CANADA - Every federal meat inspection team in the province of Quebec is working shorthanded, according to a survey by the meat inspectors’ union in the province.
The union says that this leaves most meat processing and slaughter plants in the province operating with fewer meat inspectors than are required to ensure compliance with safety requirements.
"There is a critical shortage of meat inspectors in Quebec and in other parts of the country as well. This means that corners are being cut when it comes to safety. Further cuts to CFIA funding rumoured to be in tomorrow's budget would come with high risk for consumer safety," said Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union that represents federal food inspectors.
Through internal sources, the Union checked staffing levels at meat processing and slaughter establishments throughout Quebec, including positions not filled.
The bottom line number of inspectors on the job discounts staff on leave (typically, human resources planners recommend employers plan for a 30 per cent leave factor when deploying staff).
"Essential training has been cancelled or delayed as a result of the staffing crisis," said Rick Cormier, Second National Executive Vice-President of the Agriculture Union.
Facilities canvassed for the staffing survey include meat processing and slaughter plants where cut, ready-to-eat and prepared meats are produced. These kind of facilities range from very large businesses like the Montreal-based firm Olymel L.P. which employs more than 10,000 people, to much smaller companies.
"The federal government has lowered its guard since the Maple Leaf Foods outbreak that killed 22 Canadians. I sincerely hope another major outbreak is not required to force the government to protect Canadian consumers," Mr Kingston said.
CFIA food safety programs are short staffed across the country:
- Meat inspectors working in meat processing plants throughout Alberta that produce the highest risk ready-to-eat products have been operating 33% below required minimum staffing levels for more than a year.
- Inspection tasks in meat plants there have been reduced as a result and a two tier system has been introduced that inspects meat destined for dinner tables in Canada to a lower standard than meat produced for export. After Health Minister Rona Ambrose called the Union's revelation "inaccurate and irresponsible" an internal CFIA document was leaked substantiating the Union announcement.
- There is only one consumer protection inspector responsible for every restaurant and retail food outlet in the entire city of Toronto
- Meanwhile, the entire consumer protection unit in British Columbia has been disbanded.
The union said that according to CFIA forecasts, the current government plans to cut spending on food safety by 21 per cent by 2016–17.
This will translate to staff cuts of 16.5 per cent, or 548 positions the union added.
The union is calling on the government to increase food safety inspection resources and place them where they are needed on the frontline to allow the CFIA to meet its minimum inspection staffing requirements.
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