The federal government plans to cut the additional inspectors who were stationed at meat plants across the country after the Maple Leaf listeriosis outbreak killed 23 Canadians in 2008.
A recent report by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says “resources will sunset for listeriosis and for increased frequency of food inspection in meat processing establishments” at the end of the current fiscal year.
The CFIA’s 2011-12 Estimates Report on Plans and Priorities forecasts a reduction of $21.5-million in the annual budget and 234 fewer staff. The agency increased the frequency of its inspections as a result of U.S. demands that Ottawa station inspectors in slaughter and meat processing facilities every 12-hour shift.
All government departments and agencies are being forced to trim their budgets by as much as 10 per cent to meet deficit reduction targets set by the federal Conservative government.
“This looks like an exercise to make regulation cheaper, not safer or smarter. Ottawa should worry about undermining public confidence with food safety cuts because that will be bad for the industry,” Bob Kingston, the president of the Agriculture Union, a division of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said in a release issued prior to a news conference responding to the cuts.
Joining Mr. Kingston at the Monday event was Karen Clark, whose mother Francis died from listeriosis after eating tainted cold cuts.
“It scares me, quite honestly, to see the federal government’s attitude. It looks like they think Canadians have forgotten about the listeriosis outbreak and all the people it affected. That they can reduce these inspectors and safety programs and no one will notice,” Ms. Clark said in the release.
“Something terrible happened to me and my family,” she said “We’re not special. If the federal government does not maintain adequate safety oversight and inspection it could happen again to anyone’s family.”
The Agriculture Union announced that it is launching a campaign to recruit major players in Canada’s food industry to oppose these cuts, starting with Maple Leaf Foods. The online campaign at FoodSafetyFirst.ca features an action centre anyone can use to send a message to food industry leaders urging them to get on board.
In addition, PSAC has been running a series of videos featuring a giant squirrel that say Canadians are being forces to make an " absurd choice" between government-funded services and deficit reduction.