Here’s an excerpt from the Windsor Star story from February 19, 2010, titled “Meat Safety system needs an overhaul”:
“Food safety became a huge issue for Canadians in 2008, when at least 20 people died from consuming deli meats tainted with listeria. We’d always put faith in our system of checks and balances, assuming that our food supply was well-regulated and meat products were inspected frequently.
In the aftermath of those devastating deaths, Canadians expected inspections would become even more rigorous, yet Brian Masse has exposed a serious flaw that could cause more harm to consumers.
The Windsor West MP revealed last week that at least 70 trucks hauling meat from the U.S. have bypassed the inspection process since a new federal policy was put in place Jan. 4.
Instead of heeding instructions to pull over for inspection, these trucks have continued to barrel down the road, basically thumbing their nose at Canadian regulations.
It’s easy to do, since there’s no real consequence for breaking the law. “If that truck doesn’t report for inspection, it’s just basically let go, a slap on the hand, there’s basically no penalty,” said Phil Marchuk, president of Windsor Freezer Services Ltd.
His company and Border City Storage are responsible for conducting these inspections in Windsor, and what they’ve uncovered in the past is alarming. At a press conference, Border City’s Kam Rampersaud showed photos of seized meat products that were either infected with maggots or covered in rat droppings. The pictures aren’t pretty. Neither are the potential health risks.
Both companies have joined Masse in calling on the federal government to implement stiffer penalties, and we agree with them. “In the States if you miss going to an inspection, your fine is three times the load you’re carrying,” said Marchuk. “Nobody skips inspections in the States because it’s too risky and too much of a bother.”
It’s outrageous that these truckers can flout the law; even more so when you consider the government response….”
And now here’s a commentary on the situation from Grant Robertson of the National Farmers Union:
Haven’t we heard this story about penny pinching on public safety costing much more in the end before?
There is something desperately ironic about the situation where one government agency goes overboard with a regulatory regime that seemingly has nothing to do with actual food safety but that imposes enormous costs on local small abattoirs and butcher shops while at the border Canada has lost track of an estimated 70 trucks full of actual meat products selected for inspection in the last few months.
The government of Canada put in place a new border inspection policy on January 4th. While the American Food Safety and Inspection Service inspects nearly 100% of meat products imported into the United States, Canada only has inspectors available Monday to Friday from 8 am to 6 pm. Meat entering Canada outside those hours is, if tagged for inspection, supposed to wait until an inspector is next on duty. From the available evidence it appears many of the trucks flagged for random inspection are simply not waiting around and the products they are carrying are headed for Canadian dinner tables.
This situation came to light thanks to the diligent work of Brian Masse NDP MP for Windsor West. He was joined at a recent press conference by Phil Marchuk from Windsor Freezer and Kam Rampersaud from Border City Storage Ltd. (Canada), the two Windsor area inspection facilities. In a Windsor Star article, Marchuk is quoted as saying that by-passing inspection is easy to do, since there’s no real consequence for breaking the law. “If that truck doesn’t report for inspection, it’s just basically let go, a slap on the hand, there’s basically no penalty.”
As reported in the Windsor Star, Border Cities Rampersaud provided pictures of some of the meat coming into Canada that they did catch –showing “seized meat products that were either infected with maggots or covered in rat droppings.” I saw an online version of these pictures and “yuck” does not even begin to describe them. The question remains what has been in those trucks that by-passed inspection and how many Canadians have unknowingly eaten unfit meat products.
In Canada the penalties are very minor for avoiding inspection. Masse makes the claim in referring to those trucks by-passing inspection that: “When the inspection facilities reported this to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), they were informed that the order to report would simply be changed to ‘skiplot’—the designation used to indicate that a load would not be randomly inspected. Rather than taking serious enforcement action against trucks not showing up for inspection, the CFIA response is simply to change their records to condone this outrageous behaviour. We don’t know what’s happened to these phantom trucks, or what was in them or why they chose to avoid inspection.”
In contrast in the United States truckers and companies can be fined three times the value of the load they are carrying if they by-pass inspection. Windsor Freezer’s Marchuk says: “Nobody skips inspections in the States because it’s too risky and too much of a bother.” While Rampersaud added that, “US producers are becoming increasingly aware of the lax inspection standards at the Canadian border.”
This situation is intolerable. Canadian eaters are having their health put potentially at risk, while Canadian farmers are having their livelihoods put at risk by the importation of products we can produce ourselves and then not bothering to inspect them properly. Masse, Marchuk and Rampersaud are calling for much stiffer consequences for those who flout Canadian standards and a much more beefed up inspection system at the border. That seems like the least we should be demanding from government.
Thanks to Gaille for sending us this story!
Is it my imagination, or is there something wrong with this picture?