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Canadian Food Inspection Agency disputes union comments on food safety

04/01/2015 09:51 EDT | Updated 06/01/2015 05:59 EDT
EDMONTON - The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says comments made this week by the union representing Canada's meat inspectors are unnecessarily undermining confidence in the country's food safety system.

A news release signed by president Bruce Archibald says the agency is proud that Canada's food safety system has been rated No. 1 out of 17 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development by the Conference Board of Canada.

On Tuesday, the Agriculture Union, which represents the CFIA's inspectorate, said a critical shortage of inspectors is putting the safety of consumers at risk across the country.

It said only 12 of 18 meat hygiene inspection positions are filled at processing plants in northern Alberta and staff were instructed in January to cut sanitation work by 50 per cent.

The CFIA says the claims that food safety activities have been cut in northern Alberta are false, adding the number of staff in regions fluctuates due to changes in demand for service.

The news release says the nature of inspection work focuses on areas of highest risk, which can include regional emergencies and enforcement action.

The union suggested the agency and the federal government were more committed to exports, noting all meat destined for the United States comes from plants that are inspected every 12 hours that they are open.

NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen said the government is creating a two-tiered food inspection system: one for domestic meat and one for meat bound for export.

The agency says differences in meat inspection systems between the U.S. and Canada are related to trade standards, not food safety.

"Whether it's federal or industry staff, a food safety inspector is on the ground at all times in every federally registered meat slaughter plant in Canada," says the news release. "A comprehensive system of inspection tasks are routinely carried out in federally registered meat processing plants."

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