Sunday, March 23, 2014

Meat council says fines not necessary

Ron Davidson of the Canadian Meat Council says fines are not necessary as another enforcement tool to get Canadian meat packers to toe the line on food safety.

His comment is posted on the Barfblog site operated by Dr. Doug Powell, the world’s only holder of a doctoral degree in food safety communications.

Powell also quotes an e-mail from Lisa Murphy, speaking for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency: "these proposed new fines demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that Canada's stringent food safety requirements are being followed."

I don't believe Davidson because I have been covering meat-packing food-safety issues for almost 40 years and continue to be confronted with news about flagrant violations.

The CFIA might, however, be finally reforming because it has been moved from the agriculture to the health department.

While under the supervision of federal agriculture ministers, more than 1,000 CFIA food-inspection staff were unable to pressure meat packers into consistent compliance with regulations and standards.

The most highly-publicized failures involved Canada’s largest meat packers – XL Foods of Brooks, Alta., Maple Leaf Foods inc. of Tornto and J.M. Scheider Ltd of Kitchener.

XL Foods was involved in the largest-volume beef recall in Canadian history because of E. Coli 9157:H7; follow-up inspections identified numberous shortcomings. Obviously some additional disciplinary measures were required.

Maple Leaf Foods Inc.’s luncheon meats killed at least 21 people with Listeria monocytogenes. The plant’s meat-slicing equipment was found to be contaminated.

Schneider’s sold luncheon meats that killed and sickened school children because the cheese was contaminated. It came from a plant that Schneider’s sold, knowing that the well water was at risk of being polluted by manure runoff from the truck wash.

In all three cases, rigorous attention to food safety standards would have avoided the crises.

While the CFIA has not fined meat packers for infractions, it has fined farmers and truckers for failure to apply identification tags to cattle and for exposing chickens to bad weather. 

It's a curious double standard, all the more so because what the farmers and truckers did posed no threat to the health of the public.