Thursday, December 12, 2019

Auditor-General critical of OMAFRA

The Auditor-General’s report is highly critical of several food-safety aspects of the Ontario Ministry pf Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

For example, when meat inspectors find an illegal and harmful drug residue in a carcass, there has been no follow-up with the farms responsible to try to ensure there are no repeat violations.

That’s apparently because OMAFRA and the federal government lack authority for on-farm enforcement other than via the Feeds Act.

There were about 300 harmful drug residues in meats identified in lab testing since April, 2015.

For another example, OMAFRA “did not receive sufficient information to provide sufficient oversight of the Dairy Farmers of Ontario” marketing board administration of food safety requirements for milk and dairy farms.

OMAFRA delegated its responsibility to the marketing  board in 1998 and since then the marketing board has often provided only “high-level summaries that did not specifically identify non-compliant producers whose test samples repeatedly exceeded regulatory bacteria limits . . . and did not say what actions DFO took to address the issue of repeat offenders.”

The report said OMAFRA “tested about 1,200 Ontario-grown produce samples and found residues of 14 banned pesticides that exceeded Health Canada limits a total of 76 times.”

OMAFRA “did not have complete details about the activities of produce farmers in Ontario to select appro­priate producers for sample-testing.”

But it also said "we found that where contamination was detected through sample testing, the Ministry of Agriculture would immediately notify the farmer, then follow up with a visit to the farm to investigate and advise the farmer regarding potential causes of contamination that it observed on the farm. 

“The Ministry of Agriculture also immediately notifies the Ministry of Health, relevant Public Health Units and the CFIA  (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) of an adverse bacteria or chemical residue testing result in case a recall of the produce is required. The CFIA communicates recall deci­sions and assists companies to implement the recall.

The Auditor-General also called for testing to establish base-line data for glyphosate and for a look into whether restrictions are warranted.

It has critical comments about health units, finding that in only 20 per cent of the cases where people report food poisoning do inspectors follow up with visits to the restaurant or cafeteria responsible within two days.

It also found that health units often don’t even know about food businesses. “At the five Health Units we visited, we found 253 complaints received between 2016 and 2018 relating to food prem­ises whose existence the health units were unaware of until they received the complaints.”

Fish is an even bigger issue because OMAFFA lacks disciplinary powers because fish establishments are not licenced.

And it found that some health units are doing no food inspections at special events.