Monday, July 6, 2009

Gerry Ritz Plans New Comedy Tour as His 'Thousand Cuts' Still Threaten Our Lives

More than a year after the Conservative government decided to allow meat processing plants to handle their own safety inspections, government employees are warning that further Listeriosis outbreaks are more than just possible, but probable; as their hands are still being tied, making it increasingly difficult to do their jobs.

Gerry Ritz found the whole thing quite funny
, so I guess we can expect a return engagement from Mr. 'funny man', at the expense of Canadian lives.

Boy I'll bet Lisa Raitt would love to get their hands on this file. But then, she'd probably just lose it.

Meat safety 'impossible' job
Maple Leaf plant wasn't audited properly before listeria outbreak, angry inspectors say
Toronto Star
Apr 20, 2009

The Maple Leaf plant at the centre of last summer's deadly listeria tragedy wasn't subject to a detailed safety audit by federal inspectors for at least a year prior to the outbreak, says a briefing note from the union representing inspectors.

Inadequate resources, staff shortages and overtime bans on federal inspectors have prevented the mandatory annual safety audits from being completed, says the union, which has sent its briefing note to members of a federal subcommittee investigating the listeria outbreak.

The inspectors, who prepared the note based on observations as part of their jobs, are presenting it this week at federal hearings.

"When it comes to delivering the legally required oversight of Canada's meat and food safety systems, it's mission impossible for CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)," says the briefing note.

"The agency simply does not have the resources to do the job Canadians expect and the CFIA's own policies demand."

Tim O'Connor, a spokesperson for the agency, said that while a full system audit was not done at the plant leading up to the outbreak, a different auditing system had been put in place that incorporates the same level of oversight.

That new federal inspection routine has come under fiery criticism from inspectors, politicians and the public for handing too much oversight to plant staff while overworked inspectors are left to check company paperwork.

Bob Kingston, president of the union representing federal meat inspectors, said full system audits remain a crucial element of the agency's oversight duties.

"Day-to-day checks don't replace a detailed system audit. You cannot have an audit system without a comprehensive audit. It's still definitely part of the program and that's the one that was not done."

Any fundamental flaws at the Maple Leaf plant, and others like it, could have been caught by a comprehensive system audit in which four or five inspectors analyze an operation "from top to bottom" over a week, Kingston said.

"Those are the kinds of inspections that, in the past, have picked up serious kinds of problems. They were not done in this case."

The Maple Leaf listeria outbreak caused 21 deaths and sickened hundreds, perhaps thousands, more.

There are other safety shortcomings detailed in the briefing note.

Inspectors responsible for overseeing more than two plants that produce cold cuts do not have time to verify the facilities are complying with food safety requirements, it says. And most inspectors assigned to such safety sensitive plants are responsible for three or more facilities, the union alleges in the note.

"The inspector at the contaminated Maple Leaf plant in Toronto was responsible for seven facilities at the time of the listeriosis outbreak," it says.

The CFIA's O'Connor confirmed that statement.

Cost-cutting measures at the food inspection agency included banning overtime for inspectors before last summer's tragedy, the note says. "As a result, CFIA inspectors were unable to verify that pre-operation and sanitation inspections at ready-to-eat meat processing plants in Ontario and Quebec were properly conducted by plant employees, including at the Maple Leaf plant."

Increasing industry self-regulation has contributed to less scrutiny around food safety issues that impact the public, it says.

The shortage of inspectors and resources in meat plants across the country is likely to get worse, the document warns.

The CFIA is planning an emergency fund to deal with outbreaks of food or animal-borne illnesses that could reduce the agency's operational budget by 10 to 15 per cent. CFIA supervisors across the country have been getting calls from senior managers in recent weeks advising them to expect "big cuts," said the union's Kingston.

The Union had issued warnings before the Listeriosis outbreak, so were not surprised by the news:

The fallout from Ritz's comments came on the same day a public-sector union alleged that a re-elected federal Conservative government would pull out of meat inspection programs in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
According to the Public Service Alliance of Canada, a secret report from the Treasury Board of Canada released this past May proposed that they could save $3 million by cutting federal meat inspection programs.

Patty Ducharme is the union's national executive vice-president. She told The Canadian Press that if a re-elected Tory government makes the proposed cuts, consumers would be the ones who pay.

"Meat produced in provincially registered facilities would not be inspected," Ducharme said. "Under this type of a scenario, consumers would have to count on the fact that producers would produce their products in a fashion that ensures their safety."

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