Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Conservative plan and "recipe for disaster"

And the question is, Alex, for $200: what are two interchangeable terms for a policy undertaken by the Harper government? Yes, that is correct...:)

Oh looky, it's part II in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency clusterf*%# that we witnessed the beginnings of earlier this week...you know, when the 20-year employee with the "unblemished record" was given the boot, aka "Keened," for having stumbled across the Conservatives' new food inspection and safety rules. Last night we read, "Food inspection 'disaster' looms," in which oodles of foreboding information is provided on the new rules enacted by our Conservative government. Gerry Ritz is apparently foreign to the concept of prudent risk management:
A government plan to transfer key parts of food inspection to industry so companies can police themselves will put the health of Canadians at risk, according to leading food safety experts who have reviewed the confidential blueprint.

The plan, drafted by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and approved by the Treasury Board details sweeping changes coming to food inspection in Canada.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is also ending funding to producers to test cattle for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, or Mad Cow Disease) as part of a surveillance program, the document indicates, a move that is expected to save the agency about $24 million over the next three years.
Because, heck, why would we bother funding Mad Cow tests anymore, hey? Let's just leave that in the hands of private industry where surely it will remain a funding priority.

The CFIA is essentially moving toward an oversight role and will not be doing primary inspection anymore. Aka the U.S. model. Here's a bit of an extended excerpt, but it seems important given the changes that are being sought and the reaction from experts, reported here:
Leading food safety experts, who reviewed the document, say the plan is a recipe for disaster.

"They're moving towards the U.S. model, where the inspectors don't actually do the inspection, they just oversee and the companies actually do the inspection. That's a really dangerous thing," said Michael Hansen, a North American authority on BSE and senior scientist with the New York-based Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.

Hansen, who in the past has been invited by parliamentary committees to testify as an expert on food safety issues, says the end of the BSE reimbursement program is of "highest concern."

A leading Canadian academic specializing in food risk management called these cuts "unfathomable" because Canada continues to find BSE-positive animals and is one of the few countries in the world where BSE is on the increase.

The expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there is near unanimous agreement among public health experts that "the greatest risks" of new emerging infectious disease are related to animal products and food.

Avian Influenza, SARS, BSE and Ebola "are just the tip of an iceberg," he said.

"Reducing food safety controls at this time could be disastrous if there is an outbreak of a new food-borne disease. No wonder they suspect they may have some 'communication risks' around these initiatives. They have a huge communications risk."
There are two academics quoted who express agreement with the new plan as a "hybrid" policy allowing for partnership with industry...but given the significant outrage expressed in respect of an issue - food safety and inspection - where there should be no disagreement, let alone see words like "disastrous" and "unfathomable" being used in connection with policy changes...the better judgment would be to err on the side of caution.

The Conservatives passed these rules in November. Yet they have not been publicly announced and seem to have only come to light due to the dismissal of the CFIA employee who has, for all intents and purposes, acted as a "whistleblower" given that his dismissal has served to bring the changes to public light. Raising the question: why the secrecy if the Conservatives are so confident about their policies being the correct ones? Why can't they come clean with the Canadian public on such changes? Could it be because they know the Canadian public wouldn't tolerate it if they knew?

Yes, it's another sorry chapter of secrecy and misguided priorities from the Conservatives on a key policy, kids. Is there nothing they can't screw up?