Bob Kingston, President, Agriculture Union – PSAC
Rob MacDonald, Regional Vice President for Ontario, Agriculture Union – PSAC
Sharon DeSousa, Public Service Alliance of Canada Regional Executive Vice-President Ontario
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Good morning and thanks for coming out.
My name is Bob Kingston. I am President of the Agriculture Union, a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
We represent federal food inspectors. I have spent 25 years working as a food inspector, including 15 years as an inspection supervisor. Currently, I am on leave to serve the members of our union.
Joining me this morning is Rob MacDonald. Rob is our union’s Regional Vice-President for Ontario. He also works as an inspection supervisor for Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Today, every person in Canada should be concerned about the meat they put on their family’s table.
Because the federal government is starving food safety inspection, particularly in meat slaughter establishments in Canada.
One consequence of this starvation diet is that there are not enough inspectors working to make sure slaughter establishments are meeting all of the requirements needed to produce safe meat.
We see this in the survey of inspector staffing in Toronto and Ontario slaughter establishments we are publishing this morning.
Canadian consumers will be shocked to learn that in the Toronto area, slaughter inspection teams are often working with only one third of the inspectors needed to ensure companies are in compliance with safety requirements.
We know this because our members who work in these facilities are telling us about this crisis. Through internal sources, we have been able to check staffing levels at slaughter establishments throughout the province.
The largest poultry slaughter facility in Canada – Maple Lodge in Brampton – is among the establishments included in the survey. This facility supplies poultry to retail stores nation wide.
The facilities canvassed for the staffing survey also include slaughter plants whose cut meat can be “needle tenderized”, the same process that lead to the recent E. coli outbreak at XL Foods.
The Harper government has announced plans to cut the budget of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
To cope with a $35 million budget cut, the Agency is in the process of downsizing its meat inspection staff and meat inspection program with plans to eliminate 273 positions.
These plans are outlined in the CFIA’s own documents which are included in your kits.
In the rush to cut the current slaughter inspection program no appropriate assessment of the risk associated with their new program has not been conducted.
In the meantime, the Agency is allowing the current slaughter inspectorate to atrophy, refusing to fill vacant positions and turning a blind eye when meat slaughter establishments operate with short-handed inspection teams.
It’s a recipe for disaster. These are frighteningly similar to the circumstances that led to the Maple Leaf listeriosis outbreak that killed 22 unsuspecting people.
Rob sees this neglect first hand on a daily basis.
I am really worried.
There simply are not enough inspectors, period. I am also worried about some of the production practices that are permitted. Right here in Ontario a major supplier of poultry is allowed to process 15,000 chickens every hour on every line in the factory. Some factories operate three or four lines.
That means chicken carcasses whiz by inspectors at the rate of 250 birds per minute, a pace that far exceeds the much slower pace mandated in the US by the USDA. With the current number of inspectors on the line it is impossible for them to ensure safe product.
Of these 15,000, about 12 carcasses per hour are removed from the line for closer inspection. Less than one tenth of one percent is just not good enough.
With most plants short staffed, the government has created a situation where food safety can be easily compromised. And when it comes to things like humane transport of animals, inspectors rarely have enough time to properly investigate and follow-up. In fact the CFIA has just adopted rules that effectively prevent inspectors from investigating instances of inhumane treatment of animals.
We have been watching this situation carefully across the country. Slowly but surely the Harper government has been handing off responsibility to the food companies to police their own safety practices while cutting government inspection and oversight.
We know from opinion research that Canadians do not agree with this approach.
Just as with food safety, Mr. Harper has set out to shrink government when it comes to serving Canada’s veterans, addressing climate change, and protecting Canadians at the border and on our coasts.
These issues are addressed by the campaign we have launched called Vote to Stop the cuts.
I’m sure you have all heard the predictions that Mr. Harper will be calling the election early, perhaps as early as next week.
When he does, a conversation will begin across the country about the kind of Canada we want.
We’ll be doing our best to make the issue of food safety is prominent in that conversation as we head for the federal election on October 19th.
For anyone who would like to participate go to www.votetostopthecuts.ca for more information and to reach out to the candidates in your riding about food safety and other issues the Harper government has become infamous for.
Thank you. We are happy to take any questions you may have.