Self-reporting rules for marine, rail and aviation contributing to ‘weak safety culture’

Amber Hildebrandt – CBC News

The deadly Lac-Mégantic train crash — and this week’s safety board report into what happened — raises questions not only about government oversight of the rail industry but of other sectors like air, marine and food as well, engineers and transportation experts say.

On Tuesday, the Transportation Safety Board released its final report on the worst rail disaster in Canada’s history. In it, the watchdog agency criticized how the federal government ensures regulated companies follow safety rules.

TSB called on Transport Canada, the “guardian of public safety,” to audit railway companies more thoroughly and frequently, saying Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway ran “largely unchecked.”

Pointedly, TSB chair Wendy Tadros said federal auditors weren’t “pulling back the curtains” to see what was actually happening inside a company.

“It’s a pretty sweeping set of findings from the Transportation Safety Board,” said David Jeanes, founding president of Transport Action Canada, a non-profit group that monitors rail safety. “It isn’t just the rail mode. It’s really about the whole process of safety regulation.”

At the heart of the TSB criticism is a sometimes controversial approach called safety management systems, or SMS for short.

Under SMS, companies create their own safety plans, which are then checked by government officials, and they monitor their own safety performance, with occasional inspections by the regulator.

The rail industry adopted the approach in 2001, while large ships followed suit the year after and airlines started using it in 2005.

Reading binder vs. in-field checks

Critics suggest the move to SMS was driven by government cost-cutting measures, and stressed that it can only be effective if done in conjunction with sufficient checks by regulators on the companies.

In the case of Lac-Mégantic, TSB says Transport Canada looked at MM&A’s safety plan on paper, but didn’t dig deep enough into whether they were following the rules.

“What [the TSB] said is [Transport Canada was] satisfied to look at the binder and didn’t verify that this binder, or the content of that binder, implemented physically in the field.

“And that’s a big difference,” says Jean-Paul Lacoursière, a chemical engineer at the University of Sherbrooke who specializes in risk assessments.

TSB’s Lac-Mégantic report isn’t the first time the watchdog raised concerns with how the government has rolled out SMS. But those who follow these developments closely suggest the accident, which killed 47 people, could finally spur change.

In 2006, a runaway freight train near Lillooet, B.C., prompted the agency to call for Canadian National to do a better job of following its own safety rules.

In 2010, the agency highlighted SMS as a concern not only for the rail industry, but for the other modes of transportation that Transport Canada also oversees.

“Transport Canada does not always provide effective oversight of transportation companies transitioning to SMS, while some companies are not even required to have one,” the TSB wrote. It also put the issue front and centre by placing it on the agency’s “watch list” of problems for marine safety.

Last year, the federal auditor general also targeted Transport Canada’s oversight of rail. It found “significant weaknesses” in its supervision of companies, saying the department had done “very few audits” of the 31 federal railway operators under its jurisdiction.

Lacoursière says he was surprised but glad to see the TSB delve into the larger issues around safety culture in the Lac-Mégantic report. He’s hopeful that the agency’s criticism of the federal department could lead to significant changes for how it oversees rail, as well as marine and aviation.

“I think this is a game changer,” said Lacoursière. “It’ll bring safety management systems to the forefront.”

Safety culture key

Lacoursière says the tragedy in the small Quebec town demonstrates how important the overall safety system can be. And the TSB stressed that point as well.

Despite identifying 18 factors that contributed to the crash, it also said, “take any one of them out of the equation and this accident may not have happened.”

Even a well-trained worker like the MM&A locomotive engineer in the Lac-Mégantic case can make mistakes, says Lacoursière. “You need more than just relying on that person to actually prevent accidents. You need real systematic ways of doing things.”

“And it’s not only in that industry, but other industries that are under the federal jurisdiction are doing the same thing,” he said.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair raised that same concern.

“The basic problem is self-management doesn’t work when the government’s not holding up its end of the bargain,” Mulcair said on Tuesday following the release of the report. “Governments are supposed to be inspecting and regulating in the public interest.”

“In the case of Lac-Mégantic and in the case of food inspections, we realize this is not working,” he added.

Jeanes says that SMS has also come under considerable scrutiny in the airline industry, particularly in regards to smaller companies and their ability to implement such a complex, costly system.

As the federal government introduced the approach to the airline industry, retired justice Virgil Moshansky, who headed a three-year inquiry into one of Canada’s worst air disasters (the 1989 crash of an Air Ontario flight that killed 24 people), was quite critical of the system.

In 2007, he warned it would be a struggle for cash-strapped smaller carriers, “where the greatest risk already resides,” to implement SMS and monitor their own safety.

The retired justice worried that SMS relied on self-reporting of violations by airline personnel, which is inherently problematic because workers hesitate to report problems for fear of losing their jobs.

SMS ‘works internationally’

MM&A was also a smaller company. The U.S.-based regional railway operator owned 820 kilometres of track across Maine, Vermont and Quebec.

While MM&A submitted its SMS documentation to the government in 2003, and was deemed compliant, it wasn’t until seven years later that Transport Canada did its first audit of the company’s safety system and found the system wasn’t actually implemented.

In 2012, the government did a second audit, focusing on a limited aspect of MM&A ‘s safety system, but it never followed up.

“If TC does not audit the SMS of railways in sufficient depth and frequency and confirm that corrective actions are effectively implemented, there is an increased risk that railways will not effectively manage safety,” the TSB report said.

As a result, MM&A developed a “weak safety culture” that led to continuing unsafe practices, and Transport Canada  knew there was an elevated risk, including problems with securing trains since 2005 and with track conditions since 2006, the TSB said.

On top of that, the company was dealing with a dramatic jump in dangerous goods transported on its tracks, an increase of 280 per cent from 2011 to 2012, almost entirely because of crude oil. That raised the risks, but the company didn’t address them, even though it knew about the risks; and nor did the government.

Jeanes says the huge increase in crude transported on rail lines stretched transportation inspectors even further.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says the government has made sure that the department is properly resourced and trained to ensure auditors are “auditing appropriately.”

The minister said use of the approach comes down to a “fundamental fact: there’s 46,000 kilometres of rail track in this country. And you can’t possibly ever have enough inspectors at every way point on every train at every single moment to have that kind of continuous oversight.”

“So SMS has been developed, and it has been recognized and it has worked internationally.”

The government has 90 days to respond to the watchdog’s report, and Jeanes hopes that the TSB’s strong criticism of the government’s oversight leads to changes in the way it operates.

“Given that we’ve seen how catastrophic consequences can result from a failure of SMS, we must make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Jeanes.

 

© CBC 2014

Self-reporting rules for marine, rail and aviation contributing to ‘weak safety culture’

Amber Hildebrandt – CBC News

The deadly Lac-Mégantic train crash — and this week’s safety board report into what happened — raises questions not only about government oversight of the rail industry but of other sectors like air, marine and food as well, engineers and transportation experts say.

On Tuesday, the Transportation Safety Board released its final report on the worst rail disaster in Canada’s history. In it, the watchdog agency criticized how the federal government ensures regulated companies follow safety rules.

TSB called on Transport Canada, the “guardian of public safety,” to audit railway companies more thoroughly and frequently, saying Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway ran “largely unchecked.”

Pointedly, TSB chair Wendy Tadros said federal auditors weren’t “pulling back the curtains” to see what was actually happening inside a company.

“It’s a pretty sweeping set of findings from the Transportation Safety Board,” said David Jeanes, founding president of Transport Action Canada, a non-profit group that monitors rail safety. “It isn’t just the rail mode. It’s really about the whole process of safety regulation.”

At the heart of the TSB criticism is a sometimes controversial approach called safety management systems, or SMS for short.

Under SMS, companies create their own safety plans, which are then checked by government officials, and they monitor their own safety performance, with occasional inspections by the regulator.

The rail industry adopted the approach in 2001, while large ships followed suit the year after and airlines started using it in 2005.

Reading binder vs. in-field checks

Critics suggest the move to SMS was driven by government cost-cutting measures, and stressed that it can only be effective if done in conjunction with sufficient checks by regulators on the companies.

In the case of Lac-Mégantic, TSB says Transport Canada looked at MM&A’s safety plan on paper, but didn’t dig deep enough into whether they were following the rules.

“What [the TSB] said is [Transport Canada was] satisfied to look at the binder and didn’t verify that this binder, or the content of that binder, implemented physically in the field.

“And that’s a big difference,” says Jean-Paul Lacoursière, a chemical engineer at the University of Sherbrooke who specializes in risk assessments.

TSB’s Lac-Mégantic report isn’t the first time the watchdog raised concerns with how the government has rolled out SMS. But those who follow these developments closely suggest the accident, which killed 47 people, could finally spur change.

In 2006, a runaway freight train near Lillooet, B.C., prompted the agency to call for Canadian National to do a better job of following its own safety rules.

In 2010, the agency highlighted SMS as a concern not only for the rail industry, but for the other modes of transportation that Transport Canada also oversees.

“Transport Canada does not always provide effective oversight of transportation companies transitioning to SMS, while some companies are not even required to have one,” the TSB wrote. It also put the issue front and centre by placing it on the agency’s “watch list” of problems for marine safety.

Last year, the federal auditor general also targeted Transport Canada’s oversight of rail. It found “significant weaknesses” in its supervision of companies, saying the department had done “very few audits” of the 31 federal railway operators under its jurisdiction.

Lacoursière says he was surprised but glad to see the TSB delve into the larger issues around safety culture in the Lac-Mégantic report. He’s hopeful that the agency’s criticism of the federal department could lead to significant changes for how it oversees rail, as well as marine and aviation.

“I think this is a game changer,” said Lacoursière. “It’ll bring safety management systems to the forefront.”

Safety culture key

Lacoursière says the tragedy in the small Quebec town demonstrates how important the overall safety system can be. And the TSB stressed that point as well.

Despite identifying 18 factors that contributed to the crash, it also said, “take any one of them out of the equation and this accident may not have happened.”

Even a well-trained worker like the MM&A locomotive engineer in the Lac-Mégantic case can make mistakes, says Lacoursière. “You need more than just relying on that person to actually prevent accidents. You need real systematic ways of doing things.”

“And it’s not only in that industry, but other industries that are under the federal jurisdiction are doing the same thing,” he said.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair raised that same concern.

“The basic problem is self-management doesn’t work when the government’s not holding up its end of the bargain,” Mulcair said on Tuesday following the release of the report. “Governments are supposed to be inspecting and regulating in the public interest.”

“In the case of Lac-Mégantic and in the case of food inspections, we realize this is not working,” he added.

Jeanes says that SMS has also come under considerable scrutiny in the airline industry, particularly in regards to smaller companies and their ability to implement such a complex, costly system.

As the federal government introduced the approach to the airline industry, retired justice Virgil Moshansky, who headed a three-year inquiry into one of Canada’s worst air disasters (the 1989 crash of an Air Ontario flight that killed 24 people), was quite critical of the system.

In 2007, he warned it would be a struggle for cash-strapped smaller carriers, “where the greatest risk already resides,” to implement SMS and monitor their own safety.

The retired justice worried that SMS relied on self-reporting of violations by airline personnel, which is inherently problematic because workers hesitate to report problems for fear of losing their jobs.

SMS ‘works internationally’

MM&A was also a smaller company. The U.S.-based regional railway operator owned 820 kilometres of track across Maine, Vermont and Quebec.

While MM&A submitted its SMS documentation to the government in 2003, and was deemed compliant, it wasn’t until seven years later that Transport Canada did its first audit of the company’s safety system and found the system wasn’t actually implemented.

In 2012, the government did a second audit, focusing on a limited aspect of MM&A ‘s safety system, but it never followed up.

“If TC does not audit the SMS of railways in sufficient depth and frequency and confirm that corrective actions are effectively implemented, there is an increased risk that railways will not effectively manage safety,” the TSB report said.

As a result, MM&A developed a “weak safety culture” that led to continuing unsafe practices, and Transport Canada  knew there was an elevated risk, including problems with securing trains since 2005 and with track conditions since 2006, the TSB said.

On top of that, the company was dealing with a dramatic jump in dangerous goods transported on its tracks, an increase of 280 per cent from 2011 to 2012, almost entirely because of crude oil. That raised the risks, but the company didn’t address them, even though it knew about the risks; and nor did the government.

Jeanes says the huge increase in crude transported on rail lines stretched transportation inspectors even further.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says the government has made sure that the department is properly resourced and trained to ensure auditors are “auditing appropriately.”

The minister said use of the approach comes down to a “fundamental fact: there’s 46,000 kilometres of rail track in this country. And you can’t possibly ever have enough inspectors at every way point on every train at every single moment to have that kind of continuous oversight.”

“So SMS has been developed, and it has been recognized and it has worked internationally.”

The government has 90 days to respond to the watchdog’s report, and Jeanes hopes that the TSB’s strong criticism of the government’s oversight leads to changes in the way it operates.

“Given that we’ve seen how catastrophic consequences can result from a failure of SMS, we must make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Jeanes.

 

© CBC 2014

Self-reporting rules for marine, rail and aviation contributing to ‘weak safety culture’

Amber Hildebrandt – CBC News

The deadly Lac-Mégantic train crash — and this week’s safety board report into what happened — raises questions not only about government oversight of the rail industry but of other sectors like air, marine and food as well, engineers and transportation experts say.

On Tuesday, the Transportation Safety Board released its final report on the worst rail disaster in Canada’s history. In it, the watchdog agency criticized how the federal government ensures regulated companies follow safety rules.

