CFIA inspector: Cutbacks in Alberta are real, and ‘morale is in the toilet’
“Despite repeated denials from federal officials, including Health Minister Rona
Ambrose, that no cutbacks have been made to Canadian Food Inspection Agency
inspections in northern Alberta, an Alberta CFIA inspector has told iPolitics
that the cutbacks are real, and that they are seriously impacting food safety.
“Most inspectors just want to do the right thing, but you just can’t,” the
inspector, who asked not to be identified because they fear retribution from
their employer, told iPolitics.
Morale within the department and among those working the frontline is
particularly low, the inspector said, especially given what they called the
“blatant lying” coming from CFIA’s national office.
“Morale is in the toilet.”
CFIA President Bruce Archibald and Health Minister Rona Ambrose have repeatedly
insisted no cuts have been made to food safety inspections in Northern Alberta
– despite multiple allegations by the union and unedited internal document
obtained by iPolitics that shows otherwise.
In an email to iPolitics April 2, CFIA officials said “claims that food safety
activities have been cut in Northern Alberta are false.”
“Nothing in the CFIA document obtained by iPolitics is inconsistent with what
the CFIA has said previously,” the agency said, referring to the documents as
That plan, Canada’s national food inspection agency said, “is normal.”
That’s simply not the case, the Alberta inspector said. The cutbacks, they
insisted, were not a contingency plan – reductions in the number of inspections
are happening in domestic plants and have been since January 5.
“The amount of inspectors is down by a third. [CFIA] just don’t have the staff
to keep up with 100 per cent inspection in domestic plants,” the inspector
said, adding sanitation inspections have also been cut.
“The cutbacks are almost deeper than when everything happened with Maple Leaf,”
they said – referring to the 2008 outbreak of listeriosis that left 21 people dead.
iPolitics was told prior to the cutbacks that CFIA inspectors were required to
inspect two processing plants per day and were given “ample” time to complete
all the required tasks – which typically take about three or four hours to
complete, depending on the location.
“How can you do five establishments a day? It’s impossible,” the inspector
said. With such a tight timeline, the inspector said those on the ground now
have 30 minutes to do “walk-throughs” of the establishments by the time all the
paperwork is sorted.
“You don’t have time to stop and watch.”
The inspector said they were aware of several CFIA employees who have quit
because of the cutbacks and employee “burnout.”
“If someone is off sick now you have to take on more,” the inspector said,
adding employees who have chosen to stay late to try and finish up their files
on their own time have been reprimanded for working overtime.
Ottawa’s response, the inspector said, “is putting lots of stress on inspectors.”
It’s that added stress that has Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture
Union, worried. All CFIA staff, including meat inspectors, are represented by
the agriculture union.
Kingston also told iPolitics Monday that CFIA is “cutting corners” in Quebec’s
meat inspection staffing and frequency.
“Our members are suffering,” Kingston told iPolitics in an interview April 20.
“We can’t let it go.”
The union had meetings with CFIA officials in Ottawa the week of April 13,
Kingston said, to discuss the situation on the ground. None of the top CFIA
officials, including the agency’s president, Bruce Archibald, showed up, opting
to send members of their staff instead, the union president recalled.
Back in Alberta, the inspector said there is no end in sight to the cutbacks –
despite shortages of inspectors and frustration from meat establishments and
CFIA staff who are worried someone is going to get sick.
“You just don’t know what is going on at these establishments,” the inspector
The inspector said family members have already been warned to “be careful about
what kind of meat they are eating.”
The inspector told iPolitics it has even been suggested to family members they
are “better off” getting an animal locally slaughtered by “someone that they