CFIA defends meat inspection staffing, service levels

(Canada Beef Inc. photo)

Shifts in federal meat inspection staffing levels and work priorities are the result of a “risk-based, outcome-based” approach to food safety, not cuts, Canadian Food Inspection Agency brass say.

CFIA was responding this week to allegations by its inspectors’ union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s (PSAC) Agriculture Union, that the agency is “quietly unravelling” measures put in place in the wake of the 2008 listeriosis outbreak that led to 22 deaths across the country.

Citing internal sources and a “heavily redacted” internal document, the union said Tuesday the CFIA has instructed northern Alberta staff to cut back general sanitation inspection activities and inspections of plants prior to operations by 50 per cent and 30 per cent respectively.

The union quoted the same unnamed sources as saying the agency had cut by 40 per cent its northern Alberta inspectors’ daily presence in meat facilities producing for Canadians, while maintaining “daily presence” in establishments eligible to export meat to the U.S.

The agency’s president and director general for the West, in a joint statement Wednesday, said claims of cuts to food safety work in northern Alberta are “false.”

Differences in meat inspection systems between the U.S. and Canada are related to trade standards, not food safety, CFIA president Bruce Archibald and area director general Kelvin Mathuik said. Such activities include labelling certification and meat cut classifications, they added.

The union, they said, “is aware that the number of field inspection staff in regions fluctuates due to changes in demand for service and the nature of inspection work,” which focuses on the “areas of highest risk” such as regional emergencies and enforcement work.

CFIA field inspection staff levels have grown by 19 per cent since 2007, the agency said, but added that field inspection staff can “fluctuate” due to changes in demand for service, such as openings and closures of federally registered establishments.

As a result, CFIA’s complement of field inspection staff can vary throughout the year by 150-200 field inspection staff, or about five per cent, the agency said. — Network


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