Ritz names federal advisory board on food safety

Ottawa lawyer and former Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) chief Ronald Doering has been tapped to chair a new ministerial advisory board on food safety and other CFIA-related issues.

The new board, drawn from a “diverse range of experts from the food, animal and plant health sectors,” is expected to advise federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz on “food safety and other issues related to the CFIA’s mandate,” the government said in a release Thursday.

The new advisory board is to be an “active forum” that will meet regularly and report annually, the government said.

Thursday’s announcement, the government said, “fulfills another recommendation” from the Weatherill report, the July 2009 analysis by independent investigator Sheila Weatherill into the listeriosis outbreak in deli meats in the summer of 2008.

“This highly qualified and diverse advisory board builds upon our government’s increased investments, hiring of more inspectors, and enhanced listeria testing,” Ritz said.

Weatherill, the former CEO of Edmonton Capital Health, was commissioned to investigate the outbreak that began in August 2008 involving a specific listeria monocytogenes strain that was ruled to be a contributing cause in the deaths of 22 people and sickened 35 others.

Her report had specifically recommended that the government consider replacing the CFIA Act’s requirement for such an advisory board with a board of management, which would oversee CFIA operations and advise Ritz on policy matters.

“At a minimum,” she wrote in 2009, the federal government should consider the “immediate” appointment of an advisory board, as called for by the CFIA Act.

Said board, she wrote, should be “specifically directed to advise the minister on issues relevant to the vision, accountability, mandate and public perception of the agency and risk management.”

Doering, a partner in Ottawa law firm Gowlings whose columns on food law appear regularly in Food in Canada magazine and the Manitoba Co-operator, served as CFIA president from 1998 to 2002.

The government on Thursday also cited his “broad experience in all aspects of food and agricultural law, including labelling, recalls, biotechnology regulation, plant protection and animal health.”

The advisory board’s vice-chair will be veterinarian David Chalack, the sales and marketing director for dairy genetics firm Alta Genetics and current second vice-chairman of the Calgary Stampede.

Other board members named Thursday include:

  • plant breeder and agrifood industry consultant Rob McLaughlin of Guelph;
  • former Nova Scotia agriculture minister Brooke Taylor;
  • former University of Manitoba dean of agriculture and federal associate deputy agriculture minister Harold Bjarnason;
  • Toronto-based consultant and renowned oilseed breeder Keith Downey;
  • dairy farmer Marcel Groleau, president of the Syndicat des producteurs de lait de Quebec and dairy research centre Valacta; and,
  • as an “ex-officio” board member, veterinarian Brian Evans, the CFIA’s chief veterinary officer and, since June, Canada’s chief food safety officer.

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