Auditor-General Kenneth Ferguson is highly critical of the meat inspectors running the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
In a report presented to the House of Commons Tuesday, Ferguson says the CFIA created a lot of confusion when XL Foods Inc. was in the midst of a crisis trying to handle the largest beef recall in Canadian history.
He says the CFIA staff presented a lot of demands that over-burdened a company already struggling to deal with the situation.
The recall also took longer than necessary because the distribution records the company turned over to the CFIA took several days to convert into electronic files the CFIA could use.
But once things got sorted out, Ferguson said that recall went reasonably well.
Other recalls have not gone nearly as well, he reports. In many cases the CFIA failed to follow up to determine whether the recall was complete and what needed to be done to improve company operations.
Now that Health Minister Rona Ambrose has taken over responsibility from Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz for the CFIA’s food safety programs, she has promised swift action to correct the deficiencies Ferguson has identified.
A few days before he issued his report, Ambrose also announced that the CFIA will start to fine meat packers for failures to comply with food-safety standards and procedures.
The CFIA has had this power to impose “administrative monetary penalties” for years, but so far has not used it to discipline meat packers, although it has used it to discipline others such as farmers and truckers.