Another deadly Canadian food crisis is inevitable because the number of federal inspectors at meat processing plants has not increased since last year, when listeriosis claimed 22 lives, the head of the inspectors' union said Wednesday.
Bob Kingston, the president of the National Agriculture Union, told the House of Commons Agriculture committee that the effect of the discovery of the bacteria in Canadian cold cuts was to increase the work but not the number of people charged with ensuring food safety.
The Canadian Food inspection Agency has made a “herculean” effort to bring about change, Mr. Kingston said. “They will always put on the best face,” he said. But without an increase in the number of inspectors, “we think it's just a matter of time before we see it again, quite frankly.”
In fact, the overall number CFIA field inspection staff of all types has increased to 3,228 in March of this year from 2,823 in March, 2006. But Sheila Weatherill, the independent investigator the government appointed to look into the crisis, said in her report last month that she could not determine how many meat inspectors there are and how many are needed.
Dr. Evans said that there are no guarantees, even in food safety. Many types of bacteria, in addition to listeria, can infiltrate the food system, the numbers of people with food allergies are increasing, and there is occasional intentional tampering, he said.
But food safety is better this year than it was last year, he said. And it will be better next year than it is this year, he added. “At the end of the day, it is not an absolute number of inspectors that will prevent this from happening again.”
Carole Swan, the president of the agency, told MPs that, since last year, safety controls in meat plants have been tightened, testing is more frequent, the response at the plants is more closely monitored, staff are better trained and imported meats are subject to greater scrutiny. What is more, an academic advisory panel has been convened and laboratory capacity has been increased. CFIA has also conducted five mock food safety exercises with the provinces and territories, said Ms. Swan.
The Commons committee meeting was called by the opposition MPs, who said they hoped to get answers from the government about what had been done to meet the recommendations in the Weatherill report and other studies of the listeriosis outbreak.
Aporte: Gabriel Zeballos R.