Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Who handles your meat?

I was thoroughly disgusted today as I listened to meat inspectors testify during a semi-judicial hearing about conditions at Innerkip Specialty Meats Ltd. during 2009.

Don Murray bought the plant and obtained a provincial licence to open Jan. 9, 2009. Within two weeks, it was clear that he was in over his head and things were going to pot.

One piece of cooling equipment failed within a few weeks and the other unit was not sufficient to bring the cooler down to the maximum allowable four degrees Celsius. Yet the plant continued to run.

Then there were problems with the scalder, there were failures to bring chlorination levels to standard in the plant water, knife sanitizers failed, sanitation went from bad to worse and inspector Mike Tilford said he was operating like a "baby sitter" trying to coach plant managers and staff to bring things up to snuff.

He said often Murray simply walked away when he was being told about regulatory requirements, refused to answer his telephone and drove off. The inspection staff often threw up their hands and simply walked off the place, effectively shutting it down until Murray could bring it up to some minimum level of compliance.

The hearing was, incredibly, to hear an appeal from Murray to have his licence restored after it had been repeatedly suspended and eventually cancelled.

inspectors testified that Murray brought sick, injured and diseased pigs to the plant and many had to be condemned and euthanized. He tried to sneak dirty and abcessed hog carcasses past inspectors into the cooler. He tried to truck away carcasses that were lying on a dirty and bloody floor of the truck.

He threatened to 'kill himself' and to 'execute somebody" when he was confronted with violations of regulations. Drabble said she fears for her safety and that of any staff she supervises, so would not enter any plant that Murray ever owns or operates. Tilford said he would go back, but only if he had another inspector "so we could watch each other's back."

In the end, Murray conceded he's not going to regain his business, but pleaded to have the facility licensed so Egon Spreitzer, who is an investor, can run the plant.

Spreitzer, however, has a litany of run-ins with public health inspectors in the Waterloo Region, eventually resulting in a Superior Court order in December, 2009, shuttering his retail butcher shop.

So, my question is, how do these characters ever get the right to continue handling our food for months and sometimes for years after it's obvious that they have little or no regard for regulations and standards?

Sadly, Murray and Spreizer are far from the first here in Ontario who have flouted regulations. They have butchered and marketed deadstock, they have made a business of dealing in downers and "suspect" animals and have run them through plants that have been persistently in violation of standards and regulations. We have had owners with connections to organized crime. We have had beef packers who lied about grades and cheated on weights. We have had a meat packer who was under RCMP surveillance and one of his creditors under RCMP protection, yet he continued to slaughter cattle and market beef.

As I have often asked the people in charge of meat inspection, what does it take to put these characters out of business?