For immediate release
Ottawa (August 8, 2017) – New leadership at Canada’s food safety regulator is reconsidering changes to inspection procedures its former President planned to usher in under a program called “Inspection Modernization” amid warnings the changes would introduce unwanted health and economic risks.
Among the changes that have been put on ice is a new meat inspection process that would have allowed inspectors not qualified in Ready-to- Eat (RTE) meat processing to spend as little as 15 minutes in the offices of factories where high-risk RTE foods are produced, instead of doing proper inspections. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) also planned to instruct them to call their supervisor if they “stumble on” a safety issue they are not qualified to recognize.
According to CFIA training materials that have already been delivered to most staff “an office visit alone meets the requirements of daily presence (in a meat processing plant) and may be as short as 15 minutes.”
In addition to food safety concerns, these reforms could also have sparked sanctions from the United States which requires countries to ensure that RTE meat produced for export to its markets is subject to the “daily presence” of inspectors.
The Agency is also scrapping plans to assign inspectors and frontline supervisors to work outside of their area of expertise (for example, forestry experts inspecting fish, animal science experts inspecting plant material).
“CFIA’s new President has made it clear to us that these changes will not be made and that new instructions to inspection staff will be prepared,” said Bob Kingston, President of the food inspectors union. “This is a positive step forward.”
“After years of budget cuts under the previous government, these changes were all about managing a staff shortage. We are pleased new leadership at the Agency has recognized many of its Inspection Modernization reforms would actually be a step backward for food safety. Going forward we hope the new regime at the CFIA will level with the government about the resources it actually needs to implement its food safety program,” said Fabian Murphy, First National Executive Vice-President of the Agriculture Union that represents most CFIA inspectors.
Meanwhile, the new inspection process does not require facilities to disclose to inspectors how they will address all safety deficiencies when these are discovered.
“We hope the Agency will review this change as well,” Murphy said.
According to a new Abacus survey released this morning, food safety inspectors have very little confidence in Inspection Modernization and grave concerns that shortages among inspection staff will compromise public safety. Among the findings:
- Only one-third (33%) of meat inspectors surveyed report that there are always
sufficient staff in their immediate work group to allow meaningful daily presence in
meat plants, while two-thirds (66%) report that there are enough staff for this
mandatory oversight requirement only sometimes, rarely or never.
- Two-thirds (63%) describe the current complement of staff in their immediate working
group as inadequate to complete all tasks needed to ensure compliance with food safety
- Half (47%) believe Canadians have been exposed to an increased risk of food borne
illness because of the staff shortage.
- Three-quarters (76%) believe a major food borne illness outbreak in Canada in the near
future is very or somewhat likely.
“To inspectors, Modernization has been all about managing a bigger workload with a shortage of food safety staff. These findings should give CFIA executives The evidence they need to demonstrate the shortage of inspection resources,” said Fabian Murphy,
Abacus found food safety staff are less confident today in the CFIA’s Modernization program than they were in 2016 when last surveyed.
- Six-in- ten (63%) respondents believe Inspection Modernization will actually increase
the chance of a major food borne illness outbreak, up significantly from 2016 when half
(50%) held the same view.
- Most (75%) respondents feel not very or not at all qualified to work under the new
inspection system which would have assigned inspectors and frontline supervisors
work outside of their area of expertise.
- 65% disagree that CFIA will be able to introduce Inspection Modernization while
protecting consumer safety at the same time.
The survey was conducted online from May 15 to June 16, 2017with 488 members of the Agriculture Union in English and French using an internet survey programmed and collected by Abacus Data. In total, 2,085 members were invited by email to participate. The response rate for the survey is 23%. The margin of error for this study is 4.5%, 19 times out of 20.
The Agriculture Union, which commissioned the survey, represents more than 6000 federal government workers including most of the food safety staff at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
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