Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Gerry Ritz Lies About Hiring More Meat Inspectors

After changes made by the Conservative government on food safety, allowing corporations to handle their own inspections, while civil servants just shuffled paper, Gerry Ritz promised changes.

One major change was to hire more staff for the department that was definitely in a severe shortage.

Well guess what? He hired more staff alright, but not one single meat inspector.

And this is going to prevent future Listeriosis outbreaks, how?

Despite listeriosis, no new inspectors for meat plants

By Sarah Schmidt,
Canwest News Service
June 9, 2009

OTTAWA — None of the 57 newly hired inspectors at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is dedicated to meat inspection, despite a promise by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz at the height of the deadly listeriosis crisis that they'd be on the "front lines."

In newly released information prepared for parliamentarians probing the state of food safety in Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says some of the new hires are working on the implementation of Product of Canada labelling guidelines, while others are conducting border blitzes for "high-risk commodities."

Others hired under the federal government's Food Safety Action Plan are sampling and testing high-risk foods, completing laboratory method validation studies for high-risk commodities or designing an enhanced identification system for food manufacturers.

"Of these 57 full-time resources, none are dedicated to meat inspection," the briefing note, tabled Tuesday, states.

When Ritz announced these new positions last August after a definitive link was made between tainted meat produced at a Maple Leaf plant in Toronto and the deaths of Canadians, he told reporters the government was "targeting another 58 people to be on the front lines."

The CFIA was responding to a request from the NDP's food safety critic Malcolm Allen, who asked for a status report on these new hires, and whether they are "doing meat inspection or are they doing other things."

In an interview, Allen said the revelation shows Ritz wasn't being forthright with Canadians. "How do you square a circle?" he said.

"The minister left the impression with Canadians that all the inspections that were hired in the last little while were meat inspectors, and now we know this is untrue. The CFIA has unequivocally said to us this is not what they're going. So the difficulty we have, Canadians have, how to you have confidence in a minister who tells you . . . 'This is our remedy, we will hire people to do meat inspection,' and then they hire people and they don't do meat inspection."

In a statement Tuesday, the ministers office said there is "no discrepancy" between Ritz's statement last August and the newly released details. The CFIA said all inspectors are considered "front-line." (More jokes???)

At the time of Ritz's announcement involving the new hires, the union representing meat inspectors had already publicly complained of a shortage of staff stationed at meat plants, emphasizing the workload challenges with the introduction of the Compliance Verification System in April 2008.

The inspection system requires plant inspectors to complete specific tasks on a prescribed timetable and review additional paperwork produced by the operators.

On Tuesday, union president Bob Kingston said he's not surprised by the latest revelation. "We've known all along they had nothing to do with meat inspection," he said of the new hires. "We've been saying it since Day 1. All they did was up a certain total of a certain classification and put their best foot forward, whether it was correct or not correct."

The parliamentary hearings, scheduled to wrap up this week, were called after people consumed contaminated meat last summer from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto, resulting in the death of 22 Canadians.

Staffing levels at meat plants has dominated the parliamentary hearings.

Don Irons, a Toronto-based CFIA food processing supervisor, testified last month that "we were grossly understaffed at the time (prior to the listeriosis) outbreak. There are not enough inspectors to fully implement CVS (Compliance Verification System) 100 per cent."

On Monday night, Brian Evans, the agency's executive vice-president, challenged this assessment. "I reject the notion that resources and staffing were insufficient to face the outbreak last summer . . . those who say otherwise serve a different agenda and constituency," he testified.

Meanwhile, CFIA president Carole Swan has privately warned Ritz of "challenges" in this area, according to another document already tabled with the food safety committee.

According to the talking points prepared for her meeting with Ritz on Jan. 26, Swan briefed him that the "inspection program (is) experiencing workload challenges in meeting delivery requirements."

Back to - The Gerry Ritz Story: Can't Fall Back on Comedy

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