Monday, October 06, 2008

Conservative Deregulation and Listeria

Sometimes, I wonder whether 'deregulation' is just a nicely-spun euphemism for negligence-in-waiting.

I'm not just talking about Wall Street, here.

A report today from CBC suggests that deregulation of Canada's food safety inspection procedures my have precluded early detection of the deadly listeria outbreak that has now taken the lives of at least 20 Canadians.

See: Policy change delayed alarm signal over listeria, inspectors say:

Months before the tainted meat from the Maple Leaf Plant in the Toronto area began claiming lives, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency adopted a new policy that meat inspectors now say removed clear language that required companies to report any positive listeria tests directly to inspectors.CFIA inspectors have told the CBC and the Toronto Star that on April 1, they essentially became auditors of the companies' paperwork, which is part of the compliance verification system. CVS details the measures the country's 198 meat processing plants must adopt to ensure they're operating safely."Prior to April 1, [any positive listeria tests] would have had to have been, not only brought to the inspector's attention, but the inspector would have been involved in overseeing the cleanup," said Bob Kingston, head of the union representing CFIA inspectors.
Disappointingly, the CBC's report fails to delve more deeply into how, and why, this policy change ocurred.

A July 11, 2008 article from, however, may shed additional light on the issue. From Food inspection 'disaster' looms - Expert calls planned deregulation 'unfathomable:

OTTAWA - A government plan to transfer key parts of food inspection to industry so companies can police themselves will put the health of Canadians at risk, according to leading food safety experts who have reviewed the confidential blueprint. The plan, drafted by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and approved by the Treasury Board details sweeping changes coming to food inspection in Canada.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is also ending funding to producers to test cattle for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, or Mad Cow Disease) as part of a surveillance program, the document indicates, a move that is expected to save the agency about $24 million over the next three years.

The new system, part of a push to trim the agency's budget by five per cent, was approved last November, but a public announcement "has been deferred owing to significant communications risks," according to the confidential Treasury Board document obtained by Canwest News Service.

The document, addressed to the president of the agency, details how the inspection of meat and meat products will downgrade agency inspectors to an "oversight role, allowing industry to implement food safety control programs and to manage key risks.

At election time, Canadians need to better understand the root causes of these disturbing events that have seriously undermined national confidence in the safety of our food.

To what extent are these increasingly-regular food crises being enabled by deregulatory, Conservative government policies?

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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