by SUSAN MANN
The union representing Canada’s food inspectors is slamming a Conservative party promise to continue implementing a $160 million food safety plan.
Sticking with the plan means Prime Minister Stephen Harper has “chosen to cut food safety funding and stand pat on the number of inspectors supervising the food industry,” says Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union section of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
In its party platform released Tuesday, the Conservatives say if elected they’ll continue implementing the plan, introduced before the election was announced, over the next four years. The money will be used to hire new inspectors at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to better track imports and improve safety systems.
Kingston says the Conservatives’ plan will require companies that import food into Canada to be registered. That plan will need an infrastructure to monitor it but “those people aren’t food inspectors.”
The union says the announcement means there isn’t any new money for food safety and the “Conservatives are confirming they intend to proceed with $80 million in cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as detailed in the most recent Treasury Board documents,” Kingston says. The Conservatives’ promise means they haven’t and won’t increase either inspection or the number of inspectors in Canada’s food plants.
“It’s simply inaccurate,” responds Conservative Party spokesman Mike Storeshaw to the union’s assertions. The Conservatives’ budget clearly outlines the funding that has been earmarked to the CFIA “and that’s the plan we intend to follow through on.”
The CFIA employs about 1,400 food inspectors across Canada in slaughterhouses, processing plants and retail outlets, with 200 of those being trainees and 100 being supervisors, Kingston says. But the union proposes either hiring 1,000 inspectors or lifting the paperwork load so inspectors can get back “to doing the inspection work they know needs to happen.”
Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter, after seeing the Treasury Board documents, says the plan downloads inspectors’ responsibilities to industry. That has him worried.
“You can hire more inspectors, but if all they’re doing is looking at the books rather than looking at cattle and hogs and so on going by them that’s not the ultimate answer,” he says. “You need inspectors actually doing inspections on the line.”
If elected, the Liberals say they’ll put another 100 inspectors in place as soon as possible. They’ll also call a judicial public inquiry into the listeriosis outbreak and do “what has to be done to bring back confidence in our food inspection system again,” Easter notes.
The New Democratic Party didn’t respond to requests for an interview for this posting’s deadline.
Green Party agriculture critic Kate Storey says she believes the union. The Conservatives’ ideology is to deregulate and “to move government out of protecting Canadians,” she says.
The Green Party believes governments do have a responsibility to protect its citizens. She says her party would “invest in real inspectors not just inspectors of paperwork.” They’d inspect food, machinery and the plant “right on the ground like we used to have, like CFIA is complaining they have lost under this Conservative government.” BF