Ottawa-based unit responsible for approving meat product labels will be dismantled
Troy Media – by Alan MacKenzie
According to the agriculture union that represents federal food inspectors, the federal government will cut as many as 100 food safety inspectors from its ranks as a result of last month’s announced budget.
According to the budget, released March 29, funding to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will be cut by $56.1 million over the next three years.
“This decision will make the inspector shortage worse, not better. And because the government has failed to consult its own inspectors, they are cutting food safety blindly with little understanding of the consequences,” Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union – PSAC, stated in a release Wednesday.
In total the CFIA will lose 308 employees as a result, the union said.
“With fewer independent food safety professionals working in the public interest, industry self-policing will increase and consumers will be left to fend for themselves,” Kingston said. “After these cuts, Canadians can expect more fraudulent meat labels like we have seen for other products because CFIA pre-approval of meat product labels will be eliminated.”
Kingston also criticized the budget’s proposal that citizens take on the job of ensuring the accuracy of product labels through a web-based label verification tool.
“The federal government is turning its back on consumers with these cuts, taking food safety professionals out of the field. With no cop in the rear view mirror, food companies will have greater latitude to play fast and loose with our safety,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz released a statement Wednesday that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the CFIA are “transforming the way they do business” but said the changes will in now way “place the health and safety of Canadians at risk.”
“In fact, Economic Action Plan 2012 includes an additional $51 million over two years to enhance food safety, building upon the $100 million in last year’s budget. Ensuring safe food for Canadian families is CFIA’s priority and these changes underscore that commitment,” he stated, noting that since 2006, the government has provided investments for the CFIA to hire 733 net new inspection staff.
“Agriculture is a competitive modern industry, and changes will modernize Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada allowing it to concentrate on innovation, marketing and reducing barriers for business,” he added.
According to the CFIA, about half of the positions to be cut are from the workforce in Ottawa, which means the cuts will have little impact on food safety.
Kingston disagrees, however, noting that the Ottawa-based unit responsible for approving meat product labels will be dismantled by these cuts in favour of “downstream enforcement,” whereby inspectors would catch fraudulent claims when products hit stores shelves.
Overall the federal agriculture portfolio’s annual budget will be cut by $309.7 million by 2015, according to Budget 2012.
Alan MacKenzie is a reporter for Troy Media and Canadian Meat Business.