Canadian government plans to reduce food safety funding - including resources to combat Listeriosis - have been slammed by the union that represents federal food inspectors.
Food safety spending will be cut by $21.1m to $330.4m by 2013-14, and the number of full-time staff employed at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will decrease by 207 – a move that has met criticism.
“This looks like an exercise to make regulation cheaper, not safer or smarter,” said Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union PSAC.
Increased outbreak risk
According to Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union PSAC, cuts of this size will increase the risk of major foodborne illness outbreak - such as the Maple Leaf Foods Listeriosis outbreak that killed 23 people in 2008.
“Ottawa should worry about undermining public confidence with food safety cuts because that will be bad for the industry,” he added.
“Producers and processors should be up in arms about these cuts. We hope they will join us in urging Ottawa to re-consider.”
According to a statement from the union, the food safety funding cuts send the wrong message and could reverse hard-earned progress.
“At best, this decision sends the wrong message that everything is fine in Canada’s food safety system. At worst, these cuts could unravel important improvements to Canada’s food safety oversight made over the past few years and potentially threaten access to US markets for Canadian producers,” said the statement.
"Sunsetting" Listeriosis funds
According to the CFIA 2011-12 Estimates Report on Plans and Priorities, financial backing for the agency on the whole will drop from $744m in 2011-12 to $722.5m in 2013-14 – a decrease of $21.5m.
The number of full-time staff employed by the agency will also drop by 234 to 6,680 in 2013-14 compared to 2011-12.
The CFIA food safety program will bear the brunt of these cuts – accounting for the majority of the financial resource decrease, and 207 of the 234 full-time positions being cut.
Funding to combat Listeriosis the frequency of meat processing establishment inspections will be cut, the report added.
“In recent years, the CFIA has seen its largest budgets due to funding for initiatives such as Avian and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness, the Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan, the Pork Industry Recovery and Expansion Strategy, the H1N1 Flu virus outbreak, Listeriosis as well as resources for Canada’s Economic Action Plan,” said the report.
“The decrease in Food Safety Program is due to sunsetting funds for Listeriosis and increased inspection in meat processing establishments. These short-term initiatives were funded for two years and three years respectively and will be reviewed with respect to options for the longer term.”