Thursday, February 5, 2009

Veterinarians: Inspection changes could pose health risk.

This is just another example of the Conservative penchant for contracting out inspection functions often to the industry subject to inspection. Given the existing problems with food contamination worldwide you would think that the governmet would be opting for stricter independent inspection. Hopefully, actions such as this will turn the public even more against the Harper govt. but it may just pass into history without creating even a ripple.

Poultry inspection changes could pose health risk, say veterinarians
Last Updated: Thursday, February 5, 2009 8:47 AM ET CBC News
Veterinarians who monitor food safety at federally regulated poultry slaughterhouses are taking the government to court, claiming a pilot program that shifts inspection duties to slaughterhouse workers breaks federal rules and could pose a health risk to Canadians.
Under the proposed changes, called the "poultry rejection program," slaughterhouse employees would be responsible for monitoring birds as they pass through the production lines, a task usually carried out by veterinarians working for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The changes would also mean slaughterhouses wouldn't have to make public the reasons why carcasses were rejected, say the veterinarians.
The union representing 611 federal veterinarians, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, has filed a notice of application in Federal Court in Ottawa arguing the programs breaks regulations in the Meat Inspection Act.
"It is contrary to the public interest to displace these regulatory requirements by procedures conducted by persons who are not qualified or independent veterinarians and whose activities are not subject to public scrutiny," says the three-page document.
Union president Michèle Demers says the pilot project is already in place at two Quebec slaughterhouses and will be expanded across the country.
"We're going to let the courts decide whether the CFIA is appropriately following its regulations. It's our contention they they're not," said Demers. "It's our contention that Canadians' health is … more at risk than if they followed their regulations."
Changes free up vets, says CFIA
In a written response to the union, the CFIA's executive vice-president, Dr. Brian Evans, said the pilot project frees the veterinarians from the time-consuming and mundane task of inspecting sick carcasses so they have more time to look for pathogens in the birds.
The union must submit its legal arguments to the Federal Court by the end of February. The federal government will then have 30 days to deliver its response.
Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter said this example is the latest in a trend of shifting powers away from federal inspectors and handing it to industry.
"Is that the way we want to go in this country, that the industry will police itself?" he said.
"I firmly believe that you need an independent authority with all the powers that they need to be granted to do that kind of food inspection to give the confidence to the people in terms of their health and safety."
MPs should examine issue: Easter
Last summer, a federal bureaucrat was fired after leaking a secret cabinet document containing information about a plan to transfer some of the CFIA's responsibilities for food labelling and inspections to the food industry.
Luc Pomerleau, who sent the letter to his union, said he found the document on a public server where it could be viewed by any agency employee.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz suggested the government wants industries to play a greater role in inspecting their own products.
The document leak came amid a listeriosis outbreak at a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto that left 20 people dead and hundreds ill.
Since then, Easter and other food safety critics have been urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to launch a judicial inquiry into the country's food safety system. Harper has called for an investigation into the listeriosis outbreak.
Easter says the inspection issue raised by the veterinarians justifies a deeper probe.
"Over the next couple of days, we could ask the standing committee of agriculture or the standing committee of health to do an investigation of their own," he said.With files from David McKie

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