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Canadian Medical Association Journal blasts Conservatives over listeriosis.

I’m surprised that the Listeriosis tragedy hasn’t been mentioned a lot more in this campaign, but with a Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial pinning at least some of the blame on the Conservatives for this tragedy, it may get a higher profile now.

The CMAJ notes that the Cabinet changed procedures in November 2007 so that inspection of ready-to-eat meats went from government inspectors to the meat industry. The result of that change was this:

In practice, the new policy meant that CFIA inspectors would rarely enter meat plants to test for bacteria and testing was left mostly to companies. Self-inspection came largely to substitute for, and not just to supplement, government inspection.

There is also mention of the Canadian government’s efforts to lobby the US to lower its standards for Listerisosis testing (the US allows no Listeriosis bacteria to be present, while Health Canada allows a maximum of 100 bacteria/gram).  It’s quite remarkable, really, that the Conservatives were advocating to the US that bacteria like this should be present in meat.  I think it’s fair to say that the perception in Canada is that in general, we have higher safety standards and health standards then the US which is supposed to be the country with a laissez-faire attitude toward government regulations (particularly under the Republicans), but here we are not trying to get our standards raised to theirs, but to get them to lower their standards to ours.

The CMAJ editorial continues on, blasting the Conservatives for trying to claim the system as it stands is a success:

Government policy errors helped bring about this epidemic. Yet surprisingly, government has taken no remedial steps beyond issuing a food recall. Instead, officials praise the success of our infectious disease surveillance system — as if, with 16 dead, there were cause to celebrate — while food safety standards remain as low as ever. The listeriosis epidemic is a timely reminder that the Harper government has reversed much of the progress that previous governments made on governing for public health.

There was one other thing in this editorial that caught my attention. They use polite terminology for it, but more or less the CPAJ is calling the initial call by Harper for a public inquiry on the Listeriosis outbreak  to be a sham, because the Devil is in the details, and if you look at the details,  this inquiry looks pretty toothless:

..the structure of the proposed investigation is deeply disappointing. According to the investigation’s terms of reference, listed on the prime minister’s website, no investigator at arm’s length from the government has been or will be chosen; the investigator will not have any power to subpoena witnesses or documents; the investigation will be closed to public participation; and there is no commitment to publish the investigator’s findings or to report to Parliament.  Such an investigation will be inferior to every epidemic inquiry in recent Canadian history. The inquiries into the tainted blood scandal, the Walkerton outbreak and the SARS epidemic all were arm’s-length exercises convened by an independent commissioner (usually a judge) who held open and public hearings and who wielded all the powers listed above.

In otherwards, Harper made a big show of announcing this public inquiry, but at the present, he has no intention of making it have any real power, and it will be a very closed-house secretive affair with no public accountability. The CMAJ editorial piece Canadians should demand better.  I agree, and I think this needs to be hammered on during the campaign trail.   2 things really – the fact that the inquiry as announced by Harper appears to be intended to be a white-wash, and needs to meet the standard of the SARS and tainted-blood inquiries, and  the fact that Conservative government’s mismanagement and wrong practises has helped contribute to this tragedy – not unlike what Mike Harris’s Conservative government did prior to the Walkerton tragedy.

I encourage you to read the whole CMAJ’s editorial.  The link to it is here

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