Lemieux defends food safety system in the wake of largest food recall in Canadian history
Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MP Pierre Lemieux said the federal government takes food safety "extremely seriously" and any claims to the contrary are "ridiculous."
Lemieux has taken aim at Liberal agricultural critic and Guelph MP Frank Valeriote who has openly criticized the federal government for taking too long to issue a recall on beef contaminated with E.coli.
Billions of kilograms of Alberta beef were recalled in September in what is being called the biggest food recall in Canadian history. The beef was manufactured by Edmonton-based XL Foods, which was forced to close its doors after the beef products it manufactures were found to contain E.coli.
A number of people across Canada have fallen ill with E.coli poisoning, though testing is still underway to determine whether or not meat from XL Foods is responsible for the illnesses.
Valeriote said it is unacceptable that 46 government inspectors stationed at the plant, which is Canada's second-largest slaughter facility, failed to flag problems that only came to light when a shipment of meat was intercepted at the United States border and tested positive for E. coli.
He was also critical of the two-week delay in issuing a recall on the contaminated meat, which he says "clearly shows that the Conservatives' cuts to food safety are putting Canadians at risk."
"Despite repeated questions last week asking the minister of agriculture who Canadians can rely on to be responsible for their food safety, the only clear answer we received was that the Conservatives were not interested in providing the necessary resources to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to prevent food-borne illnesses," Valeriote stated.
Lemieux has fired back at Valeriote in an attempt to "correct the many inaccuracies about food safety in Canada."
Lemieux said he wants to assure Canadians that consumers are "always our government's first priority when it comes to food safety" and stressed that XL Foods will not be allowed to re-open until the CFIA has confirmed it is safe to do so.
"Mr. Valeriote claims that our government has significantly cut funding to food safety, while he conveniently neglects to recognize that it is our government that has made unprecedented investments over the past five years in good safety," Lemieux stated.
He pointed out that the Conservative government has invested more than $150 million over the last two budgets to improve food safety. In addition, Lemieux said, the government increased the CFIA's budget by 20 per cent since the Conservative government was formed.
"Our government hired more than 700 net new food inspectors since 2006, including 170 meat inspectors," Lemieux remarked.
Lemieux said the opposition, including Valeriote, voted against "all of these important investments."
Lemieux said it is also important to note that the federal government has now addressed all 57 recommendations that resulted from the independent investigation into the 2008 listeriosis outbreak linked to ready-to-eat meats produced at a Maple Leaf plant in Ontario.
The final recommendation of the independent investigator was to introduce Bill S-11, the Safe Food for Canadians Act. The act, which was introduced in June of this year, modernizes Canada's legislative and regulatory system for food safety.
Lemieux said the act will strengthen inspection, increase penalties for those who put food safety at risk and improvement international market opportunities.
"The opposition should stop playing politics with food safety and should stick to the facts and help pass this bill," Lemieux concluded.
More inspectors or not?
The President of Canada's Syndicat Agriculture Union disagrees with the federal government's claims that it has hired more inspectors.
However, the Agriculture Union says, if hundreds of new inspectors have been hired, the meat processing plants certainly haven't seen them.
"We know for sure that none of those new inspectors, regardless of whether it's 700 or less than that, none of those have found their way into slaughter plants, which is what XL beef is," said Bob Kingston, national president of the Syndicat Agriculture Union.
Kingston went on to note, "It's simply a misstatement," he stresses. "Basically, what they've done is they've categorized a group of employees that work for CFIA and called them all inspection staff regardless of whether they're doing inspections or not. They could be sitting in an office somewhere writing policy, it's a category of staff that they've lumped together."