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BTC: In case you missed it


 

When the listeriosis outbreak was raised during last night’s debate, the NDP war room sent out a press release that claimed the CFIA’s budget for “food safety and public health” is presently budgeted to decline every year from 2006 through 2010.

The Conservative response? That one of the authors of a CMAJ editorial that blasted Conservative government policies in this regard has donated money to both the NDP and Liberal parties.

Oh, and that he’s a friend of Michael Ignatieff. (Just like that dead soldier’s father!)

Here, again, is that editorial, signed by a half dozen authors. And here, again, is a separate commentary published by the CMAJ, signed by two other authors.

No doubt they’re all a bunch of Liberal hacks. But, all the same, I do look forward to the Conservative war room’s point-by-point rebuttal to the points raised.


 

BTC: In case you missed it

  1. “”food safety and public health” is presently budgeted to decline every year from 2006 through 2010.”

    This is explained in the Main Estimates if you want to look it up. Something to do with a BSE crisis that was expected to end…

    Attacking the CMAJ authors was pretty stupid – not least because they have lukewarm support for self-inspection and many of their criticisms are against the Liberals (including clinging to Canada’s lower standards when the US improved theirs in 1998 – leading to Duceppe’s zinger in the debate). The relevant Liberal Ministers would be Goodale, Vanclief, Speller and Mitchell – see if you can spot any of them on the campaign trail. And, in the actual debate, Harper did point out his $100M Food Safety Plan that had been announced in the budget.

    That story again: years of Liberal inaction (including clinging to lower Canadian standards in 1998 when the US improved theirs); Tory attempts at reform; mismanagement by Maple Leaf.

  2. Poor, poor, Conservatives. Everyone hates them. Everyone is out to get them. Please send money.

  3. Tory attempts at reform included a blanket 5% operational cut, Style. To which the plan, implemented in the Maple Leaf factory, was to reduce government oversight and allow self inspection. Mismanagement by Maple Leaf? Sure. But when a farmer puts a fox in the chicken house as a guard, do you blame the fox?

  4. “Tory attempts at reform included a blanket 5% operational cut, Style.”

    No it didn’t. The Strategic Review required CFIA to identify 5% of its budget for reallocation to higher priorities. But the Review increased CFIA’s budget – $29.7M would be cut, $100M would be given. This is on page 254 of the Budget.

    Maple Leaf is not run by foxes, whatever you may have heard. The reason “many food safety researchers” support increased self-inspection is because food companies have a clear interest in not poisoning their customers. One expected outcome is that the firms will adopt better inspection methods than the fairly ad hoc process used by CFIA. Now that Maple Leaf has hired someone to do this, it might actually happen.

  5. And to think it only 20 dead people for that to happen. Go free market!

  6. I have problems using editorials that legitimately raise public health concerns to point fingers or to make definitive conclusions as to the underlying cause of some sort of public health crisis.

    Short of 100% testing, there is always some sort of health risk in food, water, etc.

    I’ll wait for actual facts, not conjecture.

  7. And, yes, the foxes shouldn’t be allowed to sidle out the back door while, apparently, the Liberals try to kill us and the Cons try to kill more of us.

  8. T.Thwim yes I still blame the fox (at least in part).

  9. 20 dead people from a huge company.
    How many will die from smaller companies that go bankrupt because they don’t bother paying for inspection in the first place under the assumption they’ll be okay?

    Food companies have a clear interest in profiting.

    That may, or may not, involve not poisoning their customers based on a cost-benefit analysis. Which is cheaper, continual inspections, or betting that the number of people who contract disease are rare enough that they won’t be able to track it back to the company and if they do, won’t have the resources to make it a big deal?

    Larger companies have more at stake in this than smaller ones, because their products are more widely distributed and so problems can be tracked back more quickly.

    Smaller companies are less likely to be found out.

    But individuals suffer the same regardless.

  10. “The reason “many food safety researchers” support increased self-inspection is because food companies have a clear interest in not poisoning their customers. One expected outcome is that the firms will adopt better inspection methods than the fairly ad hoc process used by CFIA.”

    Unfortunately, when mistakes occur, food companies have more times than not chosen to cover up/hide/deny the issue. Sort of like Harper.

  11. As well, Aaron, a lot of us have been persuaded, over time, that this gang are The Smartest People in the Whole World. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Actual performance may vary.

  12. T. Thwim – “betting that the number of people who contract disease are rare enough” is exactly what food inspection is about. It’s not aiming to eliminate the dangers, it aims at lowering them to an acceptable level – same as speed limits and other rules and regulations on cars try to keep the risks acceptably low, but not zero. The Food Safety Plan proposes to make better use of inspectors’ time to improve food safety.

