Cut Backs 'Would Be Devastating' to Food Safety Inspections

According to the Vancouver Sun, Canadian Food Inspection Agency documents warn the agency could be forced to cut more than 200 food safety workers when the federal bud-get is delivered March 22.

The Agricultural Union, which represents federal food inspectors, warns the cuts would reduce the number of front-line food safety program staff to below the level it was in 2008, when a listeriosis out-break killed 28 people.

"It would be devastating," said union president Bob Kingston. He said funding is already so tight that the CFIA is reacting to food contamination incidents only after people have been sickened rather than detecting them before they happen.

"If all they are doing is cranking out reports after people have gotten sick, you have to ask yourself where the prevention is," Kingston said.

However, of the CFIA recalls triggered by food-borne pathogens issued in the past 30 days - including salmonella-tainted imported Tahina, salmonella-tainted sausage from Ontario, beef patties contaminated with E. coli from Ontario and B.C. cold-smoked salmon contaminated with listeria - only one illness was reported.

The agency already relies on assurances of safety from countries such as India and China that employ standards less stringent than those required in Canada. About two per cent of imported foods are inspected by CFIA workers, but that figure is likely to drop, Kingston said.

Kingston fears reliance on foreign intelligence to protect Canadians from food-borne pathogens will increase. "That's fine if that intelligence is coming from the United States, because they have a better food-borne illness monitoring system than [Canada]," he said. But as international trade in food grows, that reliance on foreign jurisdiction represents a risk to Canadians, he said.

The CFIA's 2011-12 plans and priorities report anticipates a $21.1-million budget cut and the loss of more than 200 staff from the food safety program. That represents about 10 per cent of front-line inspectors, Kingston said.
Source: Vancouver Sun