The federal government needs to release its plan now for food safety inspections in Canada, without worrying about the “communications risks” involved in releasing it, the federal Liberals said Wednesday.
News reports in the past week have stated that a Canadian Food Inspection Agency biologist has been sacked after finding confidential documents outlining such a plan on the CFIA computer system, and turning them over to his union for review.
Media reports of the leaked document’s contents indicate the government decided last year to cut back on safety inspections of meat, feed and seed, among other federally inspected food products.
But the same reports also indicate the Conservative government is delaying a public release of such a plan, “owing to significant communications risks.”
“It is shocking that the Conservatives are prepared to threaten the health of Canadians by abandoning key elements of the food safety system,” said federal agriculture critic Wayne Easter in the Liberals’ release.
Cuts to CFIA food inspections may leave Canadians “vulnerable to contaminated food reaching supermarket shelves,” public health critic Carolyn Bennett said in the same release.
“From Walkerton to the damning Ontario auditor’s report on food-safety hazards, Ontarians remember well what happened when Conservative Premier Mike Harris slashed the number of inspectors in his province,” Bennett said.
“Now that senior members of the Harris government sit around the cabinet table in Ottawa, we must be vigilant that the kind of damaging cuts made in Ontario are not repeated on a national scale.”
“Experts who have caught a glimpse of this secret plan have called it ‘dangerous,'” Easter said. “Even with the little we know about it, it is clear that this plan will hurt farmers and threatens the food we all eat.”
The media reports of changes to federal food inspection also follow the launch of a pilot program by the Alberta and federal governments starting July 1, in which the Canada-Alberta BSE surveillance program will shift its focus to testing younger cattle for which critical disease history and diagnoses are available. The revised program is also to reject most cattle ages nine and up.
Because most cases of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) show up in cattle between four and seven years old, a point system developed by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) assigns a higher value for high-risk cattle in that age range.
The new age cutoff is expected to reduce the number of animals eligible for testing, but the provincial government said in May that it expects to maintain international confidence in its negative test results if it selects for cattle that yield the highest OIE surveillance point values.