Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hutton urges free speech for food safety

David Hutton of Ottawa runs a website devoted to information about whistleblowers.

He has followed food-safety issues for years and for that reason was called to testify this June 2 to the House of Commons' Food Safety Committee.

He said "unless we create effective whistleblower protection for people working in the food industry – from the public servants who make policy and oversee the industry, to the managers and workers on the production lines – Canadians will continue to die needlessly because of avoidable failures within the food supply.

I totally agree.

Back in the 1970s, when I first began reporting about the dismal state of Canadian meat inspection and the attitudes of large meat-packing companies, it was a group of well-informed meat inspectors who pointed me in the right direction.

They knew about the lapses in food-safety control and they knew where to find the documents to describe those lapses. From there, it was simply a matter of filing Freedom-of-Information requests to the U.S. government or Access-to-Information requests to the Canadian officials.

I always got prompt and full disclosure from the Americans. I never got prompt or full disclosure from the Canadians. Still don't. The Canadians delays for months and then release heavily-edited documents.

Maybe the Americans are better at this because it's often Congressmen and Senators who are seeking the information. They don't have to bow and scrape to the President, as is the case with Harper's trained seals.

Hutton has long been urging major improvements to the Canadian Access-to-Information Act and regulations. Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have been willing to act, probably because there are too many skeletons they want to keep hidden in their closets.

It may be time for this one reason alone to elect an NDP government for a while.