By The Canadian Press - Wednesday, April 3, 2013 - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – Two former federal government scientists are facing charges after one of them…
OTTAWA – Two former federal government scientists are facing charges after one of them was caught trying to smuggle highly contagious bacteria out of the country.
Klaus Nielsen and Wei Ling Yu, both former researchers with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, are charged with breach of trust by a public officer in a scheme to commercialize agency property, the RCMP said in a statement.
“The matter was originally reported to the RCMP by the CFIA in March 2011,” said the Mounties.
“The investigation focused on Dr. Nielsen and Ms. Yu’s unlawful efforts to commercialize intellectual property belonging to the CFIA and a private commercial partner.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 30, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Bruce Cheadle reviews the latest concerns about the food inspection system.
As is often the case, reality is more nuanced than the rhetoric. The XL plant does indeed have a Japan-specific inspection station, Paul Mayers, the CFIA’s vice-president of programs, explained in a conference call. Japan only allows the import of beef from cattle younger than 20 months. Those export carcasses for Japan must be free of elements such as spinal columns, fecal and intestinal materials — conditions that also apply to all Canada’s domestic and export beef. ”Japan … requires that a specific station be present on the line in order to confirm those conditions,” said Mayers. ”Is it necessary in the context of market access? Yes. Is it a requirement from a food safety perspective? No, because that assurance is provided already in terms of the system.”
And that’s where the real debate begins. Malcolm Allen, the NDP agriculture critic, said the Japan station is the last point of inspection. ”In that slaughterhouse there is one station left before it exits the plant and it’s a shower. It gets showered,” fumed the MP. ”The shower will not wash off fecal material. In fact, we have it on authority from one of the chief veterinarians that it actually may just spread it around the meat, in which case the carcass would be even more contaminated than if you just simply cut it off.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 5:11 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. For as long as humans have possessed language it has been generally true that few good conversations involve the phrase “fecal contamination.”
Perhaps that’s why the Prime Minister stepped aside this afternoon to let Gerry Ritz respond to the bulk of questions; of the six questions he might’ve otherwise been expect to take, Mr. Harper rose to respond to only two. Or maybe this was some attempt to make up for Mr. Ritz’s initial absence when last the House was seized with the matter of suspect beef.
At issue today was how we handle our cow carcasses: specifically whether our attitude toward the presence of “spinal cord/dura-mater” depends on whether Canadian or Japanese citizens are expected to ingest the resulting hamburgers.
“Mr. Speaker, the reality is that the CFIA has confirmed that meat sold in Canada is as safe as that is exported to other markets, including Japan,” Mr. Harper attempted to reassure the House. “Indeed, it is the Canadian law in this regard.”
Nycole Turmel was unconvinced. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 3:38 PM - 0 Comments
A statement from the CFIA in response to reports about American audits of the XL Foods plant.
Contrary to assertions made today, Canadian food inspectors do look at the overall conditions of the plant such as how the carcasses are washed and the sanitation of equipment. Inspectors from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are in federally registered plants during all hours of operation. They verify that companies’ food safety controls are being effectively implemented. If at any time, inspectors observe issues that could threaten food safety, they take immediate action. Maintenance, equipment and general sanitation are all inspected at set frequencies. Our inspectors focus on making sure that the controls needed for safe food are being followed.
Secondly, as trading partners, Canada and the United States regularly audit each other’s food safety systems. The bottom line is that any issues identified in the course of these audits are addressed so that companies can continue to export their products. These audits only capture a snapshot of the situation in a plant, while CFIA inspectors have daily interaction with staff of federally registered meat establishments and make sure that preventive food safety plan is being implemented consistently and effectively.
As well, news reports have only used select information from certain audits and, as a result, paint a misleading picture of Canada’s overall food safety system. For example, reports have highlighted certain graphic examples from a U.S. audit report but failed to explain that the same report noted that the “CFIA and the establishment took immediate and appropriate corrective actions.”
Media reports also fail to mention that the XL Foods Inc. plant at the centre of the current E. coli issue has been audited by foreign countries ten times in the past three years. This plant has remained eligible to export its products up until just recently, which demonstrates foreign countries’ confidence in the facility and the CFIA’s oversight capacity.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 15, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
It blamed the decision on the fact the federal government hadn’t given it a firm date for when it would get its license back in order to fully resume operations. “XL Foods is committed to the best interests of the cattle industry, our employees, the city of Brooks and all affected by the idling of the Brooks facility,” Brian Nilsson, co-CEO of XL, said in the news release. “We are hopeful that the CFIA will bring this to a swift and viable resolution.”
