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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian authorities are doing a very bad job of combating the threat posed by invasive alien plants, pests and diseases, the government's main watchdog said in a report on Thursday.
Auditor-General Sheila Fraser identified "serious problems" in the way that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulated the import of plants and plant products.
"Our audit findings are serious. The Agency needs to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the way it handles imports under its plant health program," she wrote.
Fraser said the CFIA focused almost exclusively on known invaders rather than identifying potential new threats. She also complained about a large backlog of plant health risk assessments the agency was carrying out.
There are around 84,000 shipments of plants and plant products into Canada a year. Invasive pests and plants could threaten domestic agricultural and forest production that in 2005 was worth C$100 billion ($81 billion), Fraser said.
Her team identified a range of shortcomings within the CFIA, such as the lack of a system for tracking imports and agency officials neglecting to look at plant shipments that the rules said had to be inspected.
"(The CFIA) lacks quality management processes in import-related activities key to keeping invasive alien species from entering and becoming established in Canada," Fraser wrote.
In a written response, the CFIA said it agreed with the main recommendations and would make improvements.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Frank McGurty