements by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s top bureaucrat that oversight at meat processing plants in Alberta has not been reduced as the federal watchdog grapples with staff shortages and tight budgets.

In a tersely worded release issued in the aftermath of this week’s allegations by meat inspectors that the frequency of some checks have been cut in half at facilities in the northern half of the province,  CFIA president Bruce Archibald said the union’s claims  were false and unnecessarily undermined Canadian confidence in their food safety system.

But an internal strategy document obtained by the Herald shows the agency had plans in to reduce the daily presence of inspectors in plants and the frequency of some of their tasks by up to 50 per cent starting in early January of this year.

While inspectors would still visit plants that export to the U.S. every day to ensure compliance with that country’s standards, the strategy shows facilities that produced solely for the Canadian market would now only see an inspector three days a week.

“Processing group will not be able to complete work as per program design, ” the document said.

“With reduced inspector presence at establishments, the CVS (compliance verification system) must be reduced.”

The strategy indicates the cuts are necessary because one-third of the 18 front-line positions in the region were vacant, and it forecasts the problems will continue and could get worse.

“Without staffing relief or program design alteration for fiscal 2015-16, these work plan reductions will be required to continue,” the document said.

“There will be additional challenges at the close of the fiscal year.”

Agency officials did not respond to a request to interview Archibald about the apparent contradiction between his comments and the detailed strategy outlined in the December document that inspectors union president Bob Kingston says was implemented on January 5 as planned by CFIA managers.

“We have bent over backwards to be factually correct about what’s happening and our members get pretty upset when the head of the CFIA calls them liars,” Kingston said in an interview.

“This is not about protecting  jobs, but about whether the agency has the resources it needs to ensure the safety of  food on Canadian kitchen tables and store shelves.”

The controversy over the inspection cuts in Alberta – made as CFIA grappled with a $43.3 million reduction in annual budget for food safety and with the prospect of more financial pain next year – comes as the agency deals with a growing recall of products from one of the plants where oversight has been reduced in recent months.

The agency’s inspectors were busy Thursday pulling potentially tainted turkey made by Lilydale Inc. from store shelves across the country, a week after warning consumers that chicken from the company’s plant in Edmonton could be contaminated with the same Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

CFIA said the suspect products were produced on a range of dates, but officials indicated they all appear to have been manufactured on the same line.

The recalls were triggered by positive results from testing of swabs of equipment in the plant and finished product made within a specific time frame, the agency said.

Officials did not directly answer a Herald query as to whether a CFIA inspector was at the plant on all the days when the recalled product was manufactured.

But they did say an inspector was present on March 10, one of the production days in question, when checks were done before the line began operating.

“The CVS task was rated ‘A’ – Acceptable level of compliance,” the agency said in a prepared answer to questions.

“No irregularities were noted.”

Listeria can kill up to 30 per cent of people who become infected, but so far there are no reports of illnesses connected to the Lilydale recalls.

The oven-roasted carved turkey breast that is the latest to be yanked from the market has a best before date of April 10, while the chicken product recalled last week had a best before date of April 28.

Two corrective action requests were issued to the plant by the agency last month in the wake of the positive test results, although the agency did not say what problems were ordered corrected.

“The CFIA’s food safety investigation is ongoing and it is too early to pronounce upon the safety of the entire plant’s processes,” officials said.

“However, the recall of chicken and turkey products from Lilydale indicates that Canada’s food safety system is working well, and the company has been cooperative with CFIA officials.”

The company did not respond Thursday to Herald questions.

260741713-Strategy-for-Planned-Workplan-reductions

© Postmedia
Matt McClure – Calgary Herald

Leaked documents appear to contradict statements by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s top bureaucrat that oversight at meat processing plants in Alberta has not been reduced as the federal watchdog grapples with staff shortages and tight budgets.

In a tersely worded release issued in the aftermath of this week’s allegations by meat inspectors that the frequency of some checks have been cut in half at facilities in the northern half of the province,  CFIA president Bruce Archibald said the union’s claims  were false and unnecessarily undermined Canadian confidence in their food safety system.

But an internal strategy document obtained by the Herald shows the agency had plans in to reduce the daily presence of inspectors in plants and the frequency of some of their tasks by up to 50 per cent starting in early January of this year.

While inspectors would still visit plants that export to the U.S. every day to ensure compliance with that country’s standards, the strategy shows facilities that produced solely for the Canadian market would now only see an inspector three days a week.

“Processing group will not be able to complete work as per program design, ” the document said.

“With reduced inspector presence at establishments, the CVS (compliance verification system) must be reduced.”

The strategy indicates the cuts are necessary because one-third of the 18 front-line positions in the region were vacant, and it forecasts the problems will continue and could get worse.

