Regulations review Party plans to make food safety a priority in the upcoming session of Parliament
The opposition New Democratic Party is gearing up to focus on food safety and what it sees as a government failure to fund the Canadian Food Inspection Agency properly.
When the new session of Parliament resumes Oct. 16, NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen says food safety will be a major theme.
Inspector numbers have been reduced and funding has been cut, he told a news conference last week.
“It’s a system that’s now reacting to a crisis after people get ill and that’s the biggest, biggest issue that faces Canadians — why have they become the canary in the food system business rather than being the folks being protected by the CFIA,” he said.
“They can do better,” Allen said in an Oct. 7 interview.
“We will demand that they do. It’s not just consumers but producers as well who suffer when there is a food scare and consumers here or abroad get nervous.”
Deputy agriculture critic Ruth Ellen Brosseau said part of the problem is that inspectors will be “rotated from plant to plant to plant. Inspectors are becoming jacks-of-all-trades and you can’t expect them to go from commodity to commodity.”
The NDP plan to focus on food safety issues in Parliament comes as the government is immersed in its own efforts to improve the food safety system.
The CFIA has launched consultations on regulations that will be needed to bring the Safe Food for Canadians Act into effect by 2015. The bill became law in November 2012 but needs detailed regulations to be enacted.
Meanwhile, the work is being overseen by new agency president Bruce Archibald, appointed in August as the third president in five years.
Allen said one of the first things Archibald should do is order an independent audit of CFIA resources to determine if they are adequate for the job.
It was a recommendation in the 2009 Sheila Weatherill report after the deadly outbreak of listeriosis poisoning from tainted food produced from a Maple Leaf plant in Ontario.
The government has insisted a resource audit has been done and another is not needed.
“He (Archibald) should call that audit,” said the MP. “We still don’t know if they have the proper resourcing in the right plants at the right point. Maybe they have too many in some plants, not enough in others. We don’t know.”
Allen, a member of the House of Commons committee that held hearings on the Maple Leaf food contamination episode and the Weatherill report in 2009, said the CFIA resources still are being strained but the government denies it.
“There are cuts, $56 million out of the budget, 308 inspectors leaving the system, and the government mantra is ‘less is more’,” he said.
“It actually in our view takes integrity out of the system. You are going to be doing less than we did in the past and with some of the food safety issues in the past, that has not always been enough.”
However, the southwestern Ontario MP said he does not support proposals that have been debated in Ottawa for years that CFIA be moved to Health Canada from Agriculture Canada’s jurisdiction.
The argument that stretches back to the late 1990s and a failed Liberal bill to reform the CFIA is that as both an inspector and a promoter of the safety of Canada’s food, CFIA has a conflict of interest. Safe food is a health issue.