Food safety: The cuts and the questions

The Parliamentary Budget Officer looks at government funding for food safety.

The new PBO examination of budgetary expenditures by strategic outcome and program activity says planned spending for “food safety and biosecurity risk management systems” at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is projected to be reduced by almost $32 million, to approximately $85 million in 2012-13 from more than $116 million in 2011-12.

At the CFIA, planned federal spending on the “food safety program” is projected to shrink almost $16 million, to $315 million in 2012-13 from $331 million in 2011-12, according to the PBO analysis, which was released Wednesday with a report on the government’s first-quarter spending trends.

The Canadian Press chases the numbers in question.

According to the CFIA’s plans and priorities report from May 2012, spending on food safety this year will be $340.3 million, falling slightly to $337.5 million by 2014-15. That’s less than was spent on food safety the year before the Harper Conservatives came to power ($341.5 million) and considerably less than the $379 million the CFIA spent on food safety in 2006-07, the Conservatives’ first full year in power.

The claim of 700-plus new inspectors is less simple to refute or confirm … By the union’s calculation, 200 of the 700 were hired to control the import of invasive species, plants and diseases — an initiative that started before the Conservatives came to power. Another 170 inspectors were hired to do compliance verification, mostly involving processed meat plants, following the deadly 2008 listeria outbreak, as recommended in a government report by Sheila Weatherill. The remaining 330-plus inspectors, the union suggests, includes “basically … anybody hired at CFIA in the technical category” — jobs as diverse as seed analysis and lumber certification. “What I can tell you is that the number of those 700 that went into meat slaughter plants is zero,” Kingston said Wednesday in an interview.

The CFIA says some days more than 5% of the meat produced by the XL Foods plant was testing positive for E.coli. A lawsuit has been filed in Edmonton. The union that represents food inspectors wants an independent inquiry into the current outbreak.