The Canadian government is planning cuts to food safety inspection funding put in place following the Maple Leaf listeriosis outbreak – a move that a food safety inspectors’ union claims could increase foodborne illness risk.
National president of the Agriculture Union Bob Kingston called on the food industry to oppose the cuts in an open letter to industry leaders, in which he warned that consumer confidence in food safety could be undermined by cutting inspection budgets.
“This looks like an exercise to make regulation cheaper, not safer or smarter,” Kingston said in a statement.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) increased food safety funding in the wake of the 2008 listeriosis outbreak linked to Maple Leaf Foods meat products, which killed 23 people. The outbreak was caused by the presence of L. monocytogenes in ready-to-eat meat produced by the meat processor – Canada’s largest – which eventually settled consumer lawsuits at a cost of C$27m.
However, in its latest spending plan , the CFIA said: “resources will sunset for Listeriosis, and for increased frequency of food inspection in meat processing establishments”.
It said that funding for increased meat processor inspections had been received in 2010-11 and 2011-12, but C$21.5m would be cut from the inspections budget by 2013-14, to C$722.5m.
Kingston said: “Cuts of this magnitude would leave the food safety program reeling and severely diminish an inspector’s ability to complete assignments, and that means risk of another major food borne illness outbreak will be elevated…Ottawa cannot be allowed to turn its back on its duty to protect consumers from unsafe food.”
Just last month the Canadian government sought to draw a line under the deadly Maple Leaf listeriosis outbreak, after publishing a final report into action taken since the incident. The report said that Canadians were safer because the meat processing industry and regulators had worked to enhance environmental and food sample testing for listeria.
The government said it had hired 170 full-time food safety inspectors and health assessment risk staff, and it had also invested in inspector tools, technology and training.