The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is spending $20 million to hire, train and equip additional staff members to limit disruptions resulting from COVID-19.
With meat packers and food processing plants considering extended hours as they adjust to taking extra measures to combat the pandemic, CFIA needed to ensure inspections would continue.
COVID-19 entering processing plants and forcing workers off the job is one of the biggest threats facing Canada’s food supply. Already there have been temporary closures at plants in different parts of the country.
“It’s a huge challenge they have to go through right now, putting in place all the measures necessary to meet the provincial public health protocols to protect their employees, including the inspectors,” said Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.
She said the closures are a business decision and she recognizes there will be short periods of disruption at packing and processing plants, but is hopeful once safety measures are put in place the industry will be in a better position to move forward.
The federal government is monitoring the situation and is expected to take additional steps if needed.
“This is a big challenge that the whole supply chain is facing right now,” Bibeau said, adding the federal government is looking at other options but “it’s too soon for me to tell you how we will proceed.”
The $20 million in funding is primarily to ensure there will be more inspectors available for the CFIA to employ. Federal officials are working with their provincial counterparts and bringing back some retired CFIA inspectors.
Bibeau said she is aware there could be an increase in demand for the CFIA inspectors as processors look to extend to longer hours as a means of compensating for lower production levels resulting from COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
“We wanted to add enough inspectors and enough flexibility to make sure if there is a slow down in the production, it wouldn’t be because CFIA was not able to meet the demand,” she said.
Conservative party agriculture critic John Barlow said in a statement it is “urgent” for the food supply system that processing plants remain open.
Already CFIA had announced a suspension of low-risk activities, saying they would halt work that does not immediately impact the production of food safety. Food
safety investigations, import inspection and emergency management are all being considered high priorities.
Quebec hog producer Olymel temporarily suspended its facility after nine cases of COVID-19 were found among its staff. Two beef packing plants in Alberta, responsible for a significant portion of the country’s total processing capacity, have also announced reduced production to combat the pandemic.