TSB called on Transport Canada, the “guardian of public safety,” to audit railway companies more thoroughly and frequently, saying Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway ran “largely unchecked.”

Pointedly, TSB chair Wendy Tadros said federal auditors weren’t “pulling back the curtains” to see what was actually happening inside a company.

“It’s a pretty sweeping set of findings from the Transportation Safety Board,” said David Jeanes, founding president of Transport Action Canada, a non-profit group that monitors rail safety. “It isn’t just the rail mode. It’s really about the whole process of safety regulation.”

At the heart of the TSB criticism is a sometimes controversial approach called safety management systems, or SMS for short.

Under SMS, companies create their own safety plans, which are then checked by government officials, and they monitor their own safety performance, with occasional inspections by the regulator.

The rail industry adopted the approach in 2001, while large ships followed suit the year after and airlines started using it in 2005.

Reading binder vs. in-field checks

Critics suggest the move to SMS was driven by government cost-cutting measures, and stressed that it can only be effective if done in conjunction with sufficient checks by regulators on the companies.

In the case of Lac-Mégantic, TSB says Transport Canada looked at MM&A’s safety plan on paper, but didn’t dig deep enough into whether they were following the rules.

“What [the TSB] said is [Transport Canada was] satisfied to look at the binder and didn’t verify that this binder, or the content of that binder, implemented physically in the field.

“And that’s a big difference,” says Jean-Paul Lacoursière, a chemical engineer at the University of Sherbrooke who specializes in risk assessments.

TSB’s Lac-Mégantic report isn’t the first time the watchdog raised concerns with how the government has rolled out SMS. But those who follow these developments closely suggest the accident, which killed 47 people, could finally spur change.

In 2006, a runaway freight train near Lillooet, B.C., prompted the agency to call for Canadian National to do a better job of following its own safety rules.

In 2010, the agency highlighted SMS as a concern not only for the rail industry, but for the other modes of transportation that Transport Canada also oversees.

“Transport Canada does not always provide effective oversight of transportation companies transitioning to SMS, while some companies are not even required to have one,” the TSB wrote. It also put the issue front and centre by placing it on the agency’s “watch list” of problems for marine safety.

Last year, the federal auditor general also targeted Transport Canada’s oversight of rail. It found “significant weaknesses” in its supervision of companies, saying the department had done “very few audits” of the 31 federal railway operators under its jurisdiction.

Lacoursière says he was surprised but glad to see the TSB delve into the larger issues around safety culture in the Lac-Mégantic report. He’s hopeful that the agency’s criticism of the federal department could lead to significant changes for how it oversees rail, as well as marine and aviation.

“I think this is a game changer,” said Lacoursière. “It’ll bring safety management systems to the forefront.”

Safety culture key

Lacoursière says the tragedy in the small Quebec town demonstrates how important the overall safety system can be. And the TSB stressed that point as well.

Despite identifying 18 factors that contributed to the crash, it also said, “take any one of them out of the equation and this accident may not have happened.”

Even a well-trained worker like the MM&A locomotive engineer in the Lac-Mégantic case can make mistakes, says Lacoursière. “You need more than just relying on that person to actually prevent accidents. You need real systematic ways of doing things.”

“And it’s not only in that industry, but other industries that are under the federal jurisdiction are doing the same thing,” he said.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair raised that same concern.

“The basic problem is self-management doesn’t work when the government’s not holding up its end of the bargain,” Mulcair said on Tuesday following the release of the report. “Governments are supposed to be inspecting and regulating in the public interest.”

“In the case of Lac-Mégantic and in the case of food inspections, we realize this is not working,” he added.

Jeanes says that SMS has also come under considerable scrutiny in the airline industry, particularly in regards to smaller companies and their ability to implement such a complex, costly system.

As the federal government introduced the approach to the airline industry, retired justice Virgil Moshansky, who headed a three-year inquiry into one of Canada’s worst air disasters (the 1989 crash of an Air Ontario flight that killed 24 people), was quite critical of the system.

In 2007, he warned it would be a struggle for cash-strapped smaller carriers, “where the greatest risk already resides,” to implement SMS and monitor their own safety.

The retired justice worried that SMS relied on self-reporting of violations by airline personnel, which is inherently problematic because workers hesitate to report problems for fear of losing their jobs.

SMS ‘works internationally’

MM&A was also a smaller company. The U.S.-based regional railway operator owned 820 kilometres of track across Maine, Vermont and Quebec.

While MM&A submitted its SMS documentation to the government in 2003, and was deemed compliant, it wasn’t until seven years later that Transport Canada did its first audit of the company’s safety system and found the system wasn’t actually implemented.

In 2012, the government did a second audit, focusing on a limited aspect of MM&A ‘s safety system, but it never followed up.

“If TC does not audit the SMS of railways in sufficient depth and frequency and confirm that corrective actions are effectively implemented, there is an increased risk that railways will not effectively manage safety,” the TSB report said.

As a result, MM&A developed a “weak safety culture” that led to continuing unsafe practices, and Transport Canada  knew there was an elevated risk, including problems with securing trains since 2005 and with track conditions since 2006, the TSB said.

On top of that, the company was dealing with a dramatic jump in dangerous goods transported on its tracks, an increase of 280 per cent from 2011 to 2012, almost entirely because of crude oil. That raised the risks, but the company didn’t address them, even though it knew about the risks; and nor did the government.

Jeanes says the huge increase in crude transported on rail lines stretched transportation inspectors even further.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says the government has made sure that the department is properly resourced and trained to ensure auditors are “auditing appropriately.”

The minister said use of the approach comes down to a “fundamental fact: there’s 46,000 kilometres of rail track in this country. And you can’t possibly ever have enough inspectors at every way point on every train at every single moment to have that kind of continuous oversight.”

“So SMS has been developed, and it has been recognized and it has worked internationally.”

The government has 90 days to respond to the watchdog’s report, and Jeanes hopes that the TSB’s strong criticism of the government’s oversight leads to changes in the way it operates.

“Given that we’ve seen how catastrophic consequences can result from a failure of SMS, we must make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Jeanes.

 

© CBC 2014
Carly Weeks – The Globe and Mail

Do you gravitate toward cereal, pasta sauces or peanut butter emblazoned with an “all natural” label? With all of the products out there competing for our attention, choosing ones that are made with natural ingredients seems like an easy, obvious way to ensure what you’re getting is good for you.

Except that it’s not necessarily true.

The rules surrounding use of terms like “all natural” and “no artificial ingredients” are often ambiguous and, as a result, can mislead consumers.

On Thursday, food giant Kellogg said it would be changing some product formulas and removing “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from some Kashi brand products in the United States as part of a legal settlement. A lawsuit was launched against the company in 2011 because many products labelled “natural” or “nothing artificial” contained synthetic ingredients, such as pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate and soy oil processed with a component of gasoline, according to The New York Times.

The problem of foods carrying an “all natural” label despite the presence of processed, chemical ingredients is not confined to Kellogg. More companies are using words like “simple,” “natural” and “no artificial” to attract health-conscious consumers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has created some rules to prevent companies from abusing the “natural” term.

The CFIA says that foods can only be represented as natural if they have never contained an added vitamin, nutrient, artificial flavour or food additive. The food also needs to be in its original form and can’t have been processed significantly.

But companies are allowed to use a “natural ingredients” label in cases where products contain some natural ingredients. This could easily give consumers the false impression that all ingredients in the product are natural.

And consumers should also keep in mind that “natural” ingredients aren’t necessarily an indication of their nutritional value. A product made with all-natural ingredients can contain high amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium, which can lead to health problems if consumed in excess.

Consumers who want truly natural foods might be best picking those with no label at all.

© The Globe and Mail

 

Self-reporting rules for marine, rail and aviation contributing to ‘weak safety culture’

Amber Hildebrandt – CBC News

The deadly Lac-Mégantic train crash — and this week’s safety board report into what happened — raises questions not only about government oversight of the rail industry but of other sectors like air, marine and food as well, engineers and transportation experts say.

On Tuesday, the Transportation Safety Board released its final report on the worst rail disaster in Canada’s history. In it, the watchdog agency criticized how the federal government ensures regulated companies follow safety rules.

TSB called on Transport Canada, the “guardian of public safety,” to audit railway companies more thoroughly and frequently, saying Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway ran “largely unchecked.”

Pointedly, TSB chair Wendy Tadros said federal auditors weren’t “pulling back the curtains” to see what was actually happening inside a company.

“It’s a pretty sweeping set of findings from the Transportation Safety Board,” said David Jeanes, founding president of Transport Action Canada, a non-profit group that monitors rail safety. “It isn’t just the rail mode. It’s really about the whole process of safety regulation.”

At the heart of the TSB criticism is a sometimes controversial approach called safety management systems, or SMS for short.

Under SMS, companies create their own safety plans, which are then checked by government officials, and they monitor their own safety performance, with occasional inspections by the regulator.

The rail industry adopted the approach in 2001, while large ships followed suit the year after and airlines started using it in 2005.

Reading binder vs. in-field checks

Critics suggest the move to SMS was driven by government cost-cutting measures, and stressed that it can only be effective if done in conjunction with sufficient checks by regulators on the companies.

In the case of Lac-Mégantic, TSB says Transport Canada looked at MM&A’s safety plan on paper, but didn’t dig deep enough into whether they were following the rules.

“What [the TSB] said is [Transport Canada was] satisfied to look at the binder and didn’t verify that this binder, or the content of that binder, implemented physically in the field.

“And that’s a big difference,” says Jean-Paul Lacoursière, a chemical engineer at the University of Sherbrooke who specializes in risk assessments.

TSB’s Lac-Mégantic report isn’t the first time the watchdog raised concerns with how the government has rolled out SMS. But those who follow these developments closely suggest the accident, which killed 47 people, could finally spur change.

In 2006, a runaway freight train near Lillooet, B.C., prompted the agency to call for Canadian National to do a better job of following its own safety rules.

In 2010, the agency highlighted SMS as a concern not only for the rail industry, but for the other modes of transportation that Transport Canada also oversees.

“Transport Canada does not always provide effective oversight of transportation companies transitioning to SMS, while some companies are not even required to have one,” the TSB wrote. It also put the issue front and centre by placing it on the agency’s “watch list” of problems for marine safety.

Last year, the federal auditor general also targeted Transport Canada’s oversight of rail. It found “significant weaknesses” in its supervision of companies, saying the department had done “very few audits” of the 31 federal railway operators under its jurisdiction.

Lacoursière says he was surprised but glad to see the TSB delve into the larger issues around safety culture in the Lac-Mégantic report. He’s hopeful that the agency’s criticism of the federal department could lead to significant changes for how it oversees rail, as well as marine and aviation.

“I think this is a game changer,” said Lacoursière. “It’ll bring safety management systems to the forefront.”

Safety culture key

Lacoursière says the tragedy in the small Quebec town demonstrates how important the overall safety system can be. And the TSB stressed that point as well.

Despite identifying 18 factors that contributed to the crash, it also said, “take any one of them out of the equation and this accident may not have happened.”

Even a well-trained worker like the MM&A locomotive engineer in the Lac-Mégantic case can make mistakes, says Lacoursière. “You need more than just relying on that person to actually prevent accidents. You need real systematic ways of doing things.”

“And it’s not only in that industry, but other industries that are under the federal jurisdiction are doing the same thing,” he said.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair raised that same concern.

“The basic problem is self-management doesn’t work when the government’s not holding up its end of the bargain,” Mulcair said on Tuesday following the release of the report. “Governments are supposed to be inspecting and regulating in the public interest.”

“In the case of Lac-Mégantic and in the case of food inspections, we realize this is not working,” he added.

Jeanes says that SMS has also come under considerable scrutiny in the airline industry, particularly in regards to smaller companies and their ability to implement such a complex, costly system.

As the federal government introduced the approach to the airline industry, retired justice Virgil Moshansky, who headed a three-year inquiry into one of Canada’s worst air disasters (the 1989 crash of an Air Ontario flight that killed 24 people), was quite critical of the system.

In 2007, he warned it would be a struggle for cash-strapped smaller carriers, “where the greatest risk already resides,” to implement SMS and monitor their own safety.

The retired justice worried that SMS relied on self-reporting of violations by airline personnel, which is inherently problematic because workers hesitate to report problems for fear of losing their jobs.

SMS ‘works internationally’

MM&A was also a smaller company. The U.S.-based regional railway operator owned 820 kilometres of track across Maine, Vermont and Quebec.

While MM&A submitted its SMS documentation to the government in 2003, and was deemed compliant, it wasn’t until seven years later that Transport Canada did its first audit of the company’s safety system and found the system wasn’t actually implemented.

In 2012, the government did a second audit, focusing on a limited aspect of MM&A ‘s safety system, but it never followed up.

“If TC does not audit the SMS of railways in sufficient depth and frequency and confirm that corrective actions are effectively implemented, there is an increased risk that railways will not effectively manage safety,” the TSB report said.

As a result, MM&A developed a “weak safety culture” that led to continuing unsafe practices, and Transport Canada  knew there was an elevated risk, including problems with securing trains since 2005 and with track conditions since 2006, the TSB said.

On top of that, the company was dealing with a dramatic jump in dangerous goods transported on its tracks, an increase of 280 per cent from 2011 to 2012, almost entirely because of crude oil. That raised the risks, but the company didn’t address them, even though it knew about the risks; and nor did the government.

