Safety Of Imported Food Red Flagged By Audit

An internal audit that paints a damning picture of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s oversight of imported foods is yesterday’s news, according to the federal government.

The audit, which covers the period from 2005 to early 2008, found that recalls of imported food are rising dramatically.

The audit notes that Canada imports foods from more than 190 countries (compared to fewer than 150 nations 20 years ago) and the inflation-adjusted value of those imports in 2006 had jumped 45 per cent over the preceding decade, to $21.8 billion.

More recent figures show the number of recalls is also rising, although this is true of both imported and domestic food. But while number recalls in 2009-10 involving domestic food increased to 182 (up from 158 four years earlier), recalls of imports doubled to 205 (from 101) over the same period.

The audit also found the CFIA lacks foreign country equivalence inspection for commodities other than meat, fish and eggs, and said an import control policy, announced in 2002, has not yet been fully implemented. The audit calls for significant improvements in CFIA’s governance, as well as its control and risk-management processes.

But the federal government says the problems highlighted by the audit are already being addressed.

“Since the audit has been completed, CFIA has already taken action to improve enforcement, prosecute more offenders, and increase training of inspectors,” said Pierre Lemieux, parliamentary secretary for agriculture.

He noted the agency has been given additional funding to hire 500 new inspectors while CFIA’s vice-president of operations said it will be receiving an additional $223 million during the next few years under the Food Safety Action Plan.

“We’ve enhanced our services and a lot has been directed at the safety of imported foods,” said Cameron Prince.

The agency has also set up import surveillance teams which target commodities that pose the greatest food-safety risk, said Prince.

“We’re looking for products that weren’t inspected or were illegally imported.”

Prince said that for the most part, “imported foods are safe, which is why we focus on areas of greatest risk.”

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