12/04/2012 02:35 EST | Updated 02/03/2013 05:12 EST

Saskatchewan Auditor Report: Meat Inspection Needs Better Monitoring

REGINA - Saskatchewan is being told to beef up its meat inspections, but the province's health minister is concerned about changing some standards.

Provincial auditor Bonnie Lysyk said in a report released Tuesday that meat from 76 of the province's 90 slaughter plants is not being inspected.

Only the plant itself is reviewed annually for cleanliness and for its ability to keep meat cold, she said.

"I guess we were surprised that the 76 plants didn't have their meat inspected, mainly because we did a comparison to the rest of Canada, and we noticed that the majority of the provinces are inspecting both meat as well as the plant," Lysyk said at a news conference at the legislature.

"The slaughter process isn't being looked at, as well as the carcass, and the animal itself, so those three things aren't being looked at in plants that are inspected just by (the Ministry of) Health."

Lysyk said the actual amount of meat handled by the plants isn't tracked either.

Saskatchewan laws allow meat to be sold without being inspected. It is the only province where meat safety is handled by two ministries — Health and Agriculture.

Lysyk said the Health Department didn't know if problems were fixed at plants that were deemed to be medium or high risk.

Her report makes 10 recommendations to help keep meat safe in the province.

Saskatchewan Health Minister Dustin Duncan said the province will revisit the standards, but move ahead with caution. The plants are small and deal primarily with ranchers who want their beef slaughtered, processed and packaged for their own consumption, he added.

"What we want to be cautious of is ... if we make it more difficult for an industry that operates in this type of niche market to exist into the future, what are the consequences of doing that," said Duncan.

"Would we then be putting people in a position rather than taking their beef to be slaughtered at a facility and packaged at a facility that is inspected by the government ... (to) maybe just doing it on their own where we have no ability to provide any oversight into that?"

Duncan also said to the government's knowledge no food-borne illnesses have been tracked to the plants.

The remaining 14 plants, which handle larger volumes of meat, have regular and more in-depth inspections.

The auditor also raised concern about how the government reports its finances.

Lysyk repeated a long-standing request for the government to stop reporting on a general revenue fund basis and a summary basis. She said only the summary financial report, which takes into account all areas of government including Crown corporations, paints a real picture of finances.

"Having two sets of books and all these numbers floating around is confusing to the average citizen and no other province speaks that way to the financial statements anymore," said Lysyk.

"If you go back 10 years, 15, 20 years, you know that was the state of the land. It's changed and it's time that the focus be on the right number and clarity around communication of financial information."

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