Jeanes says the huge increase in crude transported on rail lines stretched transportation inspectors even further.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says the government has made sure that the department is properly resourced and trained to ensure auditors are “auditing appropriately.”

The minister said use of the approach comes down to a “fundamental fact: there’s 46,000 kilometres of rail track in this country. And you can’t possibly ever have enough inspectors at every way point on every train at every single moment to have that kind of continuous oversight.”

“So SMS has been developed, and it has been recognized and it has worked internationally.”

The government has 90 days to respond to the watchdog’s report, and Jeanes hopes that the TSB’s strong criticism of the government’s oversight leads to changes in the way it operates.

“Given that we’ve seen how catastrophic consequences can result from a failure of SMS, we must make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Jeanes.

 

© CBC 2014
Carly Weeks – The Globe and Mail

Do you gravitate toward cereal, pasta sauces or peanut butter emblazoned with an “all natural” label? With all of the products out there competing for our attention, choosing ones that are made with natural ingredients seems like an easy, obvious way to ensure what you’re getting is good for you.

Except that it’s not necessarily true.

The rules surrounding use of terms like “all natural” and “no artificial ingredients” are often ambiguous and, as a result, can mislead consumers.

On Thursday, food giant Kellogg said it would be changing some product formulas and removing “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from some Kashi brand products in the United States as part of a legal settlement. A lawsuit was launched against the company in 2011 because many products labelled “natural” or “nothing artificial” contained synthetic ingredients, such as pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate and soy oil processed with a component of gasoline, according to The New York Times.

The problem of foods carrying an “all natural” label despite the presence of processed, chemical ingredients is not confined to Kellogg. More companies are using words like “simple,” “natural” and “no artificial” to attract health-conscious consumers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has created some rules to prevent companies from abusing the “natural” term.

The CFIA says that foods can only be represented as natural if they have never contained an added vitamin, nutrient, artificial flavour or food additive. The food also needs to be in its original form and can’t have been processed significantly.

But companies are allowed to use a “natural ingredients” label in cases where products contain some natural ingredients. This could easily give consumers the false impression that all ingredients in the product are natural.

And consumers should also keep in mind that “natural” ingredients aren’t necessarily an indication of their nutritional value. A product made with all-natural ingredients can contain high amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium, which can lead to health problems if consumed in excess.

Consumers who want truly natural foods might be best picking those with no label at all.

© The Globe and Mail

 
Carly Weeks – The Globe and Mail

Do you gravitate toward cereal, pasta sauces or peanut butter emblazoned with an “all natural” label? With all of the products out there competing for our attention, choosing ones that are made with natural ingredients seems like an easy, obvious way to ensure what you’re getting is good for you.

Except that it’s not necessarily true.

The rules surrounding use of terms like “all natural” and “no artificial ingredients” are often ambiguous and, as a result, can mislead consumers.

On Thursday, food giant Kellogg said it would be changing some product formulas and removing “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from some Kashi brand products in the United States as part of a legal settlement. A lawsuit was launched against the company in 2011 because many products labelled “natural” or “nothing artificial” contained synthetic ingredients, such as pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate and soy oil processed with a component of gasoline, according to The New York Times.

The problem of foods carrying an “all natural” label despite the presence of processed, chemical ingredients is not confined to Kellogg. More companies are using words like “simple,” “natural” and “no artificial” to attract health-conscious consumers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has created some rules to prevent companies from abusing the “natural” term.

The CFIA says that foods can only be represented as natural if they have never contained an added vitamin, nutrient, artificial flavour or food additive. The food also needs to be in its original form and can’t have been processed significantly.

But companies are allowed to use a “natural ingredients” label in cases where products contain some natural ingredients. This could easily give consumers the false impression that all ingredients in the product are natural.

And consumers should also keep in mind that “natural” ingredients aren’t necessarily an indication of their nutritional value. A product made with all-natural ingredients can contain high amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium, which can lead to health problems if consumed in excess.

Consumers who want truly natural foods might be best picking those with no label at all.

© The Globe and Mail

 

Self-reporting rules for marine, rail and aviation contributing to ‘weak safety culture’

Amber Hildebrandt – CBC News

The deadly Lac-Mégantic train crash — and this week’s safety board report into what happened — raises questions not only about government oversight of the rail industry but of other sectors like air, marine and food as well, engineers and transportation experts say.

On Tuesday, the Transportation Safety Board released its final report on the worst rail disaster in Canada’s history. In it, the watchdog agency criticized how the federal government ensures regulated companies follow safety rules.

TSB called on Transport Canada, the “guardian of public safety,” to audit railway companies more thoroughly and frequently, saying Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway ran “largely unchecked.”

Pointedly, TSB chair Wendy Tadros said federal auditors weren’t “pulling back the curtains” to see what was actually happening inside a company.

“It’s a pretty sweeping set of findings from the Transportation Safety Board,” said David Jeanes, founding president of Transport Action Canada, a non-profit group that monitors rail safety. “It isn’t just the rail mode. It’s really about the whole process of safety regulation.”

At the heart of the TSB criticism is a sometimes controversial approach called safety management systems, or SMS for short.

Under SMS, companies create their own safety plans, which are then checked by government officials, and they monitor their own safety performance, with occasional inspections by the regulator.

The rail industry adopted the approach in 2001, while large ships followed suit the year after and airlines started using it in 2005.

Reading binder vs. in-field checks

Critics suggest the move to SMS was driven by government cost-cutting measures, and stressed that it can only be effective if done in conjunction with sufficient checks by regulators on the companies.

In the case of Lac-Mégantic, TSB says Transport Canada looked at MM&A’s safety plan on paper, but didn’t dig deep enough into whether they were following the rules.

“What [the TSB] said is [Transport Canada was] satisfied to look at the binder and didn’t verify that this binder, or the content of that binder, implemented physically in the field.

“And that’s a big difference,” says Jean-Paul Lacoursière, a chemical engineer at the University of Sherbrooke who specializes in risk assessments.

TSB’s Lac-Mégantic report isn’t the first time the watchdog raised concerns with how the government has rolled out SMS. But those who follow these developments closely suggest the accident, which killed 47 people, could finally spur change.

In 2006, a runaway freight train near Lillooet, B.C., prompted the agency to call for Canadian National to do a better job of following its own safety rules.

In 2010, the agency highlighted SMS as a concern not only for the rail industry, but for the other modes of transportation that Transport Canada also oversees.

“Transport Canada does not always provide effective oversight of transportation companies transitioning to SMS, while some companies are not even required to have one,” the TSB wrote. It also put the issue front and centre by placing it on the agency’s “watch list” of problems for marine safety.

Last year, the federal auditor general also targeted Transport Canada’s oversight of rail. It found “significant weaknesses” in its supervision of companies, saying the department had done “very few audits” of the 31 federal railway operators under its jurisdiction.

Lacoursière says he was surprised but glad to see the TSB delve into the larger issues around safety culture in the Lac-Mégantic report. He’s hopeful that the agency’s criticism of the federal department could lead to significant changes for how it oversees rail, as well as marine and aviation.

“I think this is a game changer,” said Lacoursière. “It’ll bring safety management systems to the forefront.”

Safety culture key

Lacoursière says the tragedy in the small Quebec town demonstrates how important the overall safety system can be. And the TSB stressed that point as well.

Despite identifying 18 factors that contributed to the crash, it also said, “take any one of them out of the equation and this accident may not have happened.”

Even a well-trained worker like the MM&A locomotive engineer in the Lac-Mégantic case can make mistakes, says Lacoursière. “You need more than just relying on that person to actually prevent accidents. You need real systematic ways of doing things.”

“And it’s not only in that industry, but other industries that are under the federal jurisdiction are doing the same thing,” he said.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair raised that same concern.

“The basic problem is self-management doesn’t work when the government’s not holding up its end of the bargain,” Mulcair said on Tuesday following the release of the report. “Governments are supposed to be inspecting and regulating in the public interest.”

“In the case of Lac-Mégantic and in the case of food inspections, we realize this is not working,” he added.

Jeanes says that SMS has also come under considerable scrutiny in the airline industry, particularly in regards to smaller companies and their ability to implement such a complex, costly system.

As the federal government introduced the approach to the airline industry, retired justice Virgil Moshansky, who headed a three-year inquiry into one of Canada’s worst air disasters (the 1989 crash of an Air Ontario flight that killed 24 people), was quite critical of the system.

In 2007, he warned it would be a struggle for cash-strapped smaller carriers, “where the greatest risk already resides,” to implement SMS and monitor their own safety.

The retired justice worried that SMS relied on self-reporting of violations by airline personnel, which is inherently problematic because workers hesitate to report problems for fear of losing their jobs.

SMS ‘works internationally’

MM&A was also a smaller company. The U.S.-based regional railway operator owned 820 kilometres of track across Maine, Vermont and Quebec.

While MM&A submitted its SMS documentation to the government in 2003, and was deemed compliant, it wasn’t until seven years later that Transport Canada did its first audit of the company’s safety system and found the system wasn’t actually implemented.

In 2012, the government did a second audit, focusing on a limited aspect of MM&A ‘s safety system, but it never followed up.

“If TC does not audit the SMS of railways in sufficient depth and frequency and confirm that corrective actions are effectively implemented, there is an increased risk that railways will not effectively manage safety,” the TSB report said.

As a result, MM&A developed a “weak safety culture” that led to continuing unsafe practices, and Transport Canada  knew there was an elevated risk, including problems with securing trains since 2005 and with track conditions since 2006, the TSB said.

On top of that, the company was dealing with a dramatic jump in dangerous goods transported on its tracks, an increase of 280 per cent from 2011 to 2012, almost entirely because of crude oil. That raised the risks, but the company didn’t address them, even though it knew about the risks; and nor did the government.

Jeanes says the huge increase in crude transported on rail lines stretched transportation inspectors even further.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says the government has made sure that the department is properly resourced and trained to ensure auditors are “auditing appropriately.”

The minister said use of the approach comes down to a “fundamental fact: there’s 46,000 kilometres of rail track in this country. And you can’t possibly ever have enough inspectors at every way point on every train at every single moment to have that kind of continuous oversight.”

“So SMS has been developed, and it has been recognized and it has worked internationally.”

The government has 90 days to respond to the watchdog’s report, and Jeanes hopes that the TSB’s strong criticism of the government’s oversight leads to changes in the way it operates.

“Given that we’ve seen how catastrophic consequences can result from a failure of SMS, we must make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Jeanes.

 

© CBC 2014
Carly Weeks – The Globe and Mail

Do you gravitate toward cereal, pasta sauces or peanut butter emblazoned with an “all natural” label? With all of the products out there competing for our attention, choosing ones that are made with natural ingredients seems like an easy, obvious way to ensure what you’re getting is good for you.

Except that it’s not necessarily true.

The rules surrounding use of terms like “all natural” and “no artificial ingredients” are often ambiguous and, as a result, can mislead consumers.

On Thursday, food giant Kellogg said it would be changing some product formulas and removing “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from some Kashi brand products in the United States as part of a legal settlement. A lawsuit was launched against the company in 2011 because many products labelled “natural” or “nothing artificial” contained synthetic ingredients, such as pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate and soy oil processed with a component of gasoline, according to The New York Times.

The problem of foods carrying an “all natural” label despite the presence of processed, chemical ingredients is not confined to Kellogg. More companies are using words like “simple,” “natural” and “no artificial” to attract health-conscious consumers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has created some rules to prevent companies from abusing the “natural” term.

The CFIA says that foods can only be represented as natural if they have never contained an added vitamin, nutrient, artificial flavour or food additive. The food also needs to be in its original form and can’t have been processed significantly.

But companies are allowed to use a “natural ingredients” label in cases where products contain some natural ingredients. This could easily give consumers the false impression that all ingredients in the product are natural.

And consumers should also keep in mind that “natural” ingredients aren’t necessarily an indication of their nutritional value. A product made with all-natural ingredients can contain high amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium, which can lead to health problems if consumed in excess.

Consumers who want truly natural foods might be best picking those with no label at all.

© The Globe and Mail

 
Carly Weeks – The Globe and Mail

Do you gravitate toward cereal, pasta sauces or peanut butter emblazoned with an “all natural” label? With all of the products out there competing for our attention, choosing ones that are made with natural ingredients seems like an easy, obvious way to ensure what you’re getting is good for you.

Except that it’s not necessarily true.

The rules surrounding use of terms like “all natural” and “no artificial ingredients” are often ambiguous and, as a result, can mislead consumers.

On Thursday, food giant Kellogg said it would be changing some product formulas and removing “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from some Kashi brand products in the United States as part of a legal settlement. A lawsuit was launched against the company in 2011 because many products labelled “natural” or “nothing artificial” contained synthetic ingredients, such as pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate and soy oil processed with a component of gasoline, according to The New York Times.

The problem of foods carrying an “all natural” label despite the presence of processed, chemical ingredients is not confined to Kellogg. More companies are using words like “simple,” “natural” and “no artificial” to attract health-conscious consumers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has created some rules to prevent companies from abusing the “natural” term.

The CFIA says that foods can only be represented as natural if they have never contained an added vitamin, nutrient, artificial flavour or food additive. The food also needs to be in its original form and can’t have been processed significantly.

But companies are allowed to use a “natural ingredients” label in cases where products contain some natural ingredients. This could easily give consumers the false impression that all ingredients in the product are natural.

