Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

Safety shorted in CFIA spending freeze: union

The union representing federal food safety inspectors warns that a planned spending freeze will compromise food safety, “making a dangerous situation worse.”

The Agriculture Union-PSAC on Friday released the text of what it says is a memo from Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) senior management outlining cost-saving measures, such as:

  • directing staff to “defer, scale down, or cancel all non-essential staffing, training, conferences, hospitality, professional services, travel and overtime;”
  • calling for management to “review and reduce, where possible, spending plans for the remainder of this fiscal year;” and
  • having the delegated manager and his or her superior sign off on all spending transactions, including written authorization from said manager for “acquisition card” purchases of more than $500.

“Not a single additional food inspector has been hired by the agency
since before the listeriosis crisis,” said Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union, the ag wing of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) union.

“Now the freeze on hiring, overtime and training will lock in gaps that allow tainted food to reach Canadians for at least the duration of the freeze.”

Kingston said federally-inspected food processing plants across the country remain short-staffed and staffing levels haven’t been adjusted at any plant, except for the Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto linked to this summer’s listeriosis outbreak. CFIA, he said, “cannot ensure adequate inspection and meet its contractual obligations for paid leave, sick leave and training.”

For example, Kingston said, the freeze on training will leave food inspectors untrained on the new compliance verification system (CVS), which he described as “a new protocol which gives more self-policing powers to the
industry and has emboldened some companies to deny access to inspectors,
preventing them from doing their jobs.

“CFIA has great plans to improve the food safety system but they will die
on the vine without new resources to beef up the system.”

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