For immediate release

Winnipeg (20 August 2015) By a wide margin, Canadians do not trust the food processing industry to police its own safety practices and expect the federal government to ensure that what we eat is safe, according to a new Nanos poll released this morning.

The survey found 7 in 10 Canadians believe government should be ultimately responsible for food safety, while only 26% think food production companies should be responsible. And, 84% trust government inspectors and scientists to ensure the food we eat is safe, up substantially from 2008 when 64% of Canadians held this view.

Only 14% think the government should rely more on food companies to police their own safety processes while three-quarters (75%) think the federal government should invest more and be more hands-on in policing food safety.

“Canadians just do not trust the food companies when it comes to safety.   They reject the federal government’s retreat from direct oversight of food processors and increasing reliance on industry to police their own safety practices,”  Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union which represents federal food inspectors, said at a news conference in Winnipeg this morning.

The survey found that the vast majority of Canadians oppose planned cuts to food safety budgets. More than half (55%) think the federal government should cancel the cuts and invest more in food safety, while another 28% would cancel the cuts. Six-in-ten (61%) Canadians are concerned about that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has fewer staff today than before the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis outbreak that killed 22 people in 2008.

“Concerns about the shortage of inspectors are well-founded. Every meat slaughter facility in the province of Manitoba is operating with substantially fewer than the minimum number of meat inspectors required to ensure consumer safety, including the giant Maple Leaf Foods hog slaughter establishment in Brandon,” Kingston said.

Federal meat inspection teams are 30% to 57% below minimum staffing levels in Manitoba slaughter facilities according to a detailed staffing review also released this morning by the meat inspectors’ union.

“There is a critical shortage of meat inspectors in Manitoba and in most other parts of the country too. Planned cuts to the CFIA’s budget will only open the door wider for companies that want to cut safety corners. Consumers are at risk,” Kingston said.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is in the process of downsizing its meat inspection staff and program after the Harper government cut its budget. The Agency plans to eliminate 273 positions as it grapples with a $35 million budget cut.

The staffing review found the shortage in the four major Manitoba slaughter facilities so acute that inspectors working in the province’s meat processing facilities are often “borrowed” to cover glaring inspection gaps in slaughter establishments.

Because inspection teams working in Manitoba’s federally licenced processing and cold storage facilities barely meet minimum staffing levels, Kingston described this practice as “robbing the poor to pay the destitute.”

Even when inspection teams meet required staffing levels, line speeds permitted in slaughter plants are dizzyingly high, making their work to identify food safety problems near impossible.

For example, at maximum production the Maple Leaf slaughter establishment in Brandon can process 18,000 hogs a day. That translates to almost 20 hogs every minute1 when the plant works at capacity during its usual two production shifts.

Line speeds in poultry processing plants are also impossibly fast, exceeding the safe pace set south of the border by the USDA.

“Without action to address the inspection shortage, it is just a matter of time before the next major food borne illness outbreak occurs. Unfortunately, the federal government is cutting rather than fixing the food inspection system,’ Kingston said.

“Food safety could have a bearing at the ballot box. The majority (60%) are more likely to vote for a candidate who favours increasing the number of inspectors versus only 6% are more likely to vote for a candidate who favours allowing food companies to police their own safety practices,” said Chris Aylward, National Executive Vice-President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The Agriculture 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.

The opinion survey of 1000 voting age Canadians was conducted by Nanos Research July 18th to 22nd, 2015. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online. Results have a margin of accuracy of 3.1% plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.

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


 

Manitoba Staffing Review

Meat Inspectors in federally registered slaughter establishments

Establishment #

Owner Type

Inspectors

Minimum required

Typically on the job

% below Minimum Required

126

Hylife Foods      LP

Hog 27 19

30%

007

Maple Leaf Inc.

Hog 29 19

34%

281

Dunn-rite Food Products

(Sunrise Poultry Processors Ltd.)

Poultry 7 3

57%

137

Granny’s Poultry Co-operative

Poultry 7 4

 43%

 

Meat Inspectors in federally registered processing establishments

There are seven meat processing plants in Manitoba, including three that produce high-risk “ready-to-eat” products, and four cold storage facilities that are federally registered establishments. Twelve meat inspectors are normally available to cover these establishments. However, these are not normal times for meat inspection in Manitoba and frequently inspectors from the processing group are “borrowed” to fill gaps in slaughter establishments where long-term vacancies are not being filled and for short-term leave for illness, training or other reasons.