Food Safety Staffing Could Drop to Pre-Maple Leaf Foods Listeriosis Crisis Level
VANCOUVER, - The union representing federal food safety inspectors is warning consumers that significant cuts to the public service expected in next month's budget may reduce the inspection of imported foods to less than two per cent of all products examined by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
And the Agriculture Union, a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says a planned Conservative government cut of 10% of all ministries could also reduce the number of food safety staff to levels lower than when the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis crisis hit in 2008, killing 23 consumers and making hundreds seriously ill.
PSAC says dramatic reductions to food inspection is just one of hundreds of needed public services that could suffer if Conservative budget cuts are imposed.
"Canadian consumers don't know that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency today only inspects two per cent of all imports - and that percentage may drop even further if budget cuts of 10 per cent are imposed on CFIA," said Agriculture Union President Bob Kingston.
"Ensuring that the food we eat is safe is one of the most important roles government workers have but the federal government seems ready to take risks with food safety," Kingston said.
Bob Jackson, BC Regional Executive Vice-President of the PSAC, said there are literally thousands of different foods imported from dozens of countries around the world available to Canadian consumers but most are never inspected by CFIA before being sold.
"As consumers we can buy white asparagus from Peru, lettuce and tomatoes from Mexico, garlic and snow peas from China, spices from India, tilapia fish from Chile and prawns from Indonesia - but how do we know it's all safe to eat?" Jackson asked.
"Can and should we trust that foreign countries have the high food safety standards Canadians expect and that they do proper inspections of everything they export?" he added.
Jackson said that already in February alone there have been nine "health hazard alerts" issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency involving food contaminated with listeria, e coli, salmonella or other bacteria, including several imported products.
And in December 2011, for example, fresh jalapeno peppers imported from the United States and sold in bulk unlabeled in Safeway, Real Canadian Superstore, Loblaws, Supervalu and other stores across western and northern Canada were voluntarily recalled due to salmonella contamination. http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/corpaffr/recarapp/2011/20111220e.shtml
Jackson said according to the CFIA, 79% of food imports come from ten countries - the United States, Mexico, China, France, Italy, Brazil, Chile, Thailand, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Kingston said the Conservative government has ordered every ministry to prepare for a 10 per cent cut in the March budget. CFIA's 2011-2012 Estimates Report on Plans and Priorities forecasts a cut to its Food Safety Program of $21.1 million and 207 fewer food safety staff - even though food safety represents less than half of overall spending by the CFIA and 46% of its total staff.
"Inspection staff at CFIA are already in short supply - cutting their budget at this time could mean greater food safety risks for Canadians," Kingston said.
Jackson warned that food safety is not the only government program that could be seriously impacted in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's upcoming budget.
"From search and rescue, to fisheries and oceans, to administering Employment Insurance and other programs - Canadians expect government to deliver needed public services, not jeopardize them." said Jackson.
"Food safety is a critical public service that is at risk in the upcoming budget and Canadians need to tell the government that reckless slashing will literally put lives in danger", Jackson concluded.
For further information:
Patrick Bragg, PSAC BC, at 604-430-5761 or cell 778-889-3486 or Bill Tieleman, West Star Communications, at 604-844-7827 or cell 778-896-0964.