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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The Canadian government will launch an independent probe into the outbreak of listeriosis food poisoning linked to tainted meat, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Wednesday.
Harper told an audience in Windsor, Ontario, that he was "troubled" by the outbreak, both as the leader of the country that had made substantial investments in food inspection and as a father whose family ate processed meat at home.
The bacteria has been linked to 19 deaths, 13 in which it was a contributing or underlying cause and six where its role was still being investigated.
The outbreak involved deli-style products from Maple Leaf Foods, Canada's largest meat processor.
The Conservative prime minister, who is widely expected to call an election in the next few days, said he would set up the investigation once the outbreak is over so the federal government can "get to the bottom" of what happened.
He said he recognized the company had accepted responsibility for the outbreak, but an independent investigation was still needed to determine what went wrong.
"We will be taking serious follow-up action on this," said Harper, who brought up the listeriosis issue at the end of a news conference, during which he had not been asked about it.
Some critics of Canada's food inspection system, including the inspectors' union, complain it is too understaffed and overly reliant on industry data.
"We need a government that believes in government, especially its core responsibilities like ensuring something as fundamental as food safety," Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion told a party caucus in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Wednesday.
Last week the prime minister defended the government's moves to have the industry play a larger role in inspecting food, calling the safety of the country's food supply a shared responsibility.
Maple Leaf has voluntarily pulled from the market more than 200 products made at the affected plant in Toronto, in one of the biggest food recalls ever in Canada.
Reporting Allan Dowd, Roberta Rampton, editing by Rob Wilson