Union charges Ritz kept in the dark about impact of CFIA cuts

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is misinformed and passing on incorrect information to consumers about the impact of cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, according to the head of the union that represents some CFIA employees.

Bob Kingston said he believes Ritz is sincere when he says the 10 per cent cut to CFIA’s funding announced in the 2012 budget won’t affect food safety. However, agency officials are telling a different story in meetings with employees across the country.

“It appears CFIA executives did not tell the minister that staff… have already been told their jobs and programs will be eliminated,” said Kingston.

“Conflicting statements like these have CFIA employees concerned that very important decisions are being made without the best, or even accurate, information being available for the politicians who are calling the shots.”

Senior CFIA executives have little, if any, experience in the food industry and don’t understand food safety issues, charged Kingston, adding plans for new legislation is adding to the confusion.

Many in the farm and food sector want less regulation and a more streamlined system that emphasizes private-public collaboration instead of punishment and a “gotcha” approach to enforcement.

But Kingston said many cuts will simply eliminate inspection. For example, the CFIA is planning to eliminate a special program to pre-clear and track imported meat shipments, and that will result in less scrutiny of high-risk imported products, he said.

Not so, said an agency spokesperson.

“The CFIA is planning to supplement traditional inspection methods that focus on the processing environment and the end product with more sophisticated science and risk-based approaches in order to verify that industry’s controls are effective and that industry is producing safe food, on an ongoing basis,” the spokesperson said.

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