‘’a union survey of 580 CFIA employees in March found 55 % of respondents saw the current number of inspectors as being “inadequate to ensure compliance with food safety requirements,” with inspector shortages “most acute in meat plants.”
Union: CFIA Misled MPs
The head of Canada’s Agriculture Union says a senior official with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency misled a parliamentary committee about inspection levels in federal meat plants. “The assurance of the CFIA witness that there are inspectors present in every meat processing plant for every production shift is simply false,” Bob Kingston wrote in a May 13 letter to the chair of the Standing Committee on Health, Bill Casey.
“You need a reliable source of accurate information about the state of food safety and inspection,” the letter reads. “Unfortunately, you and your colleagues do not have that at the moment.” Kingston’s letter comes after CFIA Vice President Paul Mayers appeared in front of the committee June 8 to testify on the agency’s supplementary estimates; Mayers took the opportunity to point to renewed federal funding for CFIA inspection activities.
“There is $12.5 million to maintain daily shift presence in federally registered meat processing establishment(s) … This renewed funding will primarily support frontline meat inspectors and program specialists in Canadian meat processing establishments to sustain both domestic and international confidence and support continued trade,” Mayers said.
While Mayers assured the committee that Canada’s food safety agency had enough resources to do its job, he admitted no federal audit of its resources had been undertaken. Under the Safe Foods for Canadians Act, passed by Parliament in 2012, the agency is required to conduct an audit within five years of implementation.
“It [CFIA] has seen significant investment in terms of frontline inspection,” Mayers told the committee, adding CFIA remains committed to fulfilling its audit requirements.
That’s not good enough for Kingston.
“It is troubling that a science-based organization like the CFIA has not done a rigorous assessment of the resources needed to implement its new plans while authorizing its spokesperson to declare to lawmakers that all is well,” he wrote.
Concerns about CFIA staffing and inspection levels have continued since internal documents obtained byiPolitics in April 2015 showed the agency had cut back on meat hygiene inspections in its northern Alberta plants. Those cutbacks were initiated after the agency conceded it was “not able to complete work as per program design” because of tight finances and a shortfall of six inspectors.
The internal documents revealed the agency had “reduced daily presence in registered processing establishments that are not eligible to export to the USA,” a decision that affected 66 per cent of the region’s processing plants.
The documents obtained by iPolitics showed that as of January 5, 2015, domestic plants that were being inspected once a day were instead being inspected every second day; those plants were going without a visit from an inspector two days a week.
Meanwhile, plants that previously received inspections twice a day saw their inspections cut back to once a day.
One CFIA inspector went as far to accuse the agency’s senior bureaucrats in Ottawa of “blatantly lying” about the cutbacks. “Morale is in the toilet,” he told iPolitics in an interview.
As of May 1, inspectors in northern Alberta have been instructed to resume “national frequencies” for those inspections, according to an internal email obtained by iPolitics.
However, Kingston notes in his letter that these instructions came despite an ongoing staffing shortage of 33 per cent and “the daily shift presence double standard remains in place.”
Staffing shortfalls nationally, Kingston said, remain at approximately 30 per cent.
Meanwhile, a union survey of 580 CFIA employees in March found 55 per cent of respondents saw the current number of inspectors as being “inadequate to ensure compliance with food safety requirements,” with inspector shortages “most acute in meat plants.”
In an email late Monday afternoon, CFIA stood by its food safety system, insisting the department has the resources it needs “to keep food safe for Canadian consumers.”
“There have been no reductions to inspectors in meat plants due to budget cuts,” the email reads.
“CFIA inspectors are present on a daily basis in federally-registered meat slaughter and processing establishments,” the agency said, noting its “field inspection staff increased by almost 20% between 2007 and 2015.”