Canada reducing number of meat inspections, union says

Tue Mar 31, 2015 2:58pm EDT
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG (Reuters) - The Canadian government, under pressure to eliminate its budget deficit, has reduced the frequency of inspections at certain Alberta meat-packing plants and plans to cut spending on food safety, the food inspectors' union said on Tuesday.

The cutbacks follow two major meat recalls over food-borne illness in recent years. Ottawa had made some improvements to meat inspections after those outbreaks but the Conservative government now risks reversing that progress, said Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union.

An outbreak of listeriosis, a bacterial infection, from Maple Leaf Foods deli meat killed 22 people in 2008 and led to an independent report that flagged a shortage of food-safety workers and insufficient training of inspectors.

In 2012, Canada recalled millions of pounds of beef tainted with E. coli bacteria produced at a former XL Foods plant at Brooks, Alberta.

"I don't think the lessons learned from either Maple Leaf or (Brooks) were in fact learned," Kingston said in a phone interview from Edmonton.

The union, citing internal sources, said the CFIA instructed northern Alberta staff as of Jan. 5 to cut by 50 percent general sanitation inspection activities - which include reviews of record-keeping and inspection results - and inspections of plants prior to operations.

CFIA has also reduced the number of days inspectors work in northern Alberta plants that produce meat for Canadians, including Capital Packers and Lilydale Inc, to three from five days a week, the union said.

CFIA has, however, maintained its daily presence of inspectors at plants that export to the United States, such as Cargill Ltd's [CARGIL.UL] Spruce Grove, Alberta beef plant, to meet American standards, it added.   Continued...