Food Safety Chief Defends Inspection System

Charges that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency isn’t doing an adequate job of inspecting of imported foods are wrong, according to Canada’s chief food safety officer.

“The CFIA’s priority is protecting Canadians from unsafe food regardless of where the food is grown or produced,” Brian Evans said in a statement. “With the help of the government, we are always striving to strengthen Canada’s food safety system.”

But that’s not so, responded the president of the Agriculture Union of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents many CFIA employees.

“Canada’s import food inspection is a patchwork that ignores some products, while others are examined, with little apparent logic to explain why,” Bob Kingston said in a statement.

“Proactive testing and inspection, other than trend monitoring or project work, is beyond the scope of CFIA’s current front-line inspection resources. In fact, the inspection of food imports in Canada is one of the weakest components of the CFIA’s work.”

Kingston is a regular critic of CFIA and recently disputed assertions by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz that his government has boosted the agency’s ranks by hiring an additional 733 inspectors.

Kingston called that claim fiction. He said the agency is under heavy pressure from the food industry to certify products for export and, as a result, can’t pay enough attention to imports. He also said it lacks the staff to verify food inspection systems in countries that export food to Canada and will see its budget cut by $70 million as part of the government’s overall cost-cutting program.

But Evans described the inspection and food safety system as “comprehensive.”

“We also have controls at the border as well as safeguards at several points within the distribution and retail systems, including inspection and sampling programs,” he said.

“As a result of global events, shared intelligence information or emerging risk pathways, the CFIA adjusts its efforts in a responsive and responsible manner with targeted country- specific requirements to address high-risk scenarios.”

The agency will receive an additional $100 million over the next five years to improve its inspection capacity, which is on top of $300 million worth of increases in recent years, said Evans.

But Kingston charged “only a handful” of inspectors are permanently assigned to monitor food imports, supplemented by ones on temporary assignment.

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