“Without staffing relief or program design alteration for fiscal 2015-16, these work plan reductions will be required to continue,” the document said.

“There will be additional challenges at the close of the fiscal year.”

Agency officials did not respond to a request to interview Archibald about the apparent contradiction between his comments and the detailed strategy outlined in the December document that inspectors union president Bob Kingston says was implemented on January 5 as planned by CFIA managers.

“We have bent over backwards to be factually correct about what’s happening and our members get pretty upset when the head of the CFIA calls them liars,” Kingston said in an interview.

“This is not about protecting  jobs, but about whether the agency has the resources it needs to ensure the safety of  food on Canadian kitchen tables and store shelves.”

The controversy over the inspection cuts in Alberta – made as CFIA grappled with a $43.3 million reduction in annual budget for food safety and with the prospect of more financial pain next year – comes as the agency deals with a growing recall of products from one of the plants where oversight has been reduced in recent months.

The agency’s inspectors were busy Thursday pulling potentially tainted turkey made by Lilydale Inc. from store shelves across the country, a week after warning consumers that chicken from the company’s plant in Edmonton could be contaminated with the same Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

CFIA said the suspect products were produced on a range of dates, but officials indicated they all appear to have been manufactured on the same line.

The recalls were triggered by positive results from testing of swabs of equipment in the plant and finished product made within a specific time frame, the agency said.

Officials did not directly answer a Herald query as to whether a CFIA inspector was at the plant on all the days when the recalled product was manufactured.

But they did say an inspector was present on March 10, one of the production days in question, when checks were done before the line began operating.

“The CVS task was rated ‘A’ – Acceptable level of compliance,” the agency said in a prepared answer to questions.

“No irregularities were noted.”

Listeria can kill up to 30 per cent of people who become infected, but so far there are no reports of illnesses connected to the Lilydale recalls.

The oven-roasted carved turkey breast that is the latest to be yanked from the market has a best before date of April 10, while the chicken product recalled last week had a best before date of April 28.

Two corrective action requests were issued to the plant by the agency last month in the wake of the positive test results, although the agency did not say what problems were ordered corrected.

“The CFIA’s food safety investigation is ongoing and it is too early to pronounce upon the safety of the entire plant’s processes,” officials said.

“However, the recall of chicken and turkey products from Lilydale indicates that Canada’s food safety system is working well, and the company has been cooperative with CFIA officials.”

The company did not respond Thursday to Herald questions.

260741713-Strategy-for-Planned-Workplan-reductions

© Postmedia
Cathy Siegner – Food Safety News

The owners of a British Columbia meat processing plant pleaded guilty Monday in the B.C. Supreme Court to one count of selling E. coli-tainted meat in 2010.

Pitt Meadows Meats, now known as Meadow Valley Meats, had originally been charged with 11 counts of selling meat unfit for human consumption, a violation under Canada’s Food and Drugs Act. According to the CBC, the government is asking the company to pay a $125,000 fine.

In Monday’s action, the company, owned by Ken and Jeff Kooyman, agreed that before lab tests results were in they had sold 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) of Halal-labeled meat products. Halal means that the animals were slaughtered and processed according to Islamic law.

Following the guilty plea, company officials issued a statement of apology.

“Food safety is a priority in everything we do and we apologize for not fully following government procedures in 2010,” read the statement released Monday. “We accept the decision of the Court and pledge to do better.”

Pitt Meadows Meats had reportedly received a positive test result for E. coli O157:H7 in September 2010 but did not recall the meat, according to the court’s statement of facts.

However, after a plant employee informed the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) about the positive test result, products were recalled and the plant was shut down for a month.

Daniel Land, who was the company’s HACCP coordinator at the time, said he told the plant manager and the owner about the problem, and when nothing was done, he decided to contact CFIA.

“I told CFIA on a Friday, and it was later the next week that they told the Canadian people,” he said in an interview with Food Safety News, adding, “The E. coli-tainted meat was in the marketplace the whole time.”

The plant’s management suggested to CFIA officials that the lab tests had been tampered with and that perhaps Land had done it. Land, who said he was fired from his job after the incident, denied doing so.

Subsequent E. coli tests of the company’s meat products were negative, according to news reports.

Pitt Meadows Meats recalled some of its products (ground beef, ground lamb, beef trim and stewing beef) in November 2010, which included Halal-labeled meat. Most of the company’s products were distributed in the Vancouver, B.C., market.

On Nov. 9, 2010, CFIA issued a warning to the public not to consume fresh or frozen lean ground beef and frozen ground beef patties produced by the company and sold in B.C. between Sept. 3-11, 2010. The agency’s warning stated that “these products may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.”

In January 2011, the company decided to opt out of federal government regulation and come under provincial regulation instead.

