Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was joined by Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Senator Donald Plett, and Dr. Brian Evans, Canada’s Chief Food Safety Officer to make an important announcement related to food safety in Ottawa this week, June 6, 2012.
Credits: Chris Roussakis/QMI Agency
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the changes will streamline food-safety regulations and reduce the risk of food contamination outbreaks in the future.
"While (our food safety laws) have served us very well in the past, we need to make sure they position us well for the future," Ritz said. "And after all, many of those laws were written at a different time, some on typewriters."
Four years ago, contaminated cold cuts from a Maple Leaf Food plant in Toronto caused a listeriosis outbreak that left 57 people ill and 22 dead, many elderly residents at retirement homes.
At the time, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) came under heavy criticism for its handling of the case.
More than a month went by between the first report of the outbreak and product recalls, and requests to the agency for information went unanswered for too long.
The government ordered an inquiry, out of which came 57 recommendations on how to strengthen the food-safety system.
"I'm pleased to announce that as of today we have addressed all 57 recommendations," Ritz said.
With food safety governed under separate statutes, inspectors had to reconcile inconsistent rules and protocols. The proposed act reconciles those differences and brings all rules in line.
Without wanting to speculate, Ritz admitted that had this new legislation been in place in 2008 inspectors might have identified the contamination sooner and taken remedial action.
The act increases fines from $250,000 to $5 million, though the minister acknowledged fines levied in the past have been significantly lower. New offences for recklessly endangering Canadian lives have also been added.
The NDP's agriculture critic, MP Malcolm Allen, isn't impressed.
"What they're not mentioning is that the CFIA's budget is going to be cut by $54 million in the next budget," he said. "So looking at the overall picture of the CFIA,
they're asked now to do more with less.
"The food-safety system in Canada in no safer than it was before today."