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Ritz says budget cuts won’t affect food safety

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is brushing off accusations that cuts at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will eliminate the jobs of 100 veterinarians and inspectors.

Reductions will be predominantly “backroom changes,” said Ritz.

“Anyone who says this will affect food safety is off the mark,” he said.

But the president of the agriculture division of the Public Service Alliance of Canada said the cuts are “unravelling many of the improvements made to the food safety system since the tragic events of the 2008 Maple Leaf Foods listeria outbreak.”

“Ottawa will be firing as many as 100 food safety inspectors, more than it hired after it became painfully obvious that the inspector shortage contributed to the Maple Leaf disaster,” said Bob Kingston.

The union also raised an alarm over the plan to eliminate the jobs of 325 border inspectors, who alert the CFIA to any food imports they’re concerned about.

Meanwhile, budget cuts at Agriculture Canada will result in shutting the rural and co-operatives secretariats, taking over adaptation funding administration currently done by provincial bodies, and cutting agriculture research.

Ritz said the $3 billion in cost savings at Agriculture Canada would be at the administrative level, and focus on making it more efficient.

“It’s high time that governments started to look at their bottom line, the same as you do in business. And that’s exactly what these changes will bring forth,” said Ritz.

The spending cuts for the 2012-13 fiscal year will be nearly $15 million for the department and $2 million for CFIA. Next year, the cuts will rise to $158.4 million and $56 million and by the third year reach $253 million and $56.1 million. At the same time, the government will allocate $51.2 million to CFIA during the next two years “to strengthen Canada’s food safety system.”

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