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MPs To Probe Listeria Outbreak

The Commons agriculture committee has agreed to establish an inquiry into last summers listeria outbreak that killed 20 and sickened more than 50 others.

A motion by NDP Farm Critic Alex Atamanenko to launch the inquiry was backed by the other parties including the Conservatives after it was broadened to include an examination of how well Ottawa is looking after its food safety responsibility.

A subcommittee will be formed, probably in conjunction with members from the Commons health committee, to look into the listeria outbreak which was linked to deli meats from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto, he said. The company set up a $27 million fund to compensate victims to head off class-action suits.

Atamanenko said in an interview the subcommittee will be formed in the coming days. Parliament is on a regular break during the week of Feb. 16 but the subcommittee could begin calling witnesses soon after its return. It wants to issue a report before the start of the summer recess.

One witness will be Sheila Weatherill who was appointed last month by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as an independent investigator into the listeria outbreak. The investigation was launched four months after it was originally promised and Weatherill is under orders not to give media interview or hold public meetings. She is to report to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz by July. He says the report will be made public.

The opposition parties have blasted the secretive nature of the Weatherill inquiry and say it is unlikely to get to the bottom of the outbreak. Atamanenko said he expects Maple Leaf officials and representatives of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will also be called.

“We need to find out what happened, whether we have enough inspectors and whether there was any interference in the listeria investigation from the prime minister’s office.”

With the controversial listeria issue shunted to a subcommittee, the agriculture committee will turn its attention to the Agriculture Department’s spending plans and the latest financial crisis in the livestock sector. As well, the committee will conduct studies proposed by Conservative MPs Brian Storseth and Randy Hoback on the impact on farmers of provisions in the Competition Act as well as the cost burden on farmers of federal regulations.

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