Canada's food safety system gets low marks

by By Bryan Salvage
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In an audit completed in 2012, but just released in December 2013, US auditors allegedly uncovered enough deficiencies in Canada’s food-safety system in their 2012 audit to render it an "adequate" rating – the lowest rating allowed in order for Canada to continue to export meat products to the US, according to CTV News. As a result, inspectors requested that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) improve oversight in areas including sanitation and the humane handling of animals.

However, on all of the “non-compliances” the audits found the CFIA “took immediate corrective actions and instituted long-term preventive measures” to strengthen regulatory oversight, the audit noted.
"CFIA’s plan is clearly described with 30 actions that are already underway to develop and implement a sustainable internal inspection oversight role that allows continuous system improvement," the audit stated. It further noted a central office to co-ordinate decision-making in the food-inspection system was created.
Systems that govern the processing of meat products being prepared for export to the US were evaluated in this audit. Between Oct. 22 and Nov. 9, 2012, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors visited two red-meat slaughter houses, four meat-processing plants, an egg processing plant, five government offices including CFIA headquarters, plus two private laboratories.

Auditors said in a report sent to the CFIA on Dec. 9, 2013, that the CFIA’s performance is "adequate" in maintaining slaughter and processing systems equivalent to that in the US. However, this is the lowest of three possible ratings required to be allowed to continue exporting meat to the US.
Based on what the audits found, the CFIA was informed it had to improve its oversight of hazard identification at plants, as well as sanitation and the humane treatment of animals, the report relayed. Issues identified in the report include pieces of meat and fat in wall crevices; steel frames falling on and injuring animals; flaking paint and rust; plus dust on ventilation systems.

US investigators visited the XL Foods plant in Alberta that was the subject of the largest meat recalls in Canadian history due to E. coli contamination. Auditors found "non-compliances" there in humane animal handling and sanitation, the CTV News report stated.

Auditors found a contamination risk in dust on ventilators and blowers at the XL plant, while they found paint and rust flakes on overhead rails and pipes at a pig slaughter and processing facility in Langley, BC. Other things uncovered during the site visits were cages and grates used to herd cattle to slaughter were falling on and injuring the animals.

In other news, the Government of Canada appointed Dr. Harpreet Kochhar its new chief veterinary officer. He now leads Canada's efforts to protect animal and human health from current and emerging animal diseases. Announced on Jan. 7, the appointment is effective immediately.

Kochhar is a veterinarian with a Master's degree in veterinary science and a PhD in biotechnology. He is an expert on animal biotechnology for the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and has worked internationally with such organizations as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Dr. Ian Alexander, who served as Chief Veterinary Officer prior to Kochhar's appointment, has been appointed executive director of animal health science for the CFIA.
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