Extra food safety regulations could be introduced in Canada as pressure increases to tackle the problems associated with tainted food after 20 people died in a listeriosis outbreak.
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada union said that it is launching a campaign to defend Public Science “in the wake of the listeriosis tragedy” that was linked to contamination at the Maple Leaf Foods Toronto processing plant.
Meanwhile Business Monitor International’s Canada Food and Drink Report Q4 2008 report said that the incident could have “wider repercussions for the entire food and drink industry, with politicians and the media calling for a complete overhaul of Canada’s food safety regulations”.
The union says Canada is facing a continuing crisis with tainted foods and unsafe products, which it in part blames on a lack of resources for independent regulators and for food inspection programs.
Its new national advertising campaign highlights the “harm deregulation and underfunding are doing to public scientists’ ability to protect Canadians”.
Michèle Demers, president of the union, said: “Listeriosis is only the tip of the iceberg of the dangers deregulation is opening up in this country.
“By eliminating rules and handing responsibility for safety to industry in sectors like transportation, food and consumer products, the federal government is playing fast and loose with Canadians health and safety.”
Maple Leaf identified listeria lurking deep inside two meat-slicing machines as the most likely source of the contamination, which caused it to shut down its Toronto plant in August.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency requested that all federally inspected plants with similar equipment conduct a systematic and thorough cleaning procedure.
However, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the union representing food inspectors, claimed that the organization is understaffed and spends too much time on paper shuffling.
This echoes criticism of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a former FDA official who recently opposed the National Uniformity for Food Act at a Senate hearing claimed the FDA is under-resourced, under-staffed, and essentially incapable of overseeing potential threats to the US food supply.
Meanwhile Business Monitor said that the Maple Leaf incident could potentially damage sales of processed meat products. Although it pointed out that in previous food health scares, sales have rarely been affected in the long term, particularly when the cause is quickly identified.