What you won’t know


If you think grocery shopping is a chore now, it’s about to get worse. Tucked virtually unnoticed into last week’s federal budget was a significant change to the way the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will operate.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty didn’t say when that change would take place; only that the CFIA was going to stop policing manufacturers on all “non-health and non-safety food labelling regulations.”

So how, exactly, will the federal government make sure that all those labelling claims are true? Why, that’s going to be your job. It will be up to you to figure out whether the manufacturer is telling the truth. And – assuming you can earn a degree in food sciences overnight – it will also be up to you to make the company right the wrong.

Here’s exactly how the CFIA worded the change to its monitoring and enforcement policy: “CFIA will introduce a web-based label verification tool that encourages consumers to bring validated concerns directly to companies and associations for resolution.”

Translation: If your new-found nutritional expertise makes you suspect manufacturers are fibbing, you must prove that errors exist, confront the offenders, then seek their co-operation in telling the truth. And you must do all this without the threat of government fines and penalties to back you up.

As those who took on the big tobacco companies years ago would say, “Good luck with that.”

To say the federal government is being reckless with this decision is an understatement. Its “non-health and non-safety” labelling list include things like cholesterol content, sodium levels, sugar and allergens. It could, conceivably, also include best-before dates.

For those with serious health conditions, like hypertension, peanut allergies and diabetes, false claims could prove deadly.

It’s ironic that despite the government’s Fair Labelling Practices Program, many false and misleading claims by food processors and manufacturers have been uncovered. The one cited most recently involves Maple Leaf Foods, which claimed its Natural Selections deli meats contained no added preservatives. When it was proved those meats contained nitrates, the company was forced to say so on the label.

Would it have done so without being caught? Obviously not, or that information would have always been there.

Even now, when the government is supposed to be regulating those claims, it seems to do a poor job. CBC’s Marketplace uncovered 10 blatantly false and misleading labels among commonly purchased foods. In the U.S., some of the companies received hefty fines and were forced to comply with FDA regulations to keep their products on the shelf. No such measures were taken in this country.

If the rules were lax before, the federal government is now sending companies the message that this has essentially become an unregulated industry. No compliance in Canada is necessary.

Unless, that is, consumers find a way to keep them on their toes. But why should they have to? The government is responsible for establishing health and safety regulations, and the government is responsible for enforcing them. That’s how it works when it comes to protecting the lives of Canadians.

Flaherty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a dangerous mistake when they chose to put cost cutting above health and safety. This is one budget initiative that must be scrapped.

© Copyright (c) The Windsor Star

CBC News

Union representing food inspectors insists cuts will put Canadians ‘at more risk’

Changes to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will not harm the health and safety of Canadians in any way, says Canada’s agriculture minister, despite warnings this week from the union representing food inspectors that budget cuts will see up to 100 food safety inspectors lose their jobs.

In an interview airing on The House Saturday, Gerry Ritz tells host Evan Solomon there is “no way” the federal government would ever compromise food safety.

“We have continued to add inspectors to the front line for anything that has the potential to be problematic, we continue to add dollars to the CFIA and public health, both at the provincial and federal levels, to make sure the food we serve to Canadians is safe,” the minister said.

However, the president of the union representing food safety inspectors disagrees.

According to Bob Kingston, the Public Service Alliance of Canada Agriculture Union president, these cuts are going to put Canadians “at more risk.”

Kingston says cuts to the CFIA will result in up to 100 food safety inspectors losing their jobs, effectively reversing the action the federal government took when it hired 70 food inspectors after 23 Canadians died and dozens others got sick from a listeriosis outbreak in 2008.

On Wednesday, NDP MP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen also criticized the government over the cuts.

“Now we’re back to square one,” Allen said. “It’s not a good day for consumers.”

But Ritz points out that the CFIA will see its funding increased by $51 million over two years, adding that since 2006 the federal government has provided “the investments” for the CFIA to hire “733 net new inspection staff.”

But Kingston told the CBC’s Solomon he doesn’t know where that investment went.

“It’s great that they made the investment to produce all these workers but I’m not sure where they ended up,” said Kingston.

“It sure wasn’t on the front lines.”

Feds handover meat inspection duties to provinces

Kingston also told Solomon that 40 meat inspectors received surplus notices this week and that will “absolutely” affect the health and safety of Canadians.

Last summer, the federal government announced it would hand over the inspection of provincial meat-packing plants to the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan starting in January 2014.

Kingston says that from what the union has seen, the provinces “have no intention of delivering the service at the same level the CFIA did.”

Kingston pointed to a report published by B.C.’s ministry of health in December that suggested inspection could be conducted remotely through the use of video cameras.

Ritz said he’s comfortable with the proposal “depending on what part of the line” B.C. puts the cameras on.

“At the end of the day those provincial sites will be inspected at the same level they were before by someone wearing a provincial badge, not a federal one,” the minister said.

“The standards are the same. The product coming out of them is still exceptionally safe.”

Kingston called the B.C. proposal “a no-inspection option.”

When Solomon asked Ritz about the cost of handing over meat inspection to those three provinces, the minister acknowledged the provinces will have “to cover off what the feds were doing or federal taxpayers were paying for.”

“At the end the consumer always pays, the price gets added on down the line,” said Ritz.

The federal budget will see the Agriculture portfolio cut by 10 per cent, with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency being asked to cut $56.1 million over three years.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz calls the NDP statements ‘outrageous rhetoric’

CBC News
May 15, 2012

A proposed change to Canada’s meat inspection rules could permit meat from already-dead animals to be processed for human consumption, although federal inspectors say that would only happen on rare occasions.

