Canada: Conservative Deregulation of Food Safety Led to Listeriosis Crisis

Listeria monocytogenes

“ ... Clearly, the only thing that will stop the Conservatives from implementing their plan to gut Canada’s food safety system is electing a Liberal government.” ... "

Rule changed before listeria crisis: Union
Torstar News Service
06 October 2008

Four months before the Maple Leaf outbreak started claiming lives, Canada’s food safety agency quietly dropped its rule requiring meat-processing compan ies to alert the agency about listeria-tainted meat, a Toronto Star/CBC investigation has found.

Twenty people died as a result of the outbreak last summer and federal meat inspectors and their union say this rule change likely made the country’s listeria outbreak far worse than it had to be.

Before April 1, if a company preparing meat for sale to the public had a positive test showing listeria it “would have had to have been, not only brought to the (federal) inspector’s attention, but the inspector would have been involved in overseeing the cleanup,” says Bob Kingston, head of the union that represents Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspectors.

Kingston and four veteran inspectors interviewed for this story fear the rule change, part of the deregulation of Canada’s food safety net, continues to pose a serious threat to public health.

The CFIA confirmed there is currently no onus on companies to alert inspectors about positive bacterial results. The change came as part of a federal decision to allow companies to write their own food safety plans, with federal approval. ...

Story continues
http://www.metronews.ca/toronto/local/article/121960
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‘Gov’t’s job to inspect, certify’
Coquitlam Tri City News
Canada - Oct 2, 2008

" ... deregulation has led to the collapse of the financial system in the United States under George Bush and it may have led to the outbreak of listeriosis ... "

http://www.bclocalnews.com/news/election/30214974.html
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CFIA stopped requiring Listeria reporting four months before outbreak
THE CANADIAN PRESS
October 06, 2008

TORONTO — Canada’s food safety agency stopped requiring meat-processing companies to alert them about Listeria-tainted meat last spring, the Toronto Star and CBC investigation has found.

In late summer, Maple Leaf Foods was implicated in a nationwide listeriosis outbreak that killed 20 people.

Federal meat inspectors and their union say the rule change likely made the outbreak far worse than it had to be.

Before April 1, if a company preparing meat for sale to the public had a positive test showing Listeria, federal inspectors would have been notified as per protocol.

The inspectors would then have been involved in overseeing the cleanup, said Bob Kingston, head of the union that represents Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors.

Kingston and four veteran inspectors fear the change, part of the deregulation of Canada’s food safety net, continues to pose a public health threat.

The inspection agency confirmed to the Star/CBC that there is currently no onus on companies to alert inspectors about positive bacterial results.

The change came as part of a federal decision to allow companies to write their own food safety plans, with federal approval.

"If I walk in as an inspector, the plant doesn’t come up to me and say we had positive tests today," said Tom Graham, the safety agency’s national inspection manager.

But he says the rule likely will be reinstated as a result of the federal investigation into the outbreak.

"That will happen. It’s definitely ... on the table. There are a number of recommendations that will come from this," Graham said.

Neither Maple Leaf nor the safety agency will release to the public the specifics of the Listeria outbreak at the Toronto plant, so it’s not possible to determine how the reporting rule would have affected the case.

The first of the 20 deaths attributable to the listeriosis outbreak happened in July, officials have said.

Inspectors and their union say the rule changes have reduced their role to paper auditors, checking the results of company tests when they visit the plant. Under current rules, the inspectors only review bacterial test results twice a month.

Maple Leaf spokeswoman Linda Smith said her company makes all of its paperwork and testing available to inspectors, but doesn’t alert them to positive test results.

"As per the regulations, there is no requirement to inform the CFIA about any Listeria test result," she said.

"The protocol Maple Leaf had in place was if they found a positive, they would sanitize the area and then you’d need to find three negatives in a row to leave that area alone.

“In (the Maple Leaf plant from which the outbreak was traced), there were occasional positives. ... They would sanitize and test three subsequent times and in all of those cases, they did not find another positive in that area."

During the outbreak, Maple Leaf president Michael McCain said the company tests the Toronto plant’s surfaces 3,000 times a year.

"Positive results for Listeria inside a food plant are common," he told reporters at the time, adding that "there was nothing out of the norm" leading up to the outbreak.

http://news.guelphmercury.com/News/BreakingNews/article/388559
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Media advisory - Listeriosis outbreak could be tip of privatization, deregulation iceberg - new online news service

"The listeriosis outbreak could be the tip of the privatization and deregulation iceberg, according to a new bilingual online news service. The
publishers of the new online news websites, www.PublicValues.ca and www.Valeurspubliques.ca say these issues have been key themes throughout the federal election campaign. The financial meltdown, food safety, attacks on public health care and plans to sell off public services are all related to the question of whether public safety, security, services and assets should be in public or private hands."

http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/October2008/06/c3497.html
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More proof Conservative deregulation of food safety led to listeriosis crisis
www.liberal.ca
October 6, 2008

MALPEQUE, Prince Edward Island – Today’s shocking revelations that the federal agency responsible for food safety dropped its reporting rule before the deadly listeriosis outbreak is further proof that the Conservative government – in particular Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz – misled Canadians about food safety, Liberal Agriculture Critic Wayne Easter said.

“Today we learn that as a result of the Harper government’s ideological preference for deregulation, the country’s listeriosis crisis was far worse than it had to be,” said Mr. Easter.

“Increasingly the Conservatives’ campaign of misinformation about their changes to our food safety system is being exposed. They undermined Canada’s food safety system and the results were devastating. It’s time for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mr. Ritz to come clean and admit to their actions.”

The Toronto Star today reported the Harper government removed the requirement for meat-processing companies to alert the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) about positive tests for listeria four months before the listeriosis outbreak at Maple Leaf Foods.

According to the article, federal meat inspectors and their union have stated that if a company preparing meat for sale to the public had a positive test showing listeria before the Conservatives dropped the reporting requirement, it “would have had to have been, not only brought to the (federal) inspector’s attention, but the inspector would have been involved in overseeing the clean-up.”

But according to CFIA union head Bob Kingston no rules have been in place requiring CFIA inspectors to be told of any cleanup activities or repeated positive test results since the changes were implemented on April 1, 2008.

“We have called on Prime Minister Harper to reverse his government’s changes for more than a month. Unfortunately, he has ignored us,” said Mr. Easter.

These latest revelations further build the case for the resignation of Minister Ritz, who claimed back in August that “nothing in these plants has changed today from last month or six months ago.” (CBC The House, August 23, 2008).

The Canadian Medical Association Journal also contradicted this claim, saying “the listeriosis epidemic is a timely reminder that the Harper government has reversed much of the progress that previous governments made on governing for public health,” (CMAJ, September 16, 2008).

Mr. Easter said right from the start of this outbreak, the Conservatives have been more worried about protecting their political skin than protecting the food we eat.

“In a time of crisis, it is absolutely essential that the government be honest with Canadians. This government has failed the test,” said Mr. Easter.

“Clearly, the only thing that will stop the Conservatives from implementing their plan to gut Canada’s food safety system is electing a Liberal government.”

A new Liberal government would invest $50 million to strengthen Canada’s food safety, including the hiring of an additional 100 food safety inspectors.

http://www.liberal.ca/story_15224_e.aspx