CFIA defends safety standards after memo leaked

Doug O'Halloran, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401



CALGARY -- The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is defending its safety standards and denying ignoring contamination of Canada-bound meat following the leak of an old memo.

CTV News reported federal inspectors at XL Foods, home of the recent E. coli outbreak that caused Canada's largest meat recall and sickened 18 people, were told to ignore Canada-bound meat with fecal and intestinal contamination.

"Our number 1 priority is to ensure this standard is met with Japan eligible carcasses," the 2008 memo reportedly reads.

"Ensure that non-Japan-eligible carcasses are not inspected for spinal cord/dura-mater, OCD (other carcass defects) and minor ingesta.

"Ignore them."

On Thursday, Paul Mayers, CFIA's associate vice-president of programs, called allegations about the memo "categorically false."

"The CFIA ensures that the same stringent food safety standards are applied to domestic and exported products -- this was the case four years ago and it remains true today," he said.

He said the memo and message to "ignore" related to division of labour.

"That static station focused on product for Japan," he said, adding that country has specific requirements of its exported beef regarding market access.

"For product destined elsewhere, whether it is for domestic market or to other markets, that station is not responsible for inspection with respect to that and that's why that station would ignore carcasses that are not destined for Japan."

A new memo was issued earlier this month to clarify, he said.

Doug O'Halloran, president of UFCW Local 401, said CFIA is "just trying to cover their butt."

"They are saying the memo doesn't really mean anything, that it's not what it really says, then why put it in a paper," he said.

"Let's have a public inquiry into what did they really mean and how did it affect the product and we want the plants not to be able to self-regulate themselves."

Mayers said there is zero tolerance for any form of contamination and critical control points to detect problems are in place throughout the process.

"If at any time during inspection a potential risk to food safety is detected, regardless of the product's destination, the line is stopped and product is held until the concern is resolved and product is in compliance," he said.

In Ottawa Thursday, the opposition renewed demands for an audit of Canada's food inspection system following the leak.

CFIA has said an advisory committee will look at what led to the E.coli calamity at XL Foods but there are no plans to audit the system.

- With files from QMI agency

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