XL, budget cuts not linked: Ritz

Federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz has denied opposition allegations that funding for food inspection has been cut and challenged his critics to provide the proof.

New Democrats pointed to a budget claim of $56 million in cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as part of deficit-reduction efforts.

“We’re all looking for efficiencies and that’s what CFIA strove to do,” Ritz told the House of Commons agriculture committee Oct. 25 as he urged it to quickly approve Bill S-11, new food safety legislation that strengthens CFIA powers.

“They have identified a number of efficiencies.”

However, he insisted none of those savings will affect front line food inspection.

“Absolutely not one nickel affects front line food safety, not one nickel,” he said.

“I would challenge the opposition to actually point to that in any way, shape or form. We do hear some noise from the unions that this will affect such and such, but they cannot show where that is actually true.”

Ritz said the $56 million in cuts is over three years, while the government has added or will add more than $250 million to the CFIA budget in coming years and 700 new staff have been hired.

“This whole idea that somehow this is a horrendous slash to their budget is absolutely ridiculous,” said a feisty Ritz.

“Since we formed government, the overall budget of CFIA has gone up by 20 percent.”

Ritz appeared before the committee to urge quick passage of Bill S-11 that will increase inspection powers for the CFIA.

It will also help create a mandatory national traceability system for food.

He used the committee appearance to deal with one fallout from that goal — cattle industry concerns that this would increase government intervention on their farms.

Ritz said that is not the intention.

The existing Health of Animals Act will still be the legislation that affects farmers and ranchers, he said.

“Bill S-11 only comes into play as that animal is loaded and moves onto the next stage of either background, feedlot, processing, whatever it is.”

Information will be recorded about what farm or ranch the animal came from, but there will be no new intrusive rules about cattle management.

“Farmers were concerned that somehow we were going to develop a cow registry,” Ritz told MPs.

“We had this huge computer system for a gun registry that went nuts so they figured we should put it back to work or they don’t figure we should put it back to work, and I’m here to tell you that’s not going to happen. We got rid of the gun registry. We’re not going to have a cow registry.”

Ritz said a registry that allows buyers to trace the product back to its origin is a powerful marketing tool.

It will also help trace animals to their point of origin if disease breaks out.

He said Japan is now doing an analysis that should change its import restrictions to animals younger than 30 months from younger than 21 months.

“That’s huge,” he said. “That’s the difference of some $80 million or $90 million to Canadian ranchers.”

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