And consumers should also keep in mind that “natural” ingredients aren’t necessarily an indication of their nutritional value. A product made with all-natural ingredients can contain high amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium, which can lead to health problems if consumed in excess.

Consumers who want truly natural foods might be best picking those with no label at all.

© The Globe and Mail

 

We are what we eat, even though it might be dangerous

Bob Kingston – The Vancouver Sun

Food safety inspectors and managers at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency all share a common view concerning the adequacy of available resources to do their job.

Everyone of those I have spoken with tell me they are forced to gamble daily. They must choose which work may not get done and hope no one becomes sick as a result. They simply have neither the staff nor the time to do everything required to ensure food companies are complying with safety requirements.

They can’t say this publicly. They are prevented from speaking out for fear of losing their jobs. Public confidence must be maintained at all costs.

This “don’t worry, be happy” approach to food safety infects the highest levels of Canada’s food safety system.

Based on advice from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Minister Rona Ambrose has characterized public comments from the food inspectors union about the inadequacy of consumer protection inspections as irresponsibly stirring public concern.

Ambrose cannot be blamed for accepting their advice at face value. She has only just taken over some responsibility for the agency and has probably not had time to speak with anyone outside the CFIA’s executive offices in Ottawa.

If she did — as I do on a daily basis — she might find many serious issues about food safety inspection have been swept under the carpet where they have resided for years.

Take, for example, the findings of the investigation conducted by Sheila Weatherhill into the causes of the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis outbreak in the summer of 2008 that claimed the lives of 23 Canadians.

Weatherill found the CFIA had no idea how many inspectors were required to ensure food is produced safely after the introduction of a new inspection system.

To prevent a repeat of the Maple Leaf tragedy, she recommended the CFIA conduct an audit to accurately determine “the demand on its inspection resources and the number of required inspectors . . . .”

Ottawa has acted on this recommendation six years later, but only for its process meat program. The audit found the program was critically short-staffed and CFIA subsequently boosted its ranks by almost 100 per cent.

No other inspection program, however, has undergone a similar audit, even though many other commodities pose serious risks of food borne illness. To this day, the CFIA remains uninformed when it comes to the demands on its inspection resources and the number of inspectors required to make the system effective for all but this one program.

More recently, Canadians will remember the E. coli outbreak at the XL Meat plant in Alberta that sickened at least seven people and led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history.

Among other things, an investigation concluded that CFIA inspectors were instructed to ignore some sanitation problems and contaminated meat products.

In this age of global commerce and the widespread availability of food from around the world, stopping unsafe food from reaching grocery shelves is not the purpose of import inspection and only about two per cent of food imported into Canada is inspected.

The vast majority of import inspections are conducted to protect plant and animal health, not human health. Inspections of products intended for human consumption are primarily to monitor trends and not to prevent dangerous goods from reaching store shelves.

For example, in the unlikely event the CFIA inspects a shipment of fresh produce observed to be contaminated by an insecticide or fungicide (because it is covered with a white powder), results from laboratory tests would not be available until long after that product had reached dining room tables.

While the CFIA has recently established a new licensing program for importers, there have been no inspection staff added to the CFIA’s ranks to monitor these companies or process their paperwork.

When it comes to the consumer protection inspections the food inspectors union has recently discussed publicly, the CFIA has a spotty record of enforcing the rules.

Indeed, journalists recently uncovered documents showing the CFIA had evidence of food fraud in Vancouver and knowingly allowed a bakery to continue selling bread labelled organic that was made using non-organic ingredients. The CFIA stood on the sidelines and didn’t even tell unsuspecting customers.

Perhaps this explains why the CFIA has not pursued a single prosecution for food fraud in Metro Vancouver in five years.

Puzzling, however, is the decision to disband the unit of inspectors in Metro Vancouver dedicated to enforcing laws concerning food fraud. Without proactive surveillance — no matter how infrequent — there is zero deterrence preventing those who wish to defraud consumers from doing so.

Canadians have a right to accurate product labels to know what they are buying.

This is a safety concern for many consumers with medical conditions or allergies that require them to avoid certain food or ingredients.

If we don’t raise these issues publicly, more people will need to become sick — or worse — to force improvements. That’s the irresponsible approach.

Bob Kingston is president of the Agriculture Union — PSAC which represents food inspectors working at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

© The Vancouver Sun

Self-reporting rules for marine, rail and aviation contributing to ‘weak safety culture’

Amber Hildebrandt – CBC News

The deadly Lac-Mégantic train crash — and this week’s safety board report into what happened — raises questions not only about government oversight of the rail industry but of other sectors like air, marine and food as well, engineers and transportation experts say.

On Tuesday, the Transportation Safety Board released its final report on the worst rail disaster in Canada’s history. In it, the watchdog agency criticized how the federal government ensures regulated companies follow safety rules.

TSB called on Transport Canada, the “guardian of public safety,” to audit railway companies more thoroughly and frequently, saying Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway ran “largely unchecked.”

Pointedly, TSB chair Wendy Tadros said federal auditors weren’t “pulling back the curtains” to see what was actually happening inside a company.

“It’s a pretty sweeping set of findings from the Transportation Safety Board,” said David Jeanes, founding president of Transport Action Canada, a non-profit group that monitors rail safety. “It isn’t just the rail mode. It’s really about the whole process of safety regulation.”

At the heart of the TSB criticism is a sometimes controversial approach called safety management systems, or SMS for short.

Under SMS, companies create their own safety plans, which are then checked by government officials, and they monitor their own safety performance, with occasional inspections by the regulator.

The rail industry adopted the approach in 2001, while large ships followed suit the year after and airlines started using it in 2005.

Reading binder vs. in-field checks

Critics suggest the move to SMS was driven by government cost-cutting measures, and stressed that it can only be effective if done in conjunction with sufficient checks by regulators on the companies.

In the case of Lac-Mégantic, TSB says Transport Canada looked at MM&A’s safety plan on paper, but didn’t dig deep enough into whether they were following the rules.

“What [the TSB] said is [Transport Canada was] satisfied to look at the binder and didn’t verify that this binder, or the content of that binder, implemented physically in the field.

“And that’s a big difference,” says Jean-Paul Lacoursière, a chemical engineer at the University of Sherbrooke who specializes in risk assessments.

TSB’s Lac-Mégantic report isn’t the first time the watchdog raised concerns with how the government has rolled out SMS. But those who follow these developments closely suggest the accident, which killed 47 people, could finally spur change.

In 2006, a runaway freight train near Lillooet, B.C., prompted the agency to call for Canadian National to do a better job of following its own safety rules.

In 2010, the agency highlighted SMS as a concern not only for the rail industry, but for the other modes of transportation that Transport Canada also oversees.

“Transport Canada does not always provide effective oversight of transportation companies transitioning to SMS, while some companies are not even required to have one,” the TSB wrote. It also put the issue front and centre by placing it on the agency’s “watch list” of problems for marine safety.

Last year, the federal auditor general also targeted Transport Canada’s oversight of rail. It found “significant weaknesses” in its supervision of companies, saying the department had done “very few audits” of the 31 federal railway operators under its jurisdiction.

Lacoursière says he was surprised but glad to see the TSB delve into the larger issues around safety culture in the Lac-Mégantic report. He’s hopeful that the agency’s criticism of the federal department could lead to significant changes for how it oversees rail, as well as marine and aviation.

“I think this is a game changer,” said Lacoursière. “It’ll bring safety management systems to the forefront.”

Safety culture key

Lacoursière says the tragedy in the small Quebec town demonstrates how important the overall safety system can be. And the TSB stressed that point as well.

Despite identifying 18 factors that contributed to the crash, it also said, “take any one of them out of the equation and this accident may not have happened.”

Even a well-trained worker like the MM&A locomotive engineer in the Lac-Mégantic case can make mistakes, says Lacoursière. “You need more than just relying on that person to actually prevent accidents. You need real systematic ways of doing things.”

“And it’s not only in that industry, but other industries that are under the federal jurisdiction are doing the same thing,” he said.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair raised that same concern.

“The basic problem is self-management doesn’t work when the government’s not holding up its end of the bargain,” Mulcair said on Tuesday following the release of the report. “Governments are supposed to be inspecting and regulating in the public interest.”

“In the case of Lac-Mégantic and in the case of food inspections, we realize this is not working,” he added.

Jeanes says that SMS has also come under considerable scrutiny in the airline industry, particularly in regards to smaller companies and their ability to implement such a complex, costly system.

As the federal government introduced the approach to the airline industry, retired justice Virgil Moshansky, who headed a three-year inquiry into one of Canada’s worst air disasters (the 1989 crash of an Air Ontario flight that killed 24 people), was quite critical of the system.

In 2007, he warned it would be a struggle for cash-strapped smaller carriers, “where the greatest risk already resides,” to implement SMS and monitor their own safety.

The retired justice worried that SMS relied on self-reporting of violations by airline personnel, which is inherently problematic because workers hesitate to report problems for fear of losing their jobs.

SMS ‘works internationally’

MM&A was also a smaller company. The U.S.-based regional railway operator owned 820 kilometres of track across Maine, Vermont and Quebec.

While MM&A submitted its SMS documentation to the government in 2003, and was deemed compliant, it wasn’t until seven years later that Transport Canada did its first audit of the company’s safety system and found the system wasn’t actually implemented.

In 2012, the government did a second audit, focusing on a limited aspect of MM&A ‘s safety system, but it never followed up.

“If TC does not audit the SMS of railways in sufficient depth and frequency and confirm that corrective actions are effectively implemented, there is an increased risk that railways will not effectively manage safety,” the TSB report said.

As a result, MM&A developed a “weak safety culture” that led to continuing unsafe practices, and Transport Canada  knew there was an elevated risk, including problems with securing trains since 2005 and with track conditions since 2006, the TSB said.

On top of that, the company was dealing with a dramatic jump in dangerous goods transported on its tracks, an increase of 280 per cent from 2011 to 2012, almost entirely because of crude oil. That raised the risks, but the company didn’t address them, even though it knew about the risks; and nor did the government.

Jeanes says the huge increase in crude transported on rail lines stretched transportation inspectors even further.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says the government has made sure that the department is properly resourced and trained to ensure auditors are “auditing appropriately.”

The minister said use of the approach comes down to a “fundamental fact: there’s 46,000 kilometres of rail track in this country. And you can’t possibly ever have enough inspectors at every way point on every train at every single moment to have that kind of continuous oversight.”

“So SMS has been developed, and it has been recognized and it has worked internationally.”

The government has 90 days to respond to the watchdog’s report, and Jeanes hopes that the TSB’s strong criticism of the government’s oversight leads to changes in the way it operates.

“Given that we’ve seen how catastrophic consequences can result from a failure of SMS, we must make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Jeanes.

 

© CBC 2014
Carly Weeks – The Globe and Mail

Do you gravitate toward cereal, pasta sauces or peanut butter emblazoned with an “all natural” label? With all of the products out there competing for our attention, choosing ones that are made with natural ingredients seems like an easy, obvious way to ensure what you’re getting is good for you.

Except that it’s not necessarily true.

The rules surrounding use of terms like “all natural” and “no artificial ingredients” are often ambiguous and, as a result, can mislead consumers.

On Thursday, food giant Kellogg said it would be changing some product formulas and removing “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from some Kashi brand products in the United States as part of a legal settlement. A lawsuit was launched against the company in 2011 because many products labelled “natural” or “nothing artificial” contained synthetic ingredients, such as pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate and soy oil processed with a component of gasoline, according to The New York Times.

The problem of foods carrying an “all natural” label despite the presence of processed, chemical ingredients is not confined to Kellogg. More companies are using words like “simple,” “natural” and “no artificial” to attract health-conscious consumers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has created some rules to prevent companies from abusing the “natural” term.

The CFIA says that foods can only be represented as natural if they have never contained an added vitamin, nutrient, artificial flavour or food additive. The food also needs to be in its original form and can’t have been processed significantly.

But companies are allowed to use a “natural ingredients” label in cases where products contain some natural ingredients. This could easily give consumers the false impression that all ingredients in the product are natural.

And consumers should also keep in mind that “natural” ingredients aren’t necessarily an indication of their nutritional value. A product made with all-natural ingredients can contain high amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium, which can lead to health problems if consumed in excess.

Consumers who want truly natural foods might be best picking those with no label at all.

© The Globe and Mail

 
Carly Weeks – The Globe and Mail

Do you gravitate toward cereal, pasta sauces or peanut butter emblazoned with an “all natural” label? With all of the products out there competing for our attention, choosing ones that are made with natural ingredients seems like an easy, obvious way to ensure what you’re getting is good for you.

Except that it’s not necessarily true.

The rules surrounding use of terms like “all natural” and “no artificial ingredients” are often ambiguous and, as a result, can mislead consumers.

On Thursday, food giant Kellogg said it would be changing some product formulas and removing “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from some Kashi brand products in the United States as part of a legal settlement. A lawsuit was launched against the company in 2011 because many products labelled “natural” or “nothing artificial” contained synthetic ingredients, such as pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate and soy oil processed with a component of gasoline, according to The New York Times.

The problem of foods carrying an “all natural” label despite the presence of processed, chemical ingredients is not confined to Kellogg. More companies are using words like “simple,” “natural” and “no artificial” to attract health-conscious consumers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has created some rules to prevent companies from abusing the “natural” term.