Lee Nilsson, fellow co-CEO, also made a pointed reference to the agency in an interview Friday with the Alberta Farmer Express. “I know it’s caused a great amount of turmoil in the beef community. I’d just like to say hang on because all things will pass, but at this point there seems to be an uncertainty as to which direction CFIA is going with regard to E. coli at my plant, or any other plant in the country,” Mr. Nilsson said.
Doug O’Halloran, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union local 401, which represents the employees at the plant, said management has bungled the entire situation. ”Again, it’s just chaos, and I guess it begs the question, is there something further wrong with the XL Plant that they’re not sharing, because why would you lay these people off who may go get other jobs if you need these workers when the plant fully reopens?” said O’Halloran. “It doesn’t make any business sense.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Andre Picard sees breakdowns of communication and leadership around the XL Foods recall.
Mr. Ritz was minister during the listeria crisis. His government commissioned a report from Sheila Weatherill, which cost taxpayers $5.3-million. Obviously, he has not read or understood that report, which, in addition to its technical recommendations for improving food safety, had two overriding messages: 1) That communication by the CFIA and the government more generally were appallingly bad and 2) there was a “void in leadership” that contributed to the deaths.
Today, as the E. coli tainted meat outbreak demonstrates, communication is as bad, if not worse, and the void in leadership is even more gaping. That void is a greater threat to the health of Canadians than any bacterium.
An 11th case of E.coli poisoning has been confirmed. The recall in the United States now includes approximately 2.5 million pounds of meat and Hong Kong is now conducting its own recall. XL Foods would like to reopen its plant in Brooks, Alberta. The CFIA will conduct a detailed assessment of the plant on Tuesday.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 5, 2012 at 1:03 PM - 0 Comments
Workers at the XL Foods plant were apparently aware of problems.
Tom Hesse with the United Food and Commercial Workers said the union has heard from employees about problems that could lead to tainted meat. ”Some [workers] are saying to us, ‘No, I wouldn’t eat the product that’s produced in my own workplace’,” said Hesse. “They tell us that management has a general lack of concern for food safety practices.” The union held a special meeting with about a dozen XL Foods workers this week. There were reports that workers didn’t sterilize their knives between cuts and if they did, they couldn’t keep up with the workflow, said Hesse.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 5:47 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. Thomas Mulcair stood and turned in his spot to directly face the Agriculture Minister seated across the way. After three days elsewhere, Gerry Ritz was back in the House of Commons. And with the Prime Minister occupied by a photo op scheduled for precisely this moment, there was now no one between Mr. Ritz and the opposition MPs who were here to shame him.
“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Mulcair began, “is the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food willing to accept responsibility for the self-regulating food inspection system he put in place?”
The New Democrats stood to cheer this query. Mr. Ritz stood to respond.
“Mr. Speaker, of course, there is no such system,” he asserted. “The CFIA operates at a professional level on a program called CVS which was implemented in 2005.”
This disagreement here was thus no less than definitional. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
The Parliamentary Budget Officer looks at government funding for food safety.
The new PBO examination of budgetary expenditures by strategic outcome and program activity says planned spending for “food safety and biosecurity risk management systems” at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is projected to be reduced by almost $32 million, to approximately $85 million in 2012-13 from more than $116 million in 2011-12.
At the CFIA, planned federal spending on the “food safety program” is projected to shrink almost $16 million, to $315 million in 2012-13 from $331 million in 2011-12, according to the PBO analysis, which was released Wednesday with a report on the government’s first-quarter spending trends.
The Canadian Press chases the numbers in question.
According to the CFIA’s plans and priorities report from May 2012, spending on food safety this year will be $340.3 million, falling slightly to $337.5 million by 2014-15. That’s less than was spent on food safety the year before the Harper Conservatives came to power ($341.5 million) and considerably less than the $379 million the CFIA spent on food safety in 2006-07, the Conservatives’ first full year in power.
The claim of 700-plus new inspectors is less simple to refute or confirm … By the union’s calculation, 200 of the 700 were hired to control the import of invasive species, plants and diseases — an initiative that started before the Conservatives came to power. Another 170 inspectors were hired to do compliance verification, mostly involving processed meat plants, following the deadly 2008 listeria outbreak, as recommended in a government report by Sheila Weatherill. The remaining 330-plus inspectors, the union suggests, includes “basically … anybody hired at CFIA in the technical category” — jobs as diverse as seed analysis and lumber certification. ”What I can tell you is that the number of those 700 that went into meat slaughter plants is zero,” Kingston said Wednesday in an interview.
