Veteran civil servant made his mark during the BSE crisis

Brian Evans retires from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency

After ages as the federal government’s public face of food safety, Brian Evans has taken a well-earned retirement, but not the quiet kind.

In addition to being the country’s chief veterinary officer and chief food safety officer, Evans was the government’s main spokesman during the 2003 BSE crisis. But the biggest food safety event was the creation of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 1997, says the recently retired bureaucrat.

“It changed the federal government’s focus on food safety,” said Evans. “It brought accountability to all aspects of monitoring food production including animal and plant health and food safety and biosecurity. It was a major accountability shift.”

Another big shift is currently underway — a streamlining of the agency following the passage of the Food Safety Act last year.

“The CFIA is on the threshold of becoming what was intended for it,” said Evans, who has a busy schedule of international meetings to attend and scientific papers to write.

Another big change is the growing public interest in the safety and origin of their food, he added. “Public expectations are much higher than they used to be… there has been a fundamental change in the landscape of the interest in food production,” he said.

Evans demonstrated a shrewd understanding of public expectations during the BSE crisis. His daily press conferences are viewed by many as a textbook example of how to handle a crisis and earned him the gratitude of beleaguered leaders in the beef sector.

“He was an extraordinary spokesman for us,” said Rob McNabb, general manager of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. “People understood and remained confident in our food safety system and the quality of our product.”

Evans “was our hero during BSE,” added Jim Laws, president of the Canadian Meat Council.

“He spoke out reassuring Canadians and was instrumental in many international markets reopening their doors to Canadian beef,” said Laws. “He was someone who Canadians knew and trusted and were pleased to hear from during the listeriosis events of 2008.”

Evans deflected the praise, saying it was clear what needed to be done.

“People want to know what the industry is doing to protect them,” he says. “With 24-7 news media, the food industry has to be always ready to explain and react.”

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