While no illnesses were reported in connection with the company’s beef and lamb products produced and sold in 2010, Land told Food Safety News that it would be hard to tell whether anyone was ever sickened by consuming them.

“We don’t know where this stuff went. We don’t know who ate it,” he said.

Land subsequently left the food industry and is now working as a hotel manager in Edmonton. He said the experience showed him that “it’s all about money” and that companies such as Pitt Meadows Meats can’t be trusted to tell the public the truth.

“The Canadian people don’t know what’s going on. We’ve got a real problem here in the Canada with the food industry,” he said.

© Food Safety News
Matt McClure – Calgary Herald

Leaked documents appear to contradict statements by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s top bureaucrat that oversight at meat processing plants in Alberta has not been reduced as the federal watchdog grapples with staff shortages and tight budgets.

In a tersely worded release issued in the aftermath of this week’s allegations by meat inspectors that the frequency of some checks have been cut in half at facilities in the northern half of the province,  CFIA president Bruce Archibald said the union’s claims  were false and unnecessarily undermined Canadian confidence in their food safety system.

But an internal strategy document obtained by the Herald shows the agency had plans in to reduce the daily presence of inspectors in plants and the frequency of some of their tasks by up to 50 per cent starting in early January of this year.

While inspectors would still visit plants that export to the U.S. every day to ensure compliance with that country’s standards, the strategy shows facilities that produced solely for the Canadian market would now only see an inspector three days a week.

“Processing group will not be able to complete work as per program design, ” the document said.

“With reduced inspector presence at establishments, the CVS (compliance verification system) must be reduced.”

The strategy indicates the cuts are necessary because one-third of the 18 front-line positions in the region were vacant, and it forecasts the problems will continue and could get worse.

“Without staffing relief or program design alteration for fiscal 2015-16, these work plan reductions will be required to continue,” the document said.

“There will be additional challenges at the close of the fiscal year.”

Agency officials did not respond to a request to interview Archibald about the apparent contradiction between his comments and the detailed strategy outlined in the December document that inspectors union president Bob Kingston says was implemented on January 5 as planned by CFIA managers.

“We have bent over backwards to be factually correct about what’s happening and our members get pretty upset when the head of the CFIA calls them liars,” Kingston said in an interview.

“This is not about protecting  jobs, but about whether the agency has the resources it needs to ensure the safety of  food on Canadian kitchen tables and store shelves.”

The controversy over the inspection cuts in Alberta – made as CFIA grappled with a $43.3 million reduction in annual budget for food safety and with the prospect of more financial pain next year – comes as the agency deals with a growing recall of products from one of the plants where oversight has been reduced in recent months.

The agency’s inspectors were busy Thursday pulling potentially tainted turkey made by Lilydale Inc. from store shelves across the country, a week after warning consumers that chicken from the company’s plant in Edmonton could be contaminated with the same Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

CFIA said the suspect products were produced on a range of dates, but officials indicated they all appear to have been manufactured on the same line.

The recalls were triggered by positive results from testing of swabs of equipment in the plant and finished product made within a specific time frame, the agency said.

Officials did not directly answer a Herald query as to whether a CFIA inspector was at the plant on all the days when the recalled product was manufactured.

But they did say an inspector was present on March 10, one of the production days in question, when checks were done before the line began operating.

“The CVS task was rated ‘A’ – Acceptable level of compliance,” the agency said in a prepared answer to questions.

“No irregularities were noted.”

Listeria can kill up to 30 per cent of people who become infected, but so far there are no reports of illnesses connected to the Lilydale recalls.

The oven-roasted carved turkey breast that is the latest to be yanked from the market has a best before date of April 10, while the chicken product recalled last week had a best before date of April 28.

Two corrective action requests were issued to the plant by the agency last month in the wake of the positive test results, although the agency did not say what problems were ordered corrected.

“The CFIA’s food safety investigation is ongoing and it is too early to pronounce upon the safety of the entire plant’s processes,” officials said.

“However, the recall of chicken and turkey products from Lilydale indicates that Canada’s food safety system is working well, and the company has been cooperative with CFIA officials.”

The company did not respond Thursday to Herald questions.

260741713-Strategy-for-Planned-Workplan-reductions

© Postmedia
Cathy Siegner – Food Safety News

The owners of a British Columbia meat processing plant pleaded guilty Monday in the B.C. Supreme Court to one count of selling E. coli-tainted meat in 2010.

Pitt Meadows Meats, now known as Meadow Valley Meats, had originally been charged with 11 counts of selling meat unfit for human consumption, a violation under Canada’s Food and Drugs Act. According to the CBC, the government is asking the company to pay a $125,000 fine.

