OTTAWA, Ontario – Claims that food safety inspections have been cut in Northern Alberta are false, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said.

The agency responded to media reports and claims by the Syndicat Agriculture Union, which represents food safety inspectors, that the agency has reduced the frequency of meat inspection activities at some meat processing plants in Alberta. B.A. Archibald, president of the CFIA, and Kelvin Mathuik, Area Director General, Western Operations, released a joint statement refuting the union's claims.

“The Agriculture Union representing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) inspectorate is unnecessarily undermining Canadians' confidence in their food safety system,” the statement said. “The CFIA is proud of the Conference Board of Canada rating Canada’s food safety system number 1 out of 17 OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries including the United States.”

The Agriculture Union said redacted documents the union obtained through an open records request show the CFIA instructed staff in northern Alberta to cut general sanitation inspection activities by 50 percent. The union also said CFIA reduced inspectors' daily presence in meat plants producing products for the domestic market while maintaining daily presence in establishments eligible to export meat to the United States.

CFIA said differences in meat inspection systems between the US and Canada address trade standards and are unrelated to food safety. Those standards include activities that certify labeling and meat cut classifications, the agency said.

The agency added that CFIA's spending increased significantly due to the federal government’s emphasis on improvements to Canada's food safety system.

“The government of Canada has invested over $517 million in various food safety initiatives, since 2008, the statement said. “More recently, in Budget 2014, the government provided $153.6 million over five years to strengthen the CFIA’s preventive food safety oversight programs.

“The Agriculture Union is aware that the number of Field Inspection staff in regions fluctuates due to changes in demand for service and the nature of inspection work focusing on areas of highest risk, which can include regional emergencies and enforcement action.”

CFIA noted a food safety inspector is “on the ground at all times in every federally-registered meat slaughter plant in Canada,” and comprehensive inspection protocols are carried out in federally-registered meat plants.

“Everyone has a role to play — the CFIA’s is to provide oversight and ensure federally-registered facilities are complying with Canada’s strict food safety rules,” the statement said. “Industry is expected to ensure that Canada's strict food safety rules and regulations are met across Canada at all times.”