Meat is hitting the proverbial fan in Canada.
It seems Canadians are taking exception to having meat for domestic consumption coming in for less scrutiny than any product bound for the United States.
An audit of Canada’s meat inspection program by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) led the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to ramp up inspections of meat bound for the USA to once every 12 hours.
Meat processing plants serving only Canada’s domestic market are inspected weekly.
“We now learn that plants packaging meat for the U.S. market must be inspected daily in order to meet U.S. standards, while plants that package meat for our domestic market get inspected only once a week,” said the Liberal Party’s Wayne Easter. “How is this supposed to build confidence in our meat inspection?”
Canada’s Conservative government promised 70 new meat inspectors would be added to the CFIA after the action was recommended by the 2009 Weatherill report.
That report looked into an outbreak of listeria stemming from products made in the ready-to-eat meat plant operated by Maple Leaf Foods in Toronto. The 2008 outbreak killed 22 mostly elderly Canadians.
But before the new inspectors could be put to work, CFIA had to decide how to respond to the FSIS audit and what the Canwest News Service calls “a high-profile listeriosis investigation involving tainted meat at a federally inspected Toronto processing plant operated by Siena Foods Ltd.”
The Siena Foods plant last weekend was the first meat plant in Canada to be closed down since Maple Leaf closed its Toronto plant two years ago.
The beefed up inspection regime for Canadian meat plants serving U.S. customers apparently came shortly before the first Siena recall occurred in December. When the change was announced, Canadian meat inspectors were promised no one would have to work an “unreasonable” amount of daily or weekly overtime.
The Siena facility, however, was apparently one of about 80 plants that received stepped up coverage after FSIS told Canada it had system-wide problems inspecting meat bound for the U.S.
Canadian meat inspectors now say many are putting in overtime due to staff shortages.
Ontario, Canada has recorded 14 listeriosis cases so far this year. Siena has now recalled Coppa, Prosciuttni and Prosciuttni Hot ready-to-eat meats for possible Listeria contamination. Two cases have been genetically matched to Siena meats.