In Monday’s action, the company, owned by Ken and Jeff Kooyman, agreed that before lab tests results were in they had sold 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) of Halal-labeled meat products. Halal means that the animals were slaughtered and processed according to Islamic law.

Following the guilty plea, company officials issued a statement of apology.

“Food safety is a priority in everything we do and we apologize for not fully following government procedures in 2010,” read the statement released Monday. “We accept the decision of the Court and pledge to do better.”

Pitt Meadows Meats had reportedly received a positive test result for E. coli O157:H7 in September 2010 but did not recall the meat, according to the court’s statement of facts.

However, after a plant employee informed the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) about the positive test result, products were recalled and the plant was shut down for a month.

Daniel Land, who was the company’s HACCP coordinator at the time, said he told the plant manager and the owner about the problem, and when nothing was done, he decided to contact CFIA.

“I told CFIA on a Friday, and it was later the next week that they told the Canadian people,” he said in an interview with Food Safety News, adding, “The E. coli-tainted meat was in the marketplace the whole time.”

The plant’s management suggested to CFIA officials that the lab tests had been tampered with and that perhaps Land had done it. Land, who said he was fired from his job after the incident, denied doing so.

Subsequent E. coli tests of the company’s meat products were negative, according to news reports.

Pitt Meadows Meats recalled some of its products (ground beef, ground lamb, beef trim and stewing beef) in November 2010, which included Halal-labeled meat. Most of the company’s products were distributed in the Vancouver, B.C., market.

On Nov. 9, 2010, CFIA issued a warning to the public not to consume fresh or frozen lean ground beef and frozen ground beef patties produced by the company and sold in B.C. between Sept. 3-11, 2010. The agency’s warning stated that “these products may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.”

In January 2011, the company decided to opt out of federal government regulation and come under provincial regulation instead.

While no illnesses were reported in connection with the company’s beef and lamb products produced and sold in 2010, Land told Food Safety News that it would be hard to tell whether anyone was ever sickened by consuming them.

“We don’t know where this stuff went. We don’t know who ate it,” he said.

Land subsequently left the food industry and is now working as a hotel manager in Edmonton. He said the experience showed him that “it’s all about money” and that companies such as Pitt Meadows Meats can’t be trusted to tell the public the truth.

“The Canadian people don’t know what’s going on. We’ve got a real problem here in the Canada with the food industry,” he said.

© Food Safety News
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Montreal (20 April 2015) – Every federal meat inspection team in the province of Quebec is working shorthanded today, leaving most meat processing and slaughter establishments in the province operating with fewer meat inspectors than are required to ensure compliance with safety requirements.

This finding emerges from a detailed staffing survey released this morning by the meat inspectors’ union.

“There is a critical shortage of meat inspectors in Quebec and in other parts of the country as well. 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, ” said Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union that represents federal food inspectors.

Meat inspectors in quebec 3

Through internal sources, the Union checked staffing levels at meat processing and slaughter establishments throughout Quebec, including positions not filled.

The bottom line number of inspectors on the job discounts staff on leave (typically, human resources planners recommend employers plan for a 30% leave factor when deploying staff).

“Essential training has been cancelled or delayed as a result of the staffing crisis,” said Rick Cormier, Second National Executive Vice-President of the Agriculture Union.

Facilities canvassed for the staffing survey include meat processing and slaughter plants where cut, ready-to-eat and prepared meats are produced.  These kind of facilities range from very large businesses like the Montreal-based firm Olymel L.P. which employs more than 10,000 people, to much smaller companies.

“The federal government has lowered its guard since the Maple Leaf Foods outbreak that killed 22 Canadians. I sincerely hope another major outbreak is not required to force the government to protect Canadian consumers,” Kingston said.

CFIA food safety programs are short staffed across the country:

  • Meat inspectors working in meat processing plants throughout Alberta that produce the highest risk ready-to-eat products have been operating 33% below required minimum staffing levels for more than a year.
  • Inspection tasks in meat plants there have been reduced as a result and a two tier system has been introduced that inspects meat destined for dinner tables in Canada to a lower standard than meat produced for export. After Health Minister Rona Ambrose called the Union’s revelation “inaccurate and irresponsible” an internal CFIA document was leaked substantiating the Union announcement.
  • There is only one consumer protection inspector responsible for every restaurant and retail food outlet in the entire city of Toronto
  • Meanwhile, the entire consumer protection unit in British Columbia has been disbanded.

According to CFIA forecasts, the current 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.CFIA pic 2

The union is calling on the 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.

-30-

 For further information: Jim Thompson — 613-447-9592 — jim@thompsoncom.ca

[1] CFIA 2013-14 Departmental Performance Report (see press kit for excerpts)
[2] CFIA 2014-14 Report on Plans and Priorities (see press kit for excerpts)