Loblaw official takes heat over food safety comment

Farmers’ market advocates wasted no time demanding a retraction after the head of Canada’s largest grocery store chain said produce from farmers’ markets will kill a consumer someday.

Loblaw Cos. Ltd. quickly said executive chair Galen Weston was simply calling for more food inspection throughout the system and not singling out farmers’ markets.

But in the days that followed Weston’s controversial statement at a Toronto food conference, he re-ceived some significant support.

“They were simply indicating that food inspection as an activity should be happening everywhere and not just at major chains and not just at major manufacturers but also at farmers’ markets,” Public Service Alliance of Canada agriculture union president Bob Kingston told the House of Commons agriculture committee Feb. 15.

“We agree..… It’s preventive. I believe the more inspection, the more preventive measures you’re taking, then the safer it is.”

Earlier, University of Guelph professor Sylvain Charlebois weighed in on Weston’s warning.

“Shocking comments, perhaps, but the fact of the matter is, it may have had already happened,” he wrote.

Consumers can be exposed to pathogens causing illness at any level of the food chain.

“These were evidently strong words coming from the head of Canada’s largest food retailer, but they point out that a broader more rational debate on food safety is warranted in our country,” wrote Charlebois, a former University of Regina professor who is acting dean at the University of Guelph’s College of Management and Economics.

The furor began Feb. 7 when Weston, during a speech to a Conference Board of Canada conference on food policy, argued that Canada’s food system is strong and a robust inspection regime is key.

“Farmers’ markets are great … but someday they’re going to kill someone,” he said in answer to a question from the audience.

“I’m just saying that to be dramatic, though,” he quickly added.

Robert Chorney, chair of Farmers’ Market Canada, was in the audience and responded in a later session when he had a chance to speak.

“We strenuously object,” he said. “That was awful.”

The association later demanded an apology or retraction from Weston, but the Loblaw chain said that it was a comment on food inspection and not on farmers’ markets.

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