The CFIA says that foods can only be represented as natural if they have never contained an added vitamin, nutrient, artificial flavour or food additive. The food also needs to be in its original form and can’t have been processed significantly.

But companies are allowed to use a “natural ingredients” label in cases where products contain some natural ingredients. This could easily give consumers the false impression that all ingredients in the product are natural.

And consumers should also keep in mind that “natural” ingredients aren’t necessarily an indication of their nutritional value. A product made with all-natural ingredients can contain high amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium, which can lead to health problems if consumed in excess.

Consumers who want truly natural foods might be best picking those with no label at all.

© The Globe and Mail

 

We are what we eat, even though it might be dangerous

Bob Kingston – The Vancouver Sun

Food safety inspectors and managers at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency all share a common view concerning the adequacy of available resources to do their job.

Everyone of those I have spoken with tell me they are forced to gamble daily. They must choose which work may not get done and hope no one becomes sick as a result. They simply have neither the staff nor the time to do everything required to ensure food companies are complying with safety requirements.

They can’t say this publicly. They are prevented from speaking out for fear of losing their jobs. Public confidence must be maintained at all costs.

This “don’t worry, be happy” approach to food safety infects the highest levels of Canada’s food safety system.

Based on advice from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Minister Rona Ambrose has characterized public comments from the food inspectors union about the inadequacy of consumer protection inspections as irresponsibly stirring public concern.

Ambrose cannot be blamed for accepting their advice at face value. She has only just taken over some responsibility for the agency and has probably not had time to speak with anyone outside the CFIA’s executive offices in Ottawa.

If she did — as I do on a daily basis — she might find many serious issues about food safety inspection have been swept under the carpet where they have resided for years.

Take, for example, the findings of the investigation conducted by Sheila Weatherhill into the causes of the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis outbreak in the summer of 2008 that claimed the lives of 23 Canadians.

Weatherill found the CFIA had no idea how many inspectors were required to ensure food is produced safely after the introduction of a new inspection system.

To prevent a repeat of the Maple Leaf tragedy, she recommended the CFIA conduct an audit to accurately determine “the demand on its inspection resources and the number of required inspectors . . . .”

Ottawa has acted on this recommendation six years later, but only for its process meat program. The audit found the program was critically short-staffed and CFIA subsequently boosted its ranks by almost 100 per cent.

No other inspection program, however, has undergone a similar audit, even though many other commodities pose serious risks of food borne illness. To this day, the CFIA remains uninformed when it comes to the demands on its inspection resources and the number of inspectors required to make the system effective for all but this one program.

More recently, Canadians will remember the E. coli outbreak at the XL Meat plant in Alberta that sickened at least seven people and led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history.

Among other things, an investigation concluded that CFIA inspectors were instructed to ignore some sanitation problems and contaminated meat products.

In this age of global commerce and the widespread availability of food from around the world, stopping unsafe food from reaching grocery shelves is not the purpose of import inspection and only about two per cent of food imported into Canada is inspected.

The vast majority of import inspections are conducted to protect plant and animal health, not human health. Inspections of products intended for human consumption are primarily to monitor trends and not to prevent dangerous goods from reaching store shelves.

For example, in the unlikely event the CFIA inspects a shipment of fresh produce observed to be contaminated by an insecticide or fungicide (because it is covered with a white powder), results from laboratory tests would not be available until long after that product had reached dining room tables.

While the CFIA has recently established a new licensing program for importers, there have been no inspection staff added to the CFIA’s ranks to monitor these companies or process their paperwork.

When it comes to the consumer protection inspections the food inspectors union has recently discussed publicly, the CFIA has a spotty record of enforcing the rules.

Indeed, journalists recently uncovered documents showing the CFIA had evidence of food fraud in Vancouver and knowingly allowed a bakery to continue selling bread labelled organic that was made using non-organic ingredients. The CFIA stood on the sidelines and didn’t even tell unsuspecting customers.

Perhaps this explains why the CFIA has not pursued a single prosecution for food fraud in Metro Vancouver in five years.

Puzzling, however, is the decision to disband the unit of inspectors in Metro Vancouver dedicated to enforcing laws concerning food fraud. Without proactive surveillance — no matter how infrequent — there is zero deterrence preventing those who wish to defraud consumers from doing so.

Canadians have a right to accurate product labels to know what they are buying.

This is a safety concern for many consumers with medical conditions or allergies that require them to avoid certain food or ingredients.

If we don’t raise these issues publicly, more people will need to become sick — or worse — to force improvements. That’s the irresponsible approach.

Bob Kingston is president of the Agriculture Union — PSAC which represents food inspectors working at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

© The Vancouver Sun

We are what we eat, even though it might be dangerous

Bob Kingston – The Vancouver Sun

Food safety inspectors and managers at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency all share a common view concerning the adequacy of available resources to do their job.

Everyone of those I have spoken with tell me they are forced to gamble daily. They must choose which work may not get done and hope no one becomes sick as a result. They simply have neither the staff nor the time to do everything required to ensure food companies are complying with safety requirements.

They can’t say this publicly. They are prevented from speaking out for fear of losing their jobs. Public confidence must be maintained at all costs.

This “don’t worry, be happy” approach to food safety infects the highest levels of Canada’s food safety system.

Based on advice from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Minister Rona Ambrose has characterized public comments from the food inspectors union about the inadequacy of consumer protection inspections as irresponsibly stirring public concern.

Ambrose cannot be blamed for accepting their advice at face value. She has only just taken over some responsibility for the agency and has probably not had time to speak with anyone outside the CFIA’s executive offices in Ottawa.

If she did — as I do on a daily basis — she might find many serious issues about food safety inspection have been swept under the carpet where they have resided for years.

Take, for example, the findings of the investigation conducted by Sheila Weatherhill into the causes of the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis outbreak in the summer of 2008 that claimed the lives of 23 Canadians.

Weatherill found the CFIA had no idea how many inspectors were required to ensure food is produced safely after the introduction of a new inspection system.

To prevent a repeat of the Maple Leaf tragedy, she recommended the CFIA conduct an audit to accurately determine “the demand on its inspection resources and the number of required inspectors . . . .”

Ottawa has acted on this recommendation six years later, but only for its process meat program. The audit found the program was critically short-staffed and CFIA subsequently boosted its ranks by almost 100 per cent.

No other inspection program, however, has undergone a similar audit, even though many other commodities pose serious risks of food borne illness. To this day, the CFIA remains uninformed when it comes to the demands on its inspection resources and the number of inspectors required to make the system effective for all but this one program.

More recently, Canadians will remember the E. coli outbreak at the XL Meat plant in Alberta that sickened at least seven people and led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history.

Among other things, an investigation concluded that CFIA inspectors were instructed to ignore some sanitation problems and contaminated meat products.

In this age of global commerce and the widespread availability of food from around the world, stopping unsafe food from reaching grocery shelves is not the purpose of import inspection and only about two per cent of food imported into Canada is inspected.

The vast majority of import inspections are conducted to protect plant and animal health, not human health. Inspections of products intended for human consumption are primarily to monitor trends and not to prevent dangerous goods from reaching store shelves.

For example, in the unlikely event the CFIA inspects a shipment of fresh produce observed to be contaminated by an insecticide or fungicide (because it is covered with a white powder), results from laboratory tests would not be available until long after that product had reached dining room tables.

While the CFIA has recently established a new licensing program for importers, there have been no inspection staff added to the CFIA’s ranks to monitor these companies or process their paperwork.

When it comes to the consumer protection inspections the food inspectors union has recently discussed publicly, the CFIA has a spotty record of enforcing the rules.

Indeed, journalists recently uncovered documents showing the CFIA had evidence of food fraud in Vancouver and knowingly allowed a bakery to continue selling bread labelled organic that was made using non-organic ingredients. The CFIA stood on the sidelines and didn’t even tell unsuspecting customers.

Perhaps this explains why the CFIA has not pursued a single prosecution for food fraud in Metro Vancouver in five years.

Puzzling, however, is the decision to disband the unit of inspectors in Metro Vancouver dedicated to enforcing laws concerning food fraud. Without proactive surveillance — no matter how infrequent — there is zero deterrence preventing those who wish to defraud consumers from doing so.

Canadians have a right to accurate product labels to know what they are buying.

This is a safety concern for many consumers with medical conditions or allergies that require them to avoid certain food or ingredients.

If we don’t raise these issues publicly, more people will need to become sick — or worse — to force improvements. That’s the irresponsible approach.

Bob Kingston is president of the Agriculture Union — PSAC which represents food inspectors working at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

© The Vancouver Sun

John Cotter – The Canadian Press

EDMONTON — Canada’s chief veterinary officer says some cattle associated with the investigation into a case of mad cow disease in Alberta were slaughtered over the last few years and entered the human food chain.

But Dr. Harpreet Kochhar said consumers are not at risk because of Canada’s bovine spongiform encephalopathy safeguards.

“There is no food safety concern here because any of these animals would have been slaughtered and the specified risk material, which is the material which actually harbours prions, (would) have been removed completely — and that is because of the enhanced feed ban, ” Kochhar said in an interview.

“And none of the animals, if they had ever shown any symptoms, would have been brought to the slaughterhouse because of other controls like surveillance.”

BSE is a fatal and untreatable wasting disease of the brain and nervous systems. It is caused by rogue proteins called prions, which can be spread through contaminated feed. Humans who eat infected beef can develop a fatal disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Fewer than 250 human cases have been reported worldwide.

Last week, a report posted on the World Organisation for Animal Health website indicated that 317 cattle out of 750 associated with the BSE investigation had been slaughtered.

The information about the BSE cow’s so-called “birth cohort” was submitted to the Paris-based organization, also known as the OIE, by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The numbers refer to cattle born within one year of the BSE cow’s March 2009 birth. Both numbers have since been removed from the OIE website.

Kochhar said the posting was an initial draft and the slaughter number was not correct. He said the final number could be higher.

 

Kochhar said the 750 number was “approximately right within 95 per cent confidence.”

Investigators are still working to confirm both totals, which will be submitted to the OIE, he said.

OIE spokeswoman Catherine Bertrand-Ferrandis said the numbers were accidentally posted on the web due to a computer glitch and were later removed because they are not yet considered to be official by the Canadian government.

She said that the OIE hopes to receive a followup report from Canada in the coming days.

The beef breeding cow with BSE was discovered last month on a farm near Edmonton and was born on a nearby farm.

Another cow born on the same farm in 2004 tested positive for the disease in 2010. No parts of the BSE cows got into human or animal food, the agency has said.

Kochhar said in a typical BSE investigation, up to half of the cattle involved have already been slaughtered.

Another 10 per cent are still alive, about 10 cent have been exported and 10 per cent can’t be traced, he said. The rest would have died for different reasons.

Investigators continue the complex task of checking cattle born on the farm and which may have been exposed to the same feed as the BSE cow.

Kochhar said records suggest that other cattle had access to the same feed, but it is too early to say how many.

A typical BSE investigation takes about six months before a final report can be submitted to the OIE, he said.

© Bell Media
The Canadian Press

EDMONTON – More countries are restricting Canadian beef over concerns about mad cow disease.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency website says Peru, Belarus and Taiwan have imposed temporary restrictions on beef imports.

Earlier this month, South Korea temporarily suspended imports after a beef breeding cow was discovered near Edmonton with bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Indonesia has imposed temporary import restrictions on some non-edible meat products.

The food safety agency says it is investigating the BSE cow’s feed source and whether any other cattle have the disease.

A case of BSE in 2003 at an Alberta farm devastated Canada’s beef industry as 40 countries closed their borders to Canadian cattle and beef products, although most of those markets have since reopened.

© Bell Media
The Canadian Press

EDMONTON – More countries are restricting Canadian beef over concerns about mad cow disease.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency website says Peru, Belarus and Taiwan have imposed temporary restrictions on beef imports.

Earlier this month, South Korea temporarily suspended imports after a beef breeding cow was discovered near Edmonton with bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Indonesia has imposed temporary import restrictions on some non-edible meat products.

The food safety agency says it is investigating the BSE cow’s feed source and whether any other cattle have the disease.

A case of BSE in 2003 at an Alberta farm devastated Canada’s beef industry as 40 countries closed their borders to Canadian cattle and beef products, although most of those markets have since reopened.

© Bell Media
Stéphanie Vallet – La Presse

Les abattoirs doivent faire face à de nombreuses maladies qui peuvent fragiliser l’industrie canadienne de la viande. Mais selon le Syndicat de l’agriculture, une nouvelle épidémie serait tout aussi menaçante: le stress. Une ex-inspectrice de l’Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments a accepté de se confier à La Presse à propos des conditions de travail qui ont, selon elle, mis en péril sa santé mentale, et qui pourraient aussi, selon le syndicat, avoir de graves conséquences sur la salubrité des viandes et le bien-être des animaux.

C’était plus facile de me faire taire que de changer les pratiques de l’entreprise»

Au cours de ses 27 années de service en tant qu’inspectrice pour l’Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments (ACIA) dans les abattoirs du Québec, Josée Masse a choisi à deux reprises de quitter ses fonctions à cause du stress que lui causait son métier. Près de cinq ans après son départ à la retraite anticipé, le regard des bêtes et le bruit de la chaîne d’abattage continuent de la hanter. Mais aussi les menaces et les injures auxquelles elle a dû faire face dans certains établissements qu’elle a visités.

