Food Safety Update: Holding the government to account on the XL Foods tainted meat crisis

As Opposition House Leader, Nathan Cullen is working hard alongside of his NDP colleagues to hold the Conservative government to account on its dismal food safety record. The current crisis of e.coli-contaminated beef products and the tragic 2008 listeriosis crisis in Maple Leaf products are linked to the near-annual budget cuts and regulatory changes by both this Conservative and the preceding Liberal governments.

The Conservatives continue to stand in the House and launch baffling, fact-free attacks at the NDP, while claiming they never cut funding or staff from CFIA in recent budgets. Food safety and quality has been comprised for the sake of faster production lines. Just this past week, news surfaced -- by way of an official memo -- that inspectors were actually told to ignore contamination on carcasses, putting Canadians' health at risk.

The Report on Plans and Priorities for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which was signed and tabled by the Minister of Agriculture himself on May 8th, 2012 states, “planned spending is declining by approximately $46.6 million and 314 FTE’s [Full Time Employee’s] from 2012–13 to 2014–15.”

Because of this government's mismanagement, inspectors now inspect paperwork instead of food. Self-regulation is now the norm in food safety – companies are expected to manage food safety themselves with the government checking their reports. Nathan and his New Democratic Party colleagues know that this isn’t enough to ensure that Canadians are safe. They are fighting against the cuts to the CFIA.

The NDP has called for Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Gerry Ritz to resign over his handling of this critical issue. The Minister’s continued insistence on self-regulation and refusal to listen to workers’ concerns at the XL Foods plant, concerning sanitation and management, make it all the more clear that he needs to resign.

“The Minister needs to be talking to the people on the ground. He needs to understand the problems at this plant and needs to be honest with Canadians,” said Malcolm Allen (Welland), NDP Agriculture and Agri-food critic. “Canadians have lost confidence in the Minister. They’re tired of Conservative excuses and inaction and it’s time for him to step down.”

The union representing workers at the XL Foods plant in Brooks confirmed that workers have been scared into refusing to report food safety issues at the plant. Among these serious concerns is a failure to properly clean knives on the production line and a processing speed that has been allowed to get far too fast.

About the recall of products processed at XL Foods' Lakeside Packers

XL Foods' Lakeside Packers plant, based in Brooks, Alberta, processes about 40% of the beef in Canada. Why did it take two weeks for a recall to be implemented when the government knew about the problem on September 3rd (the recall started on September 16th and has since been expanded)? With 481 employers of the CFIA having received `affected` notices, is the government planning to eliminate even more of these critical jobs? This is surely of great concern to beef producers and the 2900 employees who work at that plant and they deserve better oversight from this government.