The CFIA says some days more than 5% of the meat produced by the XL Foods plant was testing positive for E.coli. A lawsuit has been filed in Edmonton. The union that represents food inspectors wants an independent inquiry into the current outbreak.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 11:55 AM - 0 Comments
The Globe finds confusion around our food safety system.
Four years after the Conservative government was hit by a deadly outbreak of tainted meat, it has yet to produce a widely accepted assessment of whether Ottawa has enough inspectors to keep Canadian food safe. The need for such an analysis was one of the main recommendations of Sheila Weatherill, who investigated the 2008 listeriosis outbreak that left 23 Canadians dead.
Ms. Weatherill’s independent report to the government concluded she was unable to determine whether Ottawa was spending enough on food inspection because of a lack of information and “differing views.” That confusion continues to this day, as the Conservative government boasts of having hired 170 new meat inspectors since 2006, while the head of the inspectors’ union says he doesn’t know “where the hell they are.”
The CFIA acknowledges that a change is required.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, April 13, 2012 at 4:08 PM - 0 Comments
Sarah Schmidt tries to figure out what the cuts will mean to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The Customs and Immigration Union says border services cuts mean it will be harder to intercept “hardened criminals such as sexual predators.” A letter from aboriginal leaders seems to justify the elimination of the National Aboriginal Health Organization, but ITK leader Mary Simon quibbles. And in addition to the humans who will be laid off, dogs are also being put out of work.
Nineteen of the 72 dogs used by the Canadian Border Services Agency across the country, which are trained to sniff out guns, cash and drugs, were given their pink slips and will be put up for adoption, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ office confirmed Friday. “We expect the CBSA to use the most effective tools for each job. Detector dogs are a great tool in the right circumstances, but they will no longer be used when there is a better tool available. To be clear, all drug detector dogs at land border crossings will remain in place,” Toews’ press secretary Julie Carmichael told the Star.
According to reports from across the country, CBSA dog handlers had tears in their eyes when they got the news that their four-legged partners were being shown the door. Jason McMichael, first national vice-president of the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU), told the Star that the decision has serious consequences. “Taking away tools such as the detector dog service will make smuggling easier. It will result in more guns and drugs on our street,” McMichael said, noting that Ottawa is also throwing away the money it cost to train these dogs.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 16, 2012 at 12:07 PM - 0 Comments
Last week, Environment Canada declared 60 scientists and researchers to be surplus.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will apparently eliminate about 200 jobs that were originally added after the listeriosis outbreak in 2008.
By Cynthia Reynolds - Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 9:55 AM - 5 Comments
Field studies are under way to see if a foreign weed—a dandelion—could become a source of rubber and cash
In southwestern Ontario, in the middle of farm country, there’s a field that appears to have a major weed problem—but they’re not your typical garden-variety weeds. They’re Russian dandelions, and scientists believe they hold the answer to a seldom-discussed problem: the mounting worldwide shortage of natural rubber, a material that comes from a single tree (the Hevea brasiliensis—a.k.a. the Brazilian rubber tree), grown almost exclusively in one region (Southeast Asia), and which is crucial to our tire market. “We don’t view it as a strategic commodity like oil,” says the University of Guelph’s David Wolyn, one of a handful of Canadian scientists working to create natural rubber from the dandelions. “But there are 800 million cars on the road. Where’s all that rubber going to come from?”
The rubber-bearing properties of the Russian dandelion—which is actually endemic to Kazakhstan—have been known to Western scientists since the Second World War, when the U.S. was forced to search for an alternative source of rubber after the Axis powers seized control of the world supply. While synthetic rubber proved a useful substitute, it didn’t have the necessary chemical properties to completely replace natural rubber in tires, and it was entirely unsuitable for the heavy-duty tires of large vehicles, such as airplanes and military transports. (The general rule remains today: the larger the tire, the more natural rubber it requires.) However, research showed that the rubber fibres contained in the roots of Russian dandelions could serve as a viable—and domestic—alternative for these critical applications. When the war ended, the cheap source of rubber became available again and the science was shelved.