Après des années de silence, Josée Masse est tombée en décembre dernier sur des images d’horreur tournées en caméra cachée dans un abattoir de la province. «Je n’ai pas pu m’empêcher d’écrire un commentaire sous la vidéo pour dire que j’avais vu bien pire. C’est à ce moment que la blogueuse Annick Blais m’a contactée et que j’ai accepté de lui raconter mon histoire», se souvient-elle (pitiemangemoipas.com).

Chaque jour, pendant près de trois décennies, l’ex-inspectrice a dû cibler les animaux qui présentaient des maladies ou des handicaps, du transport à l’abattage, en s’assurant que le bien-être animal soit respecté, mais aussi évaluer une à une les carcasses qui défilaient sur la chaîne.

Au début de sa carrière à l’ACIA, elle a fait ses premiers pas dans de petits abattoirs qui avaient le souci du travail bien fait. «Je m’attendais à retrouver d’aussi bonnes conditions partout. Ça n’a pas été le cas», raconte Mme Masse, qui s’est rapidement retrouvée dans un abattoir de poulets qui roulait à 10 000 bêtes à l’heure.

C’est quand elle a rejoint des établissements qui abattent de plus gros animaux que les choses se sont gâtées.

En tant qu’inspectrice, elle devait en effet s’en remettre à son supérieur, un vétérinaire de l’ACIA, responsable de l’établissement. Ce dernier pouvait décider s’il y avait lieu ou non d’agir. «S’il se tient debout, on peut arriver à faire quelque chose. Mais s’il est plutôt pro-compagnie, tout va aller de travers. Disons qu’il y avait des supérieurs qui étaient meilleurs que d’autres.»

Josée Masse devait ainsi quotidiennement faire preuve de doigté pour faire respecter la loi fédérale en matière d’inspection. «Certains camionneurs très pressés me disaient: “Ôte-toi de là! Tu veux faire ma job et débarquer les cochons? ” Je rapportais la situation à mes supérieurs, qui me répondaient: “Mais ils sont fatigués, les gars, Josée.” Un jour, j’ai vu un camionneur qui faisait sauter les cochons du haut de sa passerelle. Je suis allée voir le vétérinaire qui, heureusement, a fini par lui crier: “Arrête ça tout de suite! Ce ne sont pas des chevreuils! “»

«La vitesse tue»

Au Québec, un abattoir moderne de porc tue en moyenne 600 bêtes à l’heure. Un rythme effréné que les inspecteurs doivent suivre pour repérer les carcasses problématiques.

«Arrangez-vous pour voir les pneumonies, les infections, les parasites, etc. Il faut tout identifier!», lance Josée Masse. «Tu as juste le temps de te retourner et une pile de carcasses de cochons superposés est devant toi», dit-elle.

« “Madame Brigitte Bardot! Elle se prend pour une autre et pense qu’elle va tout contrôler!” J’arrête la chaîne et ils la repartent. Personne n’était là pour m’appuyer, jusqu’à ce que le vétérinaire intervienne enfin!», dit Josée Masse.

Elle dit avoir été victime, mais aussi témoin, à de nombreuses reprises d’intimidation de la part d’employés des abattoirs où elle a travaillé. «Des collègues inspectrices se sont déjà fait dire qu’elles pourraient se faire ralentir sur la route. Moi, on m’a dit: “Fais attention, j’ai vu de l’huile en dessous de ton char.” J’ai vu des vétérinaires pleurer et se faire cracher au visage. Mais ce qui me reste en tête, c’est l’indifférence des employés des compagnies et de l’ACIA face à la cruauté animale», lance-t-elle.

Malgré des conditions de travail difficiles, Josée Masse a décidé de ne pas baisser les bras. «On se méfiait de moi plus que d’autres inspecteurs. Défendre les animaux était devenu ma cause. Je n’étais pas la seule, heureusement. Et il y a tout de même eu des condamnations.»

Le coup de grâce

Mais Josée Masse a fini par se décourager une première fois à la suite d’un cas de cruauté animale en 2007.

«Des poulets étaient mis sous mes yeux encore vivants dans des poubelles, car ils ne convenaient pas. J’ai rapporté ça à mon supérieur, qui m’a dit de ne plus aller là. J’ai demandé mon transfert à l’Agence, et ils m’ont dit de ne pas faire des caprices à tout bout de champ. J’étais devenue le problème. Et c’était plus facile de me faire taire que de faire changer les pratiques de l’entreprise», confie l’ex-inspectrice, qui a finalement dû se résoudre à reprendre du service jusqu’à ce qu’un autre événement la décide à démissionner pour de bon, en 2010.

«Un des cochons avait été mal saigné et bougeait encore. J’ai arrêté la chaîne, et un employé m’a crié en se frappant sur la poitrine: “Qu’est-ce que tu fais là? Il finira de mourir dans l’eau bouillante!” J’ai alors commencé à me faire régulièrement insulter. Je ne dormais plus. La compagnie m’a demandé de ne pas ébruiter l’affaire. Quand j’ai vu que l’Agence ne me protégeait pas, j’ai démissionné», conclut Josée Masse.

© La Presse
Stéphanie Vallet – La Presse

Les abattoirs doivent faire face à de nombreuses maladies qui peuvent fragiliser l’industrie canadienne de la viande. Mais selon le Syndicat de l’agriculture, une nouvelle épidémie serait tout aussi menaçante: le stress. Une ex-inspectrice de l’Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments a accepté de se confier à La Presse à propos des conditions de travail qui ont, selon elle, mis en péril sa santé mentale, et qui pourraient aussi, selon le syndicat, avoir de graves conséquences sur la salubrité des viandes et le bien-être des animaux.

C’était plus facile de me faire taire que de changer les pratiques de l’entreprise»

Au cours de ses 27 années de service en tant qu’inspectrice pour l’Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments (ACIA) dans les abattoirs du Québec, Josée Masse a choisi à deux reprises de quitter ses fonctions à cause du stress que lui causait son métier. Près de cinq ans après son départ à la retraite anticipé, le regard des bêtes et le bruit de la chaîne d’abattage continuent de la hanter. Mais aussi les menaces et les injures auxquelles elle a dû faire face dans certains établissements qu’elle a visités.

Après des années de silence, Josée Masse est tombée en décembre dernier sur des images d’horreur tournées en caméra cachée dans un abattoir de la province. «Je n’ai pas pu m’empêcher d’écrire un commentaire sous la vidéo pour dire que j’avais vu bien pire. C’est à ce moment que la blogueuse Annick Blais m’a contactée et que j’ai accepté de lui raconter mon histoire», se souvient-elle (pitiemangemoipas.com).

Chaque jour, pendant près de trois décennies, l’ex-inspectrice a dû cibler les animaux qui présentaient des maladies ou des handicaps, du transport à l’abattage, en s’assurant que le bien-être animal soit respecté, mais aussi évaluer une à une les carcasses qui défilaient sur la chaîne.

Au début de sa carrière à l’ACIA, elle a fait ses premiers pas dans de petits abattoirs qui avaient le souci du travail bien fait. «Je m’attendais à retrouver d’aussi bonnes conditions partout. Ça n’a pas été le cas», raconte Mme Masse, qui s’est rapidement retrouvée dans un abattoir de poulets qui roulait à 10 000 bêtes à l’heure.

C’est quand elle a rejoint des établissements qui abattent de plus gros animaux que les choses se sont gâtées.

En tant qu’inspectrice, elle devait en effet s’en remettre à son supérieur, un vétérinaire de l’ACIA, responsable de l’établissement. Ce dernier pouvait décider s’il y avait lieu ou non d’agir. «S’il se tient debout, on peut arriver à faire quelque chose. Mais s’il est plutôt pro-compagnie, tout va aller de travers. Disons qu’il y avait des supérieurs qui étaient meilleurs que d’autres.»

Josée Masse devait ainsi quotidiennement faire preuve de doigté pour faire respecter la loi fédérale en matière d’inspection. «Certains camionneurs très pressés me disaient: “Ôte-toi de là! Tu veux faire ma job et débarquer les cochons? ” Je rapportais la situation à mes supérieurs, qui me répondaient: “Mais ils sont fatigués, les gars, Josée.” Un jour, j’ai vu un camionneur qui faisait sauter les cochons du haut de sa passerelle. Je suis allée voir le vétérinaire qui, heureusement, a fini par lui crier: “Arrête ça tout de suite! Ce ne sont pas des chevreuils! “»

«La vitesse tue»

Au Québec, un abattoir moderne de porc tue en moyenne 600 bêtes à l’heure. Un rythme effréné que les inspecteurs doivent suivre pour repérer les carcasses problématiques.

«Arrangez-vous pour voir les pneumonies, les infections, les parasites, etc. Il faut tout identifier!», lance Josée Masse. «Tu as juste le temps de te retourner et une pile de carcasses de cochons superposés est devant toi», dit-elle.

« “Madame Brigitte Bardot! Elle se prend pour une autre et pense qu’elle va tout contrôler!” J’arrête la chaîne et ils la repartent. Personne n’était là pour m’appuyer, jusqu’à ce que le vétérinaire intervienne enfin!», dit Josée Masse.

Elle dit avoir été victime, mais aussi témoin, à de nombreuses reprises d’intimidation de la part d’employés des abattoirs où elle a travaillé. «Des collègues inspectrices se sont déjà fait dire qu’elles pourraient se faire ralentir sur la route. Moi, on m’a dit: “Fais attention, j’ai vu de l’huile en dessous de ton char.” J’ai vu des vétérinaires pleurer et se faire cracher au visage. Mais ce qui me reste en tête, c’est l’indifférence des employés des compagnies et de l’ACIA face à la cruauté animale», lance-t-elle.

Malgré des conditions de travail difficiles, Josée Masse a décidé de ne pas baisser les bras. «On se méfiait de moi plus que d’autres inspecteurs. Défendre les animaux était devenu ma cause. Je n’étais pas la seule, heureusement. Et il y a tout de même eu des condamnations.»

Le coup de grâce

Mais Josée Masse a fini par se décourager une première fois à la suite d’un cas de cruauté animale en 2007.

«Des poulets étaient mis sous mes yeux encore vivants dans des poubelles, car ils ne convenaient pas. J’ai rapporté ça à mon supérieur, qui m’a dit de ne plus aller là. J’ai demandé mon transfert à l’Agence, et ils m’ont dit de ne pas faire des caprices à tout bout de champ. J’étais devenue le problème. Et c’était plus facile de me faire taire que de faire changer les pratiques de l’entreprise», confie l’ex-inspectrice, qui a finalement dû se résoudre à reprendre du service jusqu’à ce qu’un autre événement la décide à démissionner pour de bon, en 2010.

«Un des cochons avait été mal saigné et bougeait encore. J’ai arrêté la chaîne, et un employé m’a crié en se frappant sur la poitrine: “Qu’est-ce que tu fais là? Il finira de mourir dans l’eau bouillante!” J’ai alors commencé à me faire régulièrement insulter. Je ne dormais plus. La compagnie m’a demandé de ne pas ébruiter l’affaire. Quand j’ai vu que l’Agence ne me protégeait pas, j’ai démissionné», conclut Josée Masse.

© La Presse
Stéphanie Vallet – La Presse

Le Syndicat de l’agriculture observe un très grand nombre de cas de dépression et de «burn-out» chez les inspecteurs de l’Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments (ACIA) qu’il représente.

Selon les derniers chiffres (2013), 23% du personnel de l’ACIA a fait appel au Programme d’aide aux employé(e)s et à leur famille, notamment en raison de l’angoisse qui découle du stress lié à leur emploi. C’est un rythme trois fois supérieur à la moyenne de la fonction publique fédérale (7%). Une situation qui inquiète Bob Kingston, président du Syndicat, lequel craint que la situation ne soit dangereuse, non seulement pour la santé mentale des inspecteurs, mais aussi pour la salubrité des aliments et le bien-être des animaux.

«Je ne suis pas surpris par ces chiffres, étant donné le manque de ressources de l’ACIA», explique Bob Kingston, inspecteur à l’ACIA depuis 25 ans (dont 15 ans comme superviseur). Un sous-effectif auquel viendrait s’ajouter, selon lui, un manque de soutien de l’Agence auprès de ses inspecteurs, chargés de faire appliquer la loi fédérale dans les chaînes d’abattage du pays.

«Si une compagnie trouve un inspecteur trop rigoureux, elle peut faire une plainte contre lui. Et le superviseur va souvent prendre le côté de l’abattoir. L’inspecteur sera ainsi envoyé dans un autre endroit, sans même une enquête plus poussée», selon M. Kingston.

«En Ontario, c’est arrivé récemment avec une inspectrice qui a identifié que les volailles qui arrivaient dans l’abattoir avaient les pattes arrachées. Elle l’a signalé, mais on lui a demandé d’ignorer la situation, car quelqu’un d’autre allait s’en charger. Ça n’a bien évidemment jamais été le cas», ajoute-t-il.

Selon M. Kingston, la section albertaine du Syndicat de l’agriculture aurait ainsi perdu au moins une quarantaine d’inspecteurs à cause de ce genre d’incidents. «Il y a de bons superviseurs, mais il y en a assez de mauvais pour décourager les inspecteurs d’agir. Ce qui peut causer des problèmes graves de salubrité», précise M. Kingston.

Consommateurs en danger?

