Monday, December 10, 2012

CFIA has a double standard

The Canadian Food Inspection Service is supposed to be running a single standard for meat inspection and food safety in Canadian packing plants.

That, after all, is one of the many requirements to gain access to export markets, especially the United States.

But by its own admission, the CFIA Foods Inc. of Brooks, Alta., one of the largest beef-packing plants in Canada.

The other is Capital Packers Inc. of Edmonton, Alta.

Now comes word that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has re-certified XL Foods Inc. to export to the United States.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service probably had to first give its blessings.

On paper, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is in charge of the plants that are on the list approved to export to the U.S., but in practice the U.S. often makes the decisions. It was an inspector at the U.S. border who identified E. coli 0157:H7 in beef from XL Foods, resulting in delisting.

It took the CFIA weeks, however, to make its own confirmations that the plant was not up to snuff and it eventually ended up shutting down operations and recalling the largest volume of beef in Canadian history.

Apparently routine inspection, even with more than 45 CFIA inspectors on duty at the plant, was not enough to get a handle on serious deficiencies.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has also allowed Capital Packers Inc. of Edmonton to resume operations. It’s licence was suspended last month, mainly because the company had poor controls in place to effect a recall of meat that might have been contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

The CFIA says that both plants are operating under "intensified inspection."

Surely Canadian consumers would wish that all plants were under "intensified inspection." That might, in the words of Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, help avoid "death by a thousand cold cuts."