Feds warned against provincial meat inspection cuts

A plan that would make three provinces end their use of federal meat inspectors and develop their own inspection regimes by the end of 2013 poses a food safety risk, opposition ag critics and the federal meat inspectors’ union warn.

The Agriculture Union, the arm of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) representing federal meat inspectors, reported Wednesday that the federal government plans to end an agreement which sent about 65 Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) staff to perform inspection work at provincially-regulated plants in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

That leaves all three provinces until “no later than January 2014” to come up with their own inspectors, inspection services and systems to serve provincially-regulated plants, the union said in a release Wednesday.

For those provinces, “the cost of meat inspection will likely triple because CFIA has provided this service below cost for some years,” union president Bob Kingston said in a letter to federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

“With less than half of the required budget, these provinces will be faced with inspecting all provincially registered meat production facilities with an inexperienced staff that is not big enough to cover the territory and which lacks the necessary supportive infrastructure.”

CFIA inspectors will continue to run food safety work as usual in federally-registered meat plants — “a situation that will widen the existing gap in federal and provincial meat inspection safety standards,” the union said.

“You know yourself how time consuming it is to hire new meat inspectors and to provide the necessary training and mentoring to bring them to full strength,” Kingston wrote to Ritz. “Your deadline is unrealistic and will leave any province seeking to establish its meat inspectorate from scratch with insufficient transition time, further increasing the risk people in these provinces will face.”

“Makeshift at best”

In Manitoba, for instance, CFIA inspectors would no longer check 28 provincially-registered meat plants. The province itself “currently has no meat inspectors and little of the support infrastructure needed to do the job,” the union said.

“With less than half of the required budget, the (Manitoba) government’s plan to establish a replacement program starting in mid-2013 with the hiring of approximately 15 meat inspectors is makeshift at best.”

In B.C., which has about 60 such facilities, the costs of inspection services would likely triple from current levels, the union said.

By comparison, the union said, “the provincial meat inspection system in Alberta and Ontario is well established and well supported, so meat inspection conducted in these provinces will be superior.”

“The short-sighted decision to stop inspections of provincial meat plants will place the health of Canadians at serious risk, will strain the resources of provincial governments, and could lead to the to the privatization of inspection services,” federal Liberal agriculture critic Frank Valeriote, an Ontario MP, said Wednesday.

“Consumers in some parts of the country will ultimately be at greater risk of becoming sick from contaminated meat than those in other parts of the country — and all because Minister Ritz wants to save a few dollars,” federal NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen, a B.C. MP, said Thursday.

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