La gestion des services d’inspection au fédéral au cours des dernières années a été frappée par deux scandales. L’épidémie de listériose, en 2008, à l’établissement Maple Leaf Foods inc. de Toronto a entraîné 22 morts et une poursuite collective de 27 millions de dollars. Puis, en 2012, le boeuf infecté par E. coli provenant de l’établissement XL Foods inc. de Brooks, en Alberta, a causé 18 cas de maladies chez des consommateurs et le plus important rappel de bovins de l’histoire du Canada. XL Foods a pourtant, à lui seul, 40 inspecteurs et 6 vétérinaires qui se relayent sur ses chaînes.

«Une enquête a notamment conclu que les inspecteurs et inspectrices de l’ACIA avaient reçu pour instructions d’ignorer certains problèmes d’hygiène et produits carnés contaminés», précise le président du Syndicat de l’agriculture, Bob Kingston.

«Les inspecteurs font des “burn-out”, et au lieu de leur apporter leur aide, les superviseurs changent les taux d’inspection, surtout en ce qui concerne la préopération, ce qui met bien entendu en danger les conditions sanitaires. J’ai appelé le président de l’ACIA et il ne le savait même pas! Quand on parle aux superviseurs, ils disent qu’ils n’ont pas autorisé ça. Mais quand on va sur le terrain, on nous dit que les instructions viennent «d’en haut». Quelqu’un ne dit pas la vérité et met les Canadiens en danger», lance M. Kingston.

© La Presse

Stéphanie Vallet – La Presse

Le Syndicat de l’agriculture observe un très grand nombre de cas de dépression et de «burn-out» chez les inspecteurs de l’Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments (ACIA) qu’il représente.

Selon les derniers chiffres (2013), 23% du personnel de l’ACIA a fait appel au Programme d’aide aux employé(e)s et à leur famille, notamment en raison de l’angoisse qui découle du stress lié à leur emploi. C’est un rythme trois fois supérieur à la moyenne de la fonction publique fédérale (7%). Une situation qui inquiète Bob Kingston, président du Syndicat, lequel craint que la situation ne soit dangereuse, non seulement pour la santé mentale des inspecteurs, mais aussi pour la salubrité des aliments et le bien-être des animaux.

«Je ne suis pas surpris par ces chiffres, étant donné le manque de ressources de l’ACIA», explique Bob Kingston, inspecteur à l’ACIA depuis 25 ans (dont 15 ans comme superviseur). Un sous-effectif auquel viendrait s’ajouter, selon lui, un manque de soutien de l’Agence auprès de ses inspecteurs, chargés de faire appliquer la loi fédérale dans les chaînes d’abattage du pays.

«Si une compagnie trouve un inspecteur trop rigoureux, elle peut faire une plainte contre lui. Et le superviseur va souvent prendre le côté de l’abattoir. L’inspecteur sera ainsi envoyé dans un autre endroit, sans même une enquête plus poussée», selon M. Kingston.

«En Ontario, c’est arrivé récemment avec une inspectrice qui a identifié que les volailles qui arrivaient dans l’abattoir avaient les pattes arrachées. Elle l’a signalé, mais on lui a demandé d’ignorer la situation, car quelqu’un d’autre allait s’en charger. Ça n’a bien évidemment jamais été le cas», ajoute-t-il.

Selon M. Kingston, la section albertaine du Syndicat de l’agriculture aurait ainsi perdu au moins une quarantaine d’inspecteurs à cause de ce genre d’incidents. «Il y a de bons superviseurs, mais il y en a assez de mauvais pour décourager les inspecteurs d’agir. Ce qui peut causer des problèmes graves de salubrité», précise M. Kingston.

Consommateurs en danger?

La gestion des services d’inspection au fédéral au cours des dernières années a été frappée par deux scandales. L’épidémie de listériose, en 2008, à l’établissement Maple Leaf Foods inc. de Toronto a entraîné 22 morts et une poursuite collective de 27 millions de dollars. Puis, en 2012, le boeuf infecté par E. coli provenant de l’établissement XL Foods inc. de Brooks, en Alberta, a causé 18 cas de maladies chez des consommateurs et le plus important rappel de bovins de l’histoire du Canada. XL Foods a pourtant, à lui seul, 40 inspecteurs et 6 vétérinaires qui se relayent sur ses chaînes.

«Une enquête a notamment conclu que les inspecteurs et inspectrices de l’ACIA avaient reçu pour instructions d’ignorer certains problèmes d’hygiène et produits carnés contaminés», précise le président du Syndicat de l’agriculture, Bob Kingston.

«Les inspecteurs font des “burn-out”, et au lieu de leur apporter leur aide, les superviseurs changent les taux d’inspection, surtout en ce qui concerne la préopération, ce qui met bien entendu en danger les conditions sanitaires. J’ai appelé le président de l’ACIA et il ne le savait même pas! Quand on parle aux superviseurs, ils disent qu’ils n’ont pas autorisé ça. Mais quand on va sur le terrain, on nous dit que les instructions viennent «d’en haut». Quelqu’un ne dit pas la vérité et met les Canadiens en danger», lance M. Kingston.

© La Presse

Stéphanie Vallet – La Presse

Le Canada est au premier rang des pays les plus sécuritaires en matière de salubrité des viandes, soutient le Conseil des viandes du Canada.

«En 2014, on était les premiers, juste devant l’Irlande. Ça signifie que notre réglementation s’en va dans le bon sens. On s’en va de plus en plus vers une inspection basée sur le risque afin que les ressources soient mieux réparties», affirme Jorge Correa, directeur technique du Conseil des viandes du Canada, qui représente notamment les emballeurs et les transformateurs canadiens immatriculés au fédéral. Un risque qui sera, selon lui, évalué par Santé Canada et l’Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments (ACIA).

Au sujet des allégations d’intimidation des inspecteurs par certains employés des abattoirs, le Conseil des viandes réplique: «J’ai beaucoup d’employés qui assurent l’inspection de la qualité dans les usines qui sont en dépression à cause des inspecteurs de l’ACIA, qui leur mettent de la pression!», lance Jorge Correa.

On trouverait selon lui de bons comme de mauvais exemples autant du côté des employés des abattoirs que chez les inspecteurs. «Parfois, des gens de l’industrie ne sont pas coopératifs; d’autres fois, ce sont ceux de l’inspection. L’interprétation de la loi ou de la réglementation par les vétérinaires ou les inspecteurs peut parfois être problématique. La loi est très peu souple, ce qui amène à des problèmes entre les inspecteurs et l’industrie.»

«Les inspecteurs sont là pour assurer la salubrité de la viande pour les consommateurs. Nous, on est là pour faire de la qualité. On vise tous les deux les mêmes buts», plaide quant à lui Luc Ménard, directeur général de F. Ménard, géant québécois de l’industrie porcine.

Détresse psychologique

De son côté, l’Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments souligne avoir mis sur pied le Programme d’aide aux employés et à leur famille (PAEF) pour lutter contre la détresse psychologique de son personnel.

«Qu’importe si la source du harcèlement est interne ou externe à l’ACIA, toutes les allégations sont sérieuses», note le service des communications de l’ACIA, qui a uniquement voulu répondre aux questions de La Presse par courriel.

«Depuis quelques années, il y a une présence accrue de cadres supérieurs sur le terrain, y compris dans les abattoirs, et on tâche de faciliter la communication avec les inspecteurs qui ont des préoccupations à exprimer, précise l’Agence. Le programme est conçu pour aider les employés à trouver des solutions à leurs problèmes personnels ou professionnels et à gérer les pressions et le stress avant que la situation ne s’envenime davantage.»

Le Syndicat de l’agriculture déplore cependant n’avoir jamais réussi à être inclus dans l’élaboration de ce programme.

Des chiffres

3476 – Nombre d’inspecteurs de l’ACIA au pays en mars 2014 (3534 en mars 2012)
110 – Nombre d’abattoirs fédéraux au Canada
36 – Nombre d’abattoirs fédéraux au Québec
16,3 milliards – Valeur des exportations de la viande rouge (boeuf, veau, porc, agneau, mouton, chèvre, lapin, cheval, venaison et bison) en 2013
95 % – Pourcentage des animaux abattus au Canada dans des établissements agréés par le gouvernement fédéral. La transformation de la plupart des viandes au Canada se fait dans des établissements agréés par le fédéral.
10 % – Pourcentage que représente l’industrie de la viande dans les exportations de produits agroalimentaires canadiens. Les ventes dépassent les 24,1 milliards.
© La Presse

Stéphanie Vallet – La Presse

Le Canada est au premier rang des pays les plus sécuritaires en matière de salubrité des viandes, soutient le Conseil des viandes du Canada.

«En 2014, on était les premiers, juste devant l’Irlande. Ça signifie que notre réglementation s’en va dans le bon sens. On s’en va de plus en plus vers une inspection basée sur le risque afin que les ressources soient mieux réparties», affirme Jorge Correa, directeur technique du Conseil des viandes du Canada, qui représente notamment les emballeurs et les transformateurs canadiens immatriculés au fédéral. Un risque qui sera, selon lui, évalué par Santé Canada et l’Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments (ACIA).

Au sujet des allégations d’intimidation des inspecteurs par certains employés des abattoirs, le Conseil des viandes réplique: «J’ai beaucoup d’employés qui assurent l’inspection de la qualité dans les usines qui sont en dépression à cause des inspecteurs de l’ACIA, qui leur mettent de la pression!», lance Jorge Correa.

On trouverait selon lui de bons comme de mauvais exemples autant du côté des employés des abattoirs que chez les inspecteurs. «Parfois, des gens de l’industrie ne sont pas coopératifs; d’autres fois, ce sont ceux de l’inspection. L’interprétation de la loi ou de la réglementation par les vétérinaires ou les inspecteurs peut parfois être problématique. La loi est très peu souple, ce qui amène à des problèmes entre les inspecteurs et l’industrie.»

«Les inspecteurs sont là pour assurer la salubrité de la viande pour les consommateurs. Nous, on est là pour faire de la qualité. On vise tous les deux les mêmes buts», plaide quant à lui Luc Ménard, directeur général de F. Ménard, géant québécois de l’industrie porcine.

Détresse psychologique

De son côté, l’Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments souligne avoir mis sur pied le Programme d’aide aux employés et à leur famille (PAEF) pour lutter contre la détresse psychologique de son personnel.

«Qu’importe si la source du harcèlement est interne ou externe à l’ACIA, toutes les allégations sont sérieuses», note le service des communications de l’ACIA, qui a uniquement voulu répondre aux questions de La Presse par courriel.

«Depuis quelques années, il y a une présence accrue de cadres supérieurs sur le terrain, y compris dans les abattoirs, et on tâche de faciliter la communication avec les inspecteurs qui ont des préoccupations à exprimer, précise l’Agence. Le programme est conçu pour aider les employés à trouver des solutions à leurs problèmes personnels ou professionnels et à gérer les pressions et le stress avant que la situation ne s’envenime davantage.»

Le Syndicat de l’agriculture déplore cependant n’avoir jamais réussi à être inclus dans l’élaboration de ce programme.

Des chiffres

3476 – Nombre d’inspecteurs de l’ACIA au pays en mars 2014 (3534 en mars 2012)
110 – Nombre d’abattoirs fédéraux au Canada
36 – Nombre d’abattoirs fédéraux au Québec
16,3 milliards – Valeur des exportations de la viande rouge (boeuf, veau, porc, agneau, mouton, chèvre, lapin, cheval, venaison et bison) en 2013
95 % – Pourcentage des animaux abattus au Canada dans des établissements agréés par le gouvernement fédéral. La transformation de la plupart des viandes au Canada se fait dans des établissements agréés par le fédéral.
10 % – Pourcentage que représente l’industrie de la viande dans les exportations de produits agroalimentaires canadiens. Les ventes dépassent les 24,1 milliards.
© La Presse

John Cotter – The Canadian Press

EDMONTON — Canada’s chief veterinary officer says some cattle associated with the investigation into a case of mad cow disease in Alberta were slaughtered over the last few years and entered the human food chain.

But Dr. Harpreet Kochhar said consumers are not at risk because of Canada’s bovine spongiform encephalopathy safeguards.

“There is no food safety concern here because any of these animals would have been slaughtered and the specified risk material, which is the material which actually harbours prions, (would) have been removed completely — and that is because of the enhanced feed ban,” Kochhar said in an interview.

“And none of the animals, if they had ever shown any symptoms, would have been brought to the slaughterhouse because of other controls like surveillance.”

BSE is a fatal and untreatable wasting disease of the brain and nervous systems. It is caused by rogue proteins called prions, which can be spread through contaminated feed. Humans who eat infected beef can develop a fatal disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Fewer than 250 human cases have been reported worldwide.

Last week, a report posted on the World Organisation for Animal Health website indicated that 317 cattle out of 750 associated with the BSE investigation had been slaughtered.

The information about the BSE cow’s so-called “birth cohort” was submitted to the Paris-based organization, also known as the OIE, by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The numbers refer to cattle born within one year of the BSE cow’s March 2009 birth. Both numbers have since been removed from the OIE website.

Kochhar said the posting was an initial draft and the slaughter number was not correct. He said the final number could be higher.

 

Kochhar said the 750 number was “approximately right within 95 per cent confidence.”

Investigators are still working to confirm both totals, which will be submitted to the OIE, he said.

OIE spokeswoman Catherine Bertrand-Ferrandis said the numbers were accidentally posted on the web due to a computer glitch and were later removed because they are not yet considered to be official by the Canadian government.

