Tainted food sparks national safety campaign

    TORONTO, Sept. 12 /CNW Telbec/ - Federal candidates across the country
are being asked to make a Commitment to Food Safety as part of a national
campaign launched in Toronto this morning.
    "The outbreaks of listeriosis due to tainted food products have shaken
the country's confidence in our food protection system. The system is broken
and needs fixing," says Patricia Ducharme, Executive Vice-President of the
Public Service Alliance of Canada.
    The campaign features a website - www.foodsafetyfirst.ca - which allows
visitors to send a message to ask local candidates to take make a Commitment
to Food Safety, a four-point action plan to fix the system. Radio, print and
online ads will be used during the federal election to spread the word about
the campaign, as will events across the country.
    "Our unions are launching this campaign now, because of the urgent need
for action and political commitment on the issue of food safety before more
Canadians lives are put at risk." says Michèle Demers, President of the
Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.
    The government of Stephen Harper has steadily cut funding for food safety
programs and shifted responsibility for safety assurance to the food companies
    According to current Treasury Board of Canada forecasts, funding for food
safety programs will have declined by almost 30% from $359 million in 2006/07
to $254 million in 2010/11 under Mr. Harper's watch.
    Meanwhile, the government plans to expand industry self-policing of
safety. A secret government document brought to light by a CFIA employee who
was subsequently fired reveals plans to:

    - "shift from full-time Canadian Food Inspection Agency meat inspection
      presence to an oversight role, allowing industry to implement food
      safety control programs and to manage key risks," and;
    - "eliminate federal delivery of provincial meat inspection programs" in
      Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

    "There are too few inspectors who spend too much time reviewing
company-generated reports in a system that relies too much on the food
industry to police itself when it comes to safety," says Agriculture Union
President Bob Kingston, a food inspection supervisor on leave from the CFIA.
    The campaign aims to drum up support among candidates and the federal
parties for the following policies to improve food safety in Canada:

    Hire 1000 additional inspectors and veterinarians to improve compliance

    There are almost 800 federally regulated meat processing facilities
scattered across Canada, many processing thousands of animals everyday. There
are also thousands of cheese, produce and other food production facilities, as
well as delis and other retail outlets, all of which are potential sources for
deadly food-borne bacteria. This territory is far too vast for the 1100 fully
qualified process food inspectors and 230 meat hygiene veterinarians currently
on staff. While the problem of food-borne illness is complex, one dimension of
the problem is clear: our food inspectors are too few and spread too thinly.
For example, the inspector responsible for the Maple Leaf plant which was the
source of tainted meat in the latest food-borne bacterial outbreak also is
responsible for six other facilities. In order to ensure companies follow food
safety regulations we simply need more inspectors.

    Place an immediate moratorium on industry self-policing policies

    Under changes introduced on March 31st this year, including at Maple Leaf
Foods in Toronto, meat inspectors are now directly supervising from the plant
floor only 25% of the time. The rest of the time, federal meat inspectors
review company generated reports. This reality falls far short of the target
for inspectors to spend half their time inspecting hands-on under the new
"Compliance Verification System".
    Beyond meat processing, industry self-policing has been extended to
poultry; monitoring the health of birds was transferred from inspectors to the
private sector in the fall of 2007.
    Plans the Conservative government has approved but not entirely
implemented will give industry more self-policing powers when it comes to
safety. The Compliance Verification System, the Poultry Rejection Program and
future self-policing plans should be put on hold.

    Remove obstacles preventing CFIA inspectors & vets from taking immediate

    CFIA inspectors are discouraged from taking immediate action when serious
health problems arise. Instead, they are strongly encouraged to give the
offending company a "Corrective Action Request" which states the nature of the
problem and gives the company up to 60 days to address it. The theory of
immediate action of the part of inspectors becomes more remote because under
the "Compliance Verification System" inspectors spend 75% of their time at the
plant reviewing company-generated reports, instead of inspecting facilities.
This approach is part and parcel of the move toward industry self-policing
when it comes to safety.

    Restore the system of public audit reports which were cancelled under
    pressure from the meat industry

    For 20 years, government inspectors reported and ranked the meat
processing facilities they inspected. Under pressure from an industry lobby
group called the Canadian Meat Council which complained about the bad press
these reports created when obtained by reporters, the federal government
cancelled the practice soon after Stephen Harper took office. Canadians need
to know which companies are meeting safety standards and which companies are
not and the public audit system should be restored.

For further information:

For further information: Jim Thompson, (613) 447-9592; John Chenery,
(416) 452-6016 cell

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