The European Commission’s health and safety agency has found most measures taken by Canadian officials to address issues raised during a previous audit have not worked.

The DG Sante audit in September 2022 checked the implementation of actions in response to a previous visit in 2019 on bovine and pig meat intended for export to the European Union.

Steps taken to tackle problems uncovered in 2019 in cold stores were considered effective.

However, corrective measures on recommendations in relation to EU-listed establishments were not able to ensure that only compliant sites are listed or kept on the list for export to Europe, despite Canadian authority verification and confirmation of their compliance.

Deficiencies were detected in some EU-listed plants by the audit team but not identified or recorded in authority controls, meaning they were not corrected by food businesses.

The EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) provisionally entered into force in 2017 but has not been ratified by all EU member states, meaning it is not in full effect.

Problems found despite Canadian assurances
In 2020, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) informed DG Sante that 11 EU-listed meat establishments and 13 cold stores had been reviewed and were compliant with Canadian and EU requirements.

However, in a meat processing site, the audit team noted problems with maintenance such as broken surfaces on walls and floors, hygienic practices like defrosting of unidentified frozen meat in the dispatch area, and the layout of the establishment.

In a slaughterhouse with an attached cutting plant, which was also visited in the 2019 audit, deficiencies detected at the time had only been partially corrected. Also, damaged walls in the chiller reserved for EU carcasses were noted by the audit team but had not been found in official controls or were not recorded, so remained unrepaired.

In another slaughterhouse, deficiencies were significant and the CFIA later delisted it. The agency also said it would initiate corrective actions in other establishments where auditors found shortcomings.

Problems at the delisted site included rust on ventilation grids and overhead rails and beams, peeling paint above exposed products, rusty containers for collecting specified risk materials and refuse bins in the cutting room, and only one access to the clean part of the slaughterhouse and the cutting plant, including the tripe processing room, causing crossflow of staff.

CFIA also acknowledged there was a gap in the system for removing sites from the EU list once they had ceased operations and said procedures have been amended to avoid such delays in the future.

Further improvements planned
Canada is moving to an inspection system called Standard Inspection Process (SIP), which has been applied at slaughterhouses since July 2022 and has introduced a risk-based official control system along the food chain.

CFIA said all findings during the audit were put under a corrective action request. All these have now been closed following verification of actions and preventative measures. The agency also reviewed all establishments on the EU list to ensure compliance.

In January 2023, the Inspector General’s Office (IGO) started a national project to assess the delivery and enforcement of inspection activities under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR). A national report will be delivered in winter 2023 and IGO will be in charge of ensuring recommendations are followed up.

Finally, ways to assess the performance of approved veterinarians (AV) when doing controls on primary production were put in place. However, auditors found they were not effective, as the supervisory system was not able to detect the unsatisfactory performance of AVs in identifying and documenting shortcomings at the farm level during official controls.

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