She said that the OIE hopes to receive a followup report from Canada in the coming days.

The beef breeding cow with BSE was discovered last month on a farm near Edmonton and was born on a nearby farm.

Another cow born on the same farm in 2004 tested positive for the disease in 2010. No parts of the BSE cows got into human or animal food, the agency has said.

Kochhar said in a typical BSE investigation, up to half of the cattle involved have already been slaughtered.

Another 10 per cent are still alive, about 10 cent have been exported and 10 per cent can’t be traced, he said. The rest would have died for different reasons.

Investigators continue the complex task of checking cattle born on the farm and which may have been exposed to the same feed as the BSE cow.

Kochhar said records suggest that other cattle had access to the same feed, but it is too early to say how many.

A typical BSE investigation takes about six months before a final report can be submitted to the OIE, he said.

© Bell Media
QMI Agency

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has suspended Costco’s licence to import fish and says the company is in violation of inspection regulations.

“The CFIA has determined that adequate controls for food safety are not being reliably implemented by the company on a consistent basis, ” the agency said in press release Monday.

The company is banned from importing fish products into Canada “until such time as it has fully implemented the necessary corrective actions and the CFIA is fully confident in the company’s capacity to effectively manage food safety risks.”

No products have been recalled.

The suspension was effective Feb. 26, 2015.

U.S.-based Costco says on its website it operates 88 warehouses and has 10 million members in Canada.

© The Kingston Whig-Standard
QMI Agency

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has suspended Costco’s licence to import fish and says the company is in violation of inspection regulations.

“The CFIA has determined that adequate controls for food safety are not being reliably implemented by the company on a consistent basis, ” the agency said in press release Monday.

The company is banned from importing fish products into Canada “until such time as it has fully implemented the necessary corrective actions and the CFIA is fully confident in the company’s capacity to effectively manage food safety risks.”

No products have been recalled.

The suspension was effective Feb. 26, 2015.

U.S.-based Costco says on its website it operates 88 warehouses and has 10 million members in Canada.

© The Kingston Whig-Standard
QMI Agency

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has suspended Costco’s licence to import fish and says the company is in violation of inspection regulations.

“The CFIA has determined that adequate controls for food safety are not being reliably implemented by the company on a consistent basis, ” the agency said in press release Monday.

The company is banned from importing fish products into Canada “until such time as it has fully implemented the necessary corrective actions and the CFIA is fully confident in the company’s capacity to effectively manage food safety risks.”

No products have been recalled.

The suspension was effective Feb. 26, 2015.

U.S.-based Costco says on its website it operates 88 warehouses and has 10 million members in Canada.

© The Kingston Whig-Standard
Matt McClure – Calgary Herald

Months after federal inspectors say critical food safety checks were quietly cut at meat processors in Alberta, one of the province’s largest plants is having to recall frozen chicken breasts that may be tainted with potentially fatal Listeria.

A Canadian Food Inspection Agency investigation at a Lilydale Inc. facility has yet to determine how the contaminated product ended up on store shelves across the country. However, inspectors union president Bob Kingston said he’s worried a recent reduction in the frequency of sanitation oversight at the Edmonton plant may be to blame.

“It may be a coincidence,” said Kingston, “but there’s no denying the agency has been rolling the dice on food safety and hoping the health of Canadians won’t be compromised.”

The union says the agency told staff to cut general sanitation inspection activities by 50 per cent and pre-operation inspections by 30 per cent at plants in northern Alberta starting in early January, as the agency struggled with a $43.3-million reduction in its food safety budget this year.

A heavily redacted document — written by CFIA’s regional head and released by the agency in response to an access to information request — reveals a 12 per cent budget cut by the Conservative government was behind the reduced checks.

“In an effort to ensure we live within our resources, we need to be smart about deciding what work we will do now, what we will defer and what we won’t do at all,” chief inspector Craig Price said in the internal document.

“Inspectors have been advised that these types of decisions are not for them to make as individual contributors — the risk of these decisions is for (regional management).”

CFIA did not contradict Kingston’s contention that only 12 of the 18 meat hygiene inspection positions in northern Alberta are currently filled because the cash-strapped agency has frozen hiring and deferred training until the next fiscal year.

But a prepared statement from the agency said staff numbers nationwide can vary by as much as five per cent or 200 personnel during the year due to changes in demand for service, such as the opening and closing of plants.

“Inspection work focuses on areas of highest risk first (and) the areas of focus may change during the year based on emergencies and shifting priorities,” the statement said.

“As these decisions are made … the overall health and safety of our food system is always top of mind.”

Lilydale recalled some 400-gram packages of its oven roasted carved chicken breast last week as a “precautionary measure” because it might be tainted with Listeria monocytogenes, a virulent pathogen that causes death in up to 30 per cent of infections.

Company spokeswoman Stephanie Gillis-Paulgaard did not respond to Herald questions about what triggered the recall or whether CFIA inspectors were present in the plant the day the suspect product was made.

An Alberta inspector — whom the Herald agreed not to identify because he could be fired for speaking to the media — said he’s troubled by the fact the cuts mean plants like Lilydale that process meat destined only for Canadian dinner tables are receiving less oversight than those that are also authorized to export to the United States.

For plants sending product south of the border, he said American standards require CFIA to have inspectors there every day, but those which supply only the domestic market are now visited only three days a week.

“Meat inspection is kind of like traffic enforcement,” the inspector said. “Just like there’s a natural tendency to speed if you know there’s no police around, plants are more apt to cut corners if they know we’re not going to show up.”

Health Minister Rona Ambrose declined to be interviewed Tuesday, but in a prepared statement she fired back at the meat inspectors.

“These union allegations are misleading, and it is unfortunate they would play politics with food safety,” Ambrose said.

Under opposition attack in the House of Commons, her parliamentary secretary Cathy Macleod said the government’s 2014 budget provided funding for 200 new inspectors.

However, CFIA’s own reports show that this year the agency cut over 350 food safety positions and that it plans to eliminate another 192 personnel in 2016-17.

The union’s concerns about reduced inspector numbers and plant oversight come nearly eight years after 22 people died and dozens more fell sick after eating Listeria-laced cold cuts made by Maple Leaf Foods.

A subsequent investigation into the outbreak led by Alberta health executive Sheila Weatherill found the agency’s inspection system failed to provide adequate oversight of the sanitation procedures for machinery at the plant that was the root source of the contamination.

New Democrat critic Malcolm Allen said CFIA has never done the audit recommended by Weatherill to determine what inspector numbers are needed to keep Canadian’s food safe.

“When you don’t know how many you need, how do you know if you have enough,” Allen asked.

While the inspector shortage is especially acute in the northern half of the province, a recent union survey found plants in southern Alberta — including Canada’s two largest beef slaughter facilities — are also affected by the agency’s budget crunch.

At Cargill Foods in High River, only 35 of the 50 meat inspector positions are currently staffed.

The facility in Brooks operates with as few as nine inspectors a shift instead of its full complement of 14, the survey found. It was less than three years ago that the plant was shuttered by the country’s largest beef recall after a clogged carcass pasteurizer went undetected by both CFIA and plant workers.

Dr. Ronald Lewis, who headed the independent review int0 the 2012 recall, said he was concerned the agency is now risking a repeat of the E.coli outbreak that closed the U.S. border to much of the Canada’s beef.

“If you don’t have enough inspectors and if they’re not in the plant every day, it’s very hard to inculcate a culture of safety,” Lewis said.

“It’s a recipe for trouble.”

© Calgary Herald
QMI Agency

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has suspended Costco’s licence to import fish and says the company is in violation of inspection regulations.

“The CFIA has determined that adequate controls for food safety are not being reliably implemented by the company on a consistent basis, ” the agency said in press release Monday.

The company is banned from importing fish products into Canada “until such time as it has fully implemented the necessary corrective actions and the CFIA is fully confident in the company’s capacity to effectively manage food safety risks.”

No products have been recalled.

The suspension was effective Feb. 26, 2015.

U.S.-based Costco says on its website it operates 88 warehouses and has 10 million members in Canada.

© The Kingston Whig-Standard
Matt McClure – Calgary Herald

Months after federal inspectors say critical food safety checks were quietly cut at meat processors in Alberta, one of the province’s largest plants is having to recall frozen chicken breasts that may be tainted with potentially fatal Listeria.

A Canadian Food Inspection Agency investigation at a Lilydale Inc. facility has yet to determine how the contaminated product ended up on store shelves across the country. However, inspectors union president Bob Kingston said he’s worried a recent reduction in the frequency of sanitation oversight at the Edmonton plant may be to blame.

“It may be a coincidence,” said Kingston, “but there’s no denying the agency has been rolling the dice on food safety and hoping the health of Canadians won’t be compromised.”

The union says the agency told staff to cut general sanitation inspection activities by 50 per cent and pre-operation inspections by 30 per cent at plants in northern Alberta starting in early January, as the agency struggled with a $43.3-million reduction in its food safety budget this year.

A heavily redacted document — written by CFIA’s regional head and released by the agency in response to an access to information request — reveals a 12 per cent budget cut by the Conservative government was behind the reduced checks.

“In an effort to ensure we live within our resources, we need to be smart about deciding what work we will do now, what we will defer and what we won’t do at all,” chief inspector Craig Price said in the internal document.

“Inspectors have been advised that these types of decisions are not for them to make as individual contributors — the risk of these decisions is for (regional management).”

CFIA did not contradict Kingston’s contention that only 12 of the 18 meat hygiene inspection positions in northern Alberta are currently filled because the cash-strapped agency has frozen hiring and deferred training until the next fiscal year.

But a prepared statement from the agency said staff numbers nationwide can vary by as much as five per cent or 200 personnel during the year due to changes in demand for service, such as the opening and closing of plants.

“Inspection work focuses on areas of highest risk first (and) the areas of focus may change during the year based on emergencies and shifting priorities,” the statement said.

“As these decisions are made … the overall health and safety of our food system is always top of mind.”

Lilydale recalled some 400-gram packages of its oven roasted carved chicken breast last week as a “precautionary measure” because it might be tainted with Listeria monocytogenes, a virulent pathogen that causes death in up to 30 per cent of infections.

Company spokeswoman Stephanie Gillis-Paulgaard did not respond to Herald questions about what triggered the recall or whether CFIA inspectors were present in the plant the day the suspect product was made.

An Alberta inspector — whom the Herald agreed not to identify because he could be fired for speaking to the media — said he’s troubled by the fact the cuts mean plants like Lilydale that process meat destined only for Canadian dinner tables are receiving less oversight than those that are also authorized to export to the United States.

For plants sending product south of the border, he said American standards require CFIA to have inspectors there every day, but those which supply only the domestic market are now visited only three days a week.

“Meat inspection is kind of like traffic enforcement,” the inspector said. “Just like there’s a natural tendency to speed if you know there’s no police around, plants are more apt to cut corners if they know we’re not going to show up.”

Health Minister Rona Ambrose declined to be interviewed Tuesday, but in a prepared statement she fired back at the meat inspectors.

“These union allegations are misleading, and it is unfortunate they would play politics with food safety,” Ambrose said.

Under opposition attack in the House of Commons, her parliamentary secretary Cathy Macleod said the government’s 2014 budget provided funding for 200 new inspectors.

However, CFIA’s own reports show that this year the agency cut over 350 food safety positions and that it plans to eliminate another 192 personnel in 2016-17.

The union’s concerns about reduced inspector numbers and plant oversight come nearly eight years after 22 people died and dozens more fell sick after eating Listeria-laced cold cuts made by Maple Leaf Foods.

A subsequent investigation into the outbreak led by Alberta health executive Sheila Weatherill found the agency’s inspection system failed to provide adequate oversight of the sanitation procedures for machinery at the plant that was the root source of the contamination.

New Democrat critic Malcolm Allen said CFIA has never done the audit recommended by Weatherill to determine what inspector numbers are needed to keep Canadian’s food safe.

“When you don’t know how many you need, how do you know if you have enough,” Allen asked.

While the inspector shortage is especially acute in the northern half of the province, a recent union survey found plants in southern Alberta — including Canada’s two largest beef slaughter facilities — are also affected by the agency’s budget crunch.

At Cargill Foods in High River, only 35 of the 50 meat inspector positions are currently staffed.

The facility in Brooks operates with as few as nine inspectors a shift instead of its full complement of 14, the survey found. It was less than three years ago that the plant was shuttered by the country’s largest beef recall after a clogged carcass pasteurizer went undetected by both CFIA and plant workers.

Dr. Ronald Lewis, who headed the independent review int0 the 2012 recall, said he was concerned the agency is now risking a repeat of the E.coli outbreak that closed the U.S. border to much of the Canada’s beef.

“If you don’t have enough inspectors and if they’re not in the plant every day, it’s very hard to inculcate a culture of safety,” Lewis said.

“It’s a recipe for trouble.”

© Calgary Herald
FSF

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

News Conference Advisory

Edmonton (30 March 2015) – The federal food inspectors union will make an important announcement concerning the state of meat inspection in Canada tomorrow.

When: 10:00 am.

Tuesday, March 31

 

Where: Drawing Room

Fairmont Hotel Macdonald

10065 – 100 Street

Edmonton

 

Who: Bob Kingston,

President of the Agriculture Union

Marianne Hladun,

Prairie Regional Executive Vice-President

Public Service Alliance of Canada

 

-30-

 

For information:

Jim Thompson

613-567-9592

jim@thompsoncom.ca