The proposed changes to the inspection regulations will leave Canadians wondering if the meat they buy is actually safe, federal NDP says.

But the Canadian Food Inspection Agency disagrees, saying the changes designed to streamline the system have only been proposed at this point and if passed would have no effect on food safety.

The NDP released a statement Tuesday saying the Conservative government will allow private inspectors, who may not be qualified, to inspect meat and also change what meat is acceptable — meaning already-dead and crippled animal meat would be okay for processing for the tables of Canadians.

The party is also concerned how budget cuts to CFIA mixed with the proposed regulation changes would affect the inspection of meat for human consumption.

“First the Conservatives will let private inspectors monitor meat, and now they’re essentially allowing road-kill-ready meat into the food supply,” said Malcolm Allen, the NDP agriculture critic. “Even scarier is the fact that we won’t know how long animals have been dead before processing — or even that the meat will be inspected at all.”

Tim O’Connor, a spokesperson for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said that is untrue.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says the amendments would not reduce food safety in any way. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

“Dead stock is not allowed for human consumption,” he said.

He said right now the federal rules are black and white: under no circumstance can an animal designated for human consumption be slaughtered outside of a registered facility.

With the proposed rule changes, O’Connor said there could be a possibility for rare cases where an animal could be slaughtered on farm; for example, if a steer broke its leg or was too aggressive to be safely transferred.

“It would only be under very limited circumstances,” said O’Connor.

Since losing the steer would be a financial hit to the rancher, they could seek approval from CFIA for euthanizing the animal at their location.

They would need an inspection by a veterinarian to verify the animal is safe for human consumption before it is euthanized. The vet would also certify the date and method.

Then the rancher would have to document their techniques, which would have to fall in line with humane treatment and the Health of Animals Act requirements, before transferring the meat to a processing plant within a required time frame where it would be inspected again.

Details still to be worked out

O’Connor said the exact protocol still has to be worked out, as the amendment proposal is still in its early stages and still has to go through a consultation process.

He said the role of private inspectors or veterinarians is also still undecided, and would still have to fulfill current food inspection requirements.

Meat pegged for interprovincial and international trade has to be completed at a federally-registered processing plant, which would have to follow food inspection requirements already in place.

There are some processing plants and slaughterhouses that are not federally-registered, but O’Connor said regulations for those facilities fall under the control of each province.

“The NDP know full well, despite their outrageous rhetoric, that this proposal will not reduce food safety in any way,” said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in a statement.

“Only live animals that are inspected and safe for human consumption but cannot be transported safely and humanely would be eligible for on-farm slaughter and then transported to a federal processing facility.

John Masswohl, director of government and international relations at Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said the proposed rule change is a win-win situation for the better treatment of the animals.

He said it’s better to euthanize an injured animal on a farm and then transport it.

“Right now, the farmer could only choose to transport it or euthanize and dispose of it,” Masswohl said.

He also said diseased or dead animals would not be considered.

“I don’t know where [the NDP] are coming from, or what regulations they read,” said Masswohl.

© CBC News
April 14, 2012

CBC The House with Evan Solomon

This week on The House,  are cuts included in the federal government’s most recent budget about to jeopardize the safety of your food? Evan Solomon talks with PSAC’s Agriculture Union President Bob Kingston about the impact cutting food inspectors will have on the content of Canadians’ plates. Then, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz explains why cuts won’t threaten food safety.

CBC The House with Evan Solomon

This week on The House,  are cuts included in the federal government’s most recent budget about to jeopardize the safety of your food? Evan Solomon talks with PSAC’s Agriculture Union President Bob Kingston about the impact cutting food inspectors will have on the content of Canadians’ plates. Then,  Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz explains why cuts won’t threaten food safety.

CBC The House with Evan Solomon

This week on The House,  are cuts included in the federal government’s most recent budget about to jeopardize the safety of your food? Evan Solomon talks with PSAC’s Agriculture Union President Bob Kingston about the impact cutting food inspectors will have on the content of Canadians’ plates. Then,  Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz explains why cuts won’t threaten food safety.

Dedicated border clearance and tracking of imported meat products

Currently, meat imported into Canada is cleared at the border separate from other commodities because this product carries an especially high risk to consumers.  This CFIA unit clears 50,000 meat import shipments every year.  It also carefully tracks key safety metrics such as compliance rates, nature of safety requirement violation and who the repeat offenders are.

There will be less inspection scrutiny of this high risk imported product and key intelligence that enables tracking of it will likely be lost when this program is cut because of the shortage of resources.

Consumer Protection Review

Widespread violation of consumer protection rules have recently been reported and industry has long pressured government to water down these provisions.  According to CFIA executives, industry pressure and lack of resources are driving this Agency-wide program review.

Consumer protection inspectors work to ensure the accuracy of company claims on product labels, and to verify the accuracy of:

  • product nutrition claims: this is critical safety information for anyone suffering from illnesses like diabetes, heart disease or life threatening allergies (already cancelled).
  • restaurant menu claims (already cancelled).
  • product net weight claims. Unless consumers go around with their own scale they might not be getting what they paid for.

Consumer protection retail inspections of local manufactured and imported food products have already been cancelled.

Pre-market approval of meat labels

Pre-market approval of meat labels was established for this high risk product to avoid the kind of fraudulent and other problematic claims found in other food products.  This program was a best practice where label details are approved and checked to make sure everything is accurate thereby allowing consumers to make safe decisions.  Cancellation of this program will convert this proactive practice to a reactive one in which inspectors try to clean up the mess once problems are found on the grocery shelves instead of before the product reaches consumers.