Monday, July 6, 2009

Harper Says 'So What if the Cows Have Gone Mad. I've Got Canadians to Milk'

Before the you know what hit the fan concerning the Listeriosis outbreak, that killed 22 Canadians and made thousands more severely ill, Harper's slash and burn agenda was in full swing.

In a move that still has many shaking their heads, he told food manufacturers in Canada that they could do their own inspections, and our civil servants would just shuffle the paper reports they submitted.

One concerned biologist released documents relating to the 'secret' moves, that he didn't realize were even secret because they had been posted right there on the web. He was fired immediately, despite the fact that the error was made higher up the chain.

What has also raised concerns is the fact the report reveals his intention to end the testing of cattle for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, or Mad Cow Disease). No wonder they didn't want the documents revealed, because he would have had more than just mad cows to deal with.

Food inspection 'disaster' looms
Expert calls planned deregulation 'unfathomable'
Sarah Schmidt,
Calgary Herald
Canwest News
July 11, 2008

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."

The inspection of animal feed mills will undergo the same changes "to reduce the need for ongoing CFIA inspection and would shift CFIA's role to oversight and verification of industry outcomes."

For the certification of commercial seed, "this means shifting the program delivery of seed certification, including inspection, to an industry-led third party."

Leading food safety experts, who reviewed the document, say the plan is a recipe for disaster.

"They're moving towards the U.S. model, where the inspectors don't actually do the inspection, they just oversee and the companies actually do the inspection. That's a really dangerous thing," said Michael Hansen, a North American authority on BSE and senior scientist with the New York-based Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.

Hansen, who in the past has been invited by parliamentary committees to testify as an expert on food safety issues, says the end of the BSE reimbursement program is of "highest concern."

A leading Canadian academic specializing in food risk management called these cuts "unfathomable" because Canada continues to find BSE-positive animals and is one of the few countries in the world where BSE is on the increase.

The expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there is near unanimous agreement among public health experts that "the greatest risks" of new emerging infectious disease are related to animal products and food.

Avian Influenza, SARS, BSE and Ebola "are just the tip of an iceberg," he said.

"Reducing food safety controls at this time could be disastrous if there is an outbreak of a new food-borne disease. No wonder they suspect they may have some 'communication risks' around these initiatives. They have a huge communications risk."

The proposals are illogical, said University of Guelph professor Ann Clark, a specialist in risk assessment in genetically modified crops, who has testified many times before Parliament's agriculture committee about risk management and the food supply.

"Companies are in business to make profit, pure and simple, and we, as a society, have fully accepted and bought into that, but with the understanding that somebody will be riding herd on them - minding the shop - to safeguard societal interests.

Otherwise, history has shown that we are at risk,"
said Clark, citing industries such as tobacco and asbestos.

"The initiatives outlined in this document suggest government is trying to get out of the business of government, by downloading responsibility for safeguarding human and environmental health to the same industry interests which stand to make money from what is being regulated. This is inherently illogical."

The plan was approved by Treasury Board one month before Prime Minister Stephen Harper, along with Ritz and Health Minister Tony Clement, announced last December a new food and consumer action plan to make Canadians safer through "tougher" regulations of food and other consumer products.

The plan, in the hands of senior CFIA staff since May to map out a communications plan to roll out the changes, has already led to the dismissal of an agency scientist.

Luc Pomerleau, who stumbled upon the blueprint on a server where it was posted in error and could be accessed by any agency employee, was dismissed last week because he forwarded it to union officials at the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. Union president Michele Demers said he was seeking advice on how to deal with the matter because it appeared the plan undermined the health and safety of Canadians.

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