Significant public service cuts expected in next month’s budget may reduce the inspection of imported foods to less than 2% of all products examined by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), warned the Agriculture Union – part of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).
Food safety spending is set to be cut by $21.1m to $330.4m by 2013-14 in a move that will also see CFIA staff numbers reduce by 207.
The CFIA budget cut, which is part of a government plan to reduce budgets across all ministries by 10%, will leave staff levels at their lowest since the lethal Maple Lead listeriosis outbreak in 2008.
FoodQualityNews.com reported earlier this year on a previous warning by Agriculture Union president Bob Kingston that foodborne illnesses would increase as a result of the cuts.
He said, at the time, that the cuts looked like an effort to make regulation “cheaper, not safer or smarter.”
Food safety trust
Kingston has accused the Canadian federal government of being ready and willing to take risks with food.
“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 union boss Kingston.
“Inspection staff at CFIA are already in short supply – cutting their budget at this time could mean greater food safety risks for Canadians.”
Imported food has been the subject of several recalls in the country in recent months.
In December 2011, food safety authorities in both Canada and the US were forced to issue warnings relating to brands of jalapeno and Serrano peppers from Mexico that were feared to be contaminated with Salmonella.
PSAC British Columbia executive president Bob Jackson voiced similar concerns: “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?”
“Can and should we trust that foreign countries have the high food safety standards Canadians expect and that they do proper inspection of everything they exports?” he added.
Listeria programme cut
Kingston warned in January 2011 that the spending cuts could send the wrong message and reverse hard-earned progress.
Financial backing for the agency on the whole will drop by $21.5m from $744m in 2011-12 to $722.5m in 2013-14, under the CFIA 2011-12 Estimates Report on Plans and Priorities,
The CFIA food safety programme is set to take the bulk of these cuts, accounting for 207 of the 234 full-time positions getting the chop.
Funding to combat listeriosis and the frequency of meat processing establishment inspections are also set to be affected under the budget.
“Ottawa should worry about undermining public confidence with food safety cuts because that will be bad for the industry,” Kingston said previously.