Now, precarious conditions affecting this US$20-billion market have hastened the retrieval of that decades-old research. Rapid development throughout China and India has caused demand for natural rubber to spike. Not only is supply failing to meet demand, it’s shrinking, as rubber farmers switch to more economical crops, particularly palm oil trees, and skilled rubber tappers migrate to the cities. Scientists also suspect climate change is altering growing conditions in Southeast Asia, resulting in poorer rubber harvests. As natural rubber prices have increased fivefold over the last decade, reaching an all-time high this April, and analysts estimate the global stockpile of tires at just 69 days’ worth of demand, efforts to cultivate the Russian dandelion are energizing. “It’s the best candidate we have to replace the Hevea tree,” says an industry expert who works with Penra, a U.S. consortium of scientists studying the dandelion and funded by government agencies and corporations such as Ford and Bridgestone. “It’s entirely feasible it can satisfy the North American market.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 3:02 PM - 7 Comments
Randomly selected excerpts from Gerry Ritz’s press conference this afternoon.
Question: Last night we learned that two inspectors who were investigating a herd of pigs hit with swine flu in Central Alberta in April fell ill themselves and they became sick because they didn’t follow proper procedures in carrying out that investigation and they say they weren’t even instructed on what the proper procedures were. So I’m wondering as Minister responsible, what you think about that, what it says about CFIA management and what you’re doing about it?
The Hon. Gerry Ritz: Well we’ve, we’ve begun to move forward on those types of things, making sure that the front line inspectors have the tools they require, whether it’s gear or computer technology, whatever it is, we’re starting to address those. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 1:39 PM - 2 Comments
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency could have done a far better job communicating with the public during this summer’s listeria outbreak, a top official at the federal agency concedes.
“There’s been a lot of hard questions asked … in terms of how we can get information to the public in as timely a way as possible,” said Dr. Brian Evans, CFIA executive vice-president and chief veterinary officer of Canada. “I accept the criticism that there is a need for us to reflect and to do a much better job of informing (Canadians).”
So what was the problem? What accounts for the lack of communication? Continue…
By kadyomalley - Saturday, September 6, 2008 at 3:28 PM - 9 Comments
An as-yet-unnamed prime ministerial appointee, of course, with a mandate to “examine the efficiency and effectiveness of the response of the federal organizations … [and] their food safety partners.”
What’s not clear, however, is whether that will include Maple Leaf Foods or any other private company involved in the recall, despite recent media reports that suggest the outbreak could have been caused by contaminated meat slicers.
NOTE: Less than an hour after this release came out, PMO put out an updated version, which sets March 15, 2009 as the deadline for the final report.
For release: Immediate
PRIME MINISTER ANNOUNCES TERMS OF REFERENCE FOR AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION OF THE LISTERIOSIS OUTBREAK
OTTAWA – The Prime Minister today released the terms of reference for the independent investigation into the recent listeriosis outbreak related to certain processed meat products from Maple Leaf Foods.
The Canadian food safety system is generally regarded as one of the best in the world. Protecting the health of Canadian families and the safety of the Canadian food supply is of paramount importance to the Government of Canada. As such, it is important to determine exactly what transpired in regards to the listeriosis outbreak.
By kadyomalley - Friday, August 22, 2008 at 7:20 PM - 0 Comments
(Apologies if you tuned into the earlier version of this post – something wonky happened that caused me to lose pretty much the whole thing, and I didn’t notice until I’d posted a half-finished draft. Sigh. It was a really good post, too.)
Thanks to the Globe and Mail, the rest of us can finally read all about those proposed cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency:
- Memorandum from Treasury Board President Wayne Wouters to Canadian Food Inspection Agency President Carole Swan – November 17, 2007
- Talking Points and Questions and Answers – June 4, 2008
By kadyomalley - Friday, August 22, 2008 at 10:12 AM - 0 Comments
Is the Globe and Mail - or, for that matter, CanWest News – under any legal* obligation that would prevent it from posting the full CFIA document online?
Let’s assume, for the purposes of this discussion, that the government considers this particular document – the letter, and the list of proposals for budget cuts at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – to be a cabinet confidence, despite the fact that there is no way of knowing whether it actually went to cabinet. Even if it did, documents that would otherwise be made public but are attached to a cabinet confidence are still public; the only thing that needs to be kept secret is the fact that it was part of a submission to cabinet.
By kadyomalley - Monday, August 18, 2008 at 1:53 PM - 0 Comments
ITQ may have a committee to liveblog this week after all – and a potentially juicy one, too. I forget who it was who first alerted me to it last this week – in my defence, it was a really frantic few days – but the opposition parties are 106(4)ing the Agriculture committee back to discuss cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, or the “Walkertonization” of the Canadian regulatory system, depending on who you ask.
Also, have you – yes, you! – voted in the macleans.ca poll, which this week asks a question near and dear to the hearts of ITQ readers everywhere?