  13. Thank you Aaron. I was beginning to wonder if the entire press corp had slept through that part of the debate. Yours is the only commentary I’ve found to date on Harper’s attack on the CMA.

  14. How can anybody, at this time, in this situation, pretend that “self-regulation and self-interest will solve all!”

    Do you think Lehman wanted to go bankrupt? No? And Maple Leaf didn’t want dead people on their watch, either. Either way, self-regulation failed.

    As for Harper, well, it just goes to show that, just like Bush and Cheney, he’ll ignore any and every comment from anybody that isn’t part of his team. THAT Bush/Harper comparison is completely justified.

    (And if the Liberals were really prepared to scorch some earth, they’d bring up the counter-terrorism measures that Bush scorned in 2001 because they came from Clinton. Dismissing “liberals” kills.)

  15. “Unfortunately, when mistakes occur, food companies have more times than not chosen to cover up/hide/deny the issue.”

    Public safety officials will track the infections back to the source. It may be true that companies would prefer not to get caught when they screw up, but the CMAJ says self-inspection regimes have worked well in other countries.

  16. Larger companies have more at stake in this than smaller ones, because their products are more widely distributed and so problems can be tracked back more quickly.

    Smaller companies are less likely to be found out.

    But individuals suffer the same regardless.

    I agree with this point, and having raised the issue twice in the past on Maclean’s blogsite, I wonder why people like Aaron don’t flow up on it. Again, here is the quoted passage from a GPC press release on the GPC site 27.08.2008 titled: Green Party urges government review and changes for Canadian Food System:

    Green Party Industry and Business critic Huguette Allen, candidate in Okanagan—Shuswap, has actively campaigned against new meat inspection regulations in British Columbia that harm smaller and family farms.

    “Many regions of Canada have excellent local food economies but are hindered because small family farms are expected to adhere to the same safety standards as food that is transported all over the globe. Yet we know from common sense as well as experience, that no matter what standards we impose of global foods, safety issues persist. When outbreaks occur, repercussions are inevitable.”

    One presumes that the GPC policy of relaxed standards for smaller Canadian farms is contrary to the position of the CMAJ editorial which highlights the different standards:

    In contrast, the United Nations / World Health Organization Codex Alimentarius Commission grudgingly tolerates 100 bacteria per gram, but only at the end of the product’s life. The United States government is tougher still and tolerates no Listeria bacteria at all.

    Aaron, why not get on the horn to the GPC and follow up on this?

  17. “How can anybody, at this time, in this situation, pretend that “self-regulation and self-interest will solve all!””

    This is not what the CMAJ are saying. They are saying that self-inspection can be better than government inspection. They are also saying that Canada’s regulations are too lax. The point there is that the US, and others, improved their standards in 1998 and the Liberals refused to. If we turn this debate into putting inspectors back on the floor, we lose another opportunity to improve our regulations *and* reverse an innovation that’s been found to improve food safety.

  18. Russian roulette, folks.

    Relying on human error is silly, particularly when there are a whole bunch of factors that can contribute to increasing this (like part-time workers, overwork, poor training).

    Self-inspection can’t be without governmental oversight. There is also the issue of “fudging” results to meet expectations, or in other words “get them off my back ASAP!”, that is more likely under a self-policed system.

    How willing are you to participate in this game for the sake of “minimizing expenses”?

    Me? No way.

    Sure Maple Leaf have been hit on their profit margins and their market valuation because of this, and they will change their practices for the short term, until they can find another way to minimize expenses on this front.

    But somehow I don’t feel as much sympathy for them as I do the 20 people who died.

    Austin

  19. “Self-inspection can’t be without governmental oversight…How willing are you to participate in this game for the sake of “minimizing expenses”?”

    The CMAJ supports self-inspection, with government oversight, to improve food safety, not to minimize expenses. This also seems to be the Government’s position. The position of the food inspector’s union is that only government inspectors should inspect (and they should inspect rather than oversee).

  20. Third party inspectors are required. Period. Whether they are from the government or appointed by the government, it doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned. Daily inspections from these third parties are not necessary, that should be the role of the company.

    Some companies are undoubtedly less concerned about the bottom line than others. But I think they are in the vast minority.

    Austin

  21. “Short of 100% testing, there is always some sort of health risk in food, water, etc.”

    Between Walkerton and this, this Conservative gang seem to have food and water covered. Care to name “etc.” so they can go for the hat trick?

    “I’ll wait for actual facts, not conjecture.”

    You’ll be waiting a while. Harper seems very determined to keep the facts hidden away.

  22. etc. = take a walk in a hospital; breathe some air in a city; shake hands with a friend, acquaintance or a stranger; swim in a pool; drink unpasteurized milk (as the GPC supports); try on clothes in a store etc.

    As for Walkerton, I dunno – those Koebel brothers seemed like they were destined for infamy…

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