Disgraceful and shocking:
Four months before the Maple Leaf outbreak started claiming lives, Canada’s food safety agency quietly dropped its rule requiring meat-processing companies to alert the agency about listeria-tainted meat, a Toronto Star/CBC investigation has found…Before April 1, if a company preparing meat for sale to the public had a positive test showing listeria it “would have had to have been, not only brought to the (federal) inspector’s attention, but the inspector would have been involved in overseeing the cleanup,” says Bob Kingston, head of the union that represents Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspectors…The inspection agency confirmed to the Star/CBC that there is currently no onus on companies […]
I sure don’t:
Myself, I would have preferred if the Liberals would have been more specific in referencing the Canadian Medical Association Journal Article which blamed the Conservatives in part for this tragedy instead of just talking vaguely about failed measures, and I would have preferred talking about all the ex-Harris cabinet ministers that were in Mike Harris’s government whose similar measures led to Walkerton. It’s a good ad, but it could have been a much better ad.
Ultimately, as I and other progressive bloggers keep repeating, this shouldn’t be targeted solely on Ritz; this should be focused on the Conservatives policy in general of cutting funding for meat […]
Blast Furnace Canada is right – The Listeriosis outbreak is getting ugly:
An infant in Manitoba has died from listeriosis. It’s too early to say whether the death is linked to the problems at Maple Leaf, but it does make you wonder how much worse it is going to get before it gets better…Almost amazingly, Harper continues to stand by his man Gerry Ritz, saying that while the remarks were “completely inappropriate” the apology was enough.17 people dying is enough? Hundreds getting sick is enough?
I agree about Gerry Ritz, but let’s remember the bigger picture here, as Steve put into focus earlier at his blog. The main focus shouldn’t […]
Well, this listeriosis/meat inspection story seems to be taking on a life of its own. First the Minister Ritz controversy from last evening, and now we get this press release discussing the elimination of meat inspection programs in Manitoba:
If elected, a federal Conservative government plans to stop delivering provincial meat inspection programs in Manitoba leaving local consumers exposed to the risk of unsafe meat. The plan is revealed in a secret Treasury Board of Canada decision record, dated May 6, 2008, documenting the acceptance of a proposal concerning “Provincial Meat Slaughter Establishments (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia)” which calls for the “elimination of federal delivery of provincial meat inspection programs.” “Meat produced in provincially registered facilities in Manitoba would not be inspected by anyone under this plan,” says Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union – Public Service Alliance of Canada
I’ll have to read the document a bit further to see if they also propose cuts to the BC and Saskatchewan plants. It also mentions in this press release that the union has launched a website called www.foodsafetyfirst.ca. When you’re at that site, go to the “secret documents” page and there you’ll find a link to the PDF of the cabinet document (which I will provide an easy link to here), which is talking about the elimination of the meat inspection programs.
The news release goes on:
The government of Stephen Harper has steadily cut funding for food safety programs and shifted responsibility for safety assurance to the food companies themselves. According to current Treasury Board of Canada forecasts, funding for food safety programs will have declined by almost 30% from $359 million in 2006/07 to $254 million in 2010/11 under Mr. Harper’s watch. Meanwhile, the government plans to expand industry self-policing of safety. The same Treasury Board record also reveals plans to: “shift from full-time Canadian Food Inspection Agency meat inspection presence to an oversight role, allowing industry to implement food safety control programs and to manage key risks.”
Some of this we knew before, but I hadn’t realized the amount of cuts Harper had done for funding to food safety programs, so I thought it was worth repeating. As the release says, with the listeriosis tragedy the past few weeks, the government should be increasing food inspection, not cutting it, and that should also be the same for federal funding of the food inspection programs.
We are seeing the same pattern here with funding cuts and going away from testing as the Mike Harris Ontario government did with Walkerton. You know what happened there.. and the nation is seeing what is happening now with Listeriosis nation-wide. This is Conservative ideology playing with people’s lives, folks, and it needs to be stopped and reversed.
UPDATE: The Cabinet document does seem to state that the federal meat inspection programs in Saskatchewan and BC would also be eliminated in addition to Manitoba’s. The Food Safety First site summarizes it here.
UPDATE 2 @ 2:43 pm: Steve is right. This is more then just some offensive remarks by the Agricultural Minister, although those are important in the context of whether or not Ritz should be still a minister. But this information is important in asking Canadians what kind of governance they want, and whether or not they believe a reduction of food inspections and allowing companies to inspect themselves is the way they want to go, or not.
UPDATE 3 @ 2:48 pm: Great comment from Skinny Dipper here in this comments section: “Let’s transfer this great idea for Toronto restaurants. Instead of having municipal health inspectors checking on restaurants and giving them green signs for clean and safe restaurants, the restaurant industry can police itself. Green signs for everyone!”.
Yea.. I’m sure that would go over and work out real well.. so why do the Cons think this would be any better federally? Are they so ideologically against “government interference” and so pro “free enterprise” that they’re willing to sacrifice rigorous oversight on public safety, and instead ask the public to trust the food companies in a laissez-faire free-for-all when it comes to food safety?
UPDATE 4: I said last night in my original Ritz article that I’d give credit to a Blogging Tory if he condemned Ritz for his tasteless joke, and we have one:Atheist Conservative, who also calls for Ritz’s resignation. Very impressive.
Apparently, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz thought that the Listeriosis outbreak and subsequent deaths due to it was absolutely hysterical:
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz unnerved some public servants at the height of the listeriosis crisis by resorting to gallows humour during a conference call about a public health scare that has now killed 17 people…Sources who took notes during the call said Ritz fretted about the political dangers of the crisis, before quipping: “This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts.” . The disease was linked to cold cuts from Maple Leaf Meats. …when told about a new death in Prince Edward Island, Ritz said: “Please tell me it’s (Liberal MP) Wayne Easter.”
You’re a real riot, Ritz. I’m sure the families of the 17 people who’ve died from this outbreak really find your humour to be a balm for their losses. Let’s also not forget what I posted earlier – a Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial holds the Conservatives and their practises of removing the inspections from government inspections and letting the industry police/inspect its own meat to be partly responsible for this national tragedy, and criticizes the government for praising “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.”
This isn’t the first Cabinet Minister to think Listeriosis is a joking matter – Health Minister Tony Clement decided to try his comedy out in Denver at the height of this outbreak, while he was meeting with oil executives, but Ritz is over the top.. and he should be fired (or his riding should fire him themselves, since Harper won’t bother to do so).
Hat tip to nottawa, who is on blogging fire today.
UPDATE @ 8:26 pm: Hoo boy. Harper goes nasty again when responding to the CMAJ editorial. There were multiple contributors to this article, and CBC kindly lists them for us:
The editorial was written by Amir Attaran, Canada Research Chair in Law, Population Health and Global Development Policy at the University of Ottawa, and journal editors Dr. Noni MacDonald, Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, Barbara Sibbald, Dr. Ken Flegel, Dr. Rajendra Kale and Dr. Paul Hébert.
Yet here is Harper’s response:
As he defended his government’s record on food and product safety, Harper also dismissed criticism in an editorial of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, of his government’s approach to food inspection in the listeriosis crisis. He said it was one author who said it, not the position of the medical association. “This author is in our opinion not someone who is credible.”
Putting aside the fact that Harper can’t count, as Montreal Simon says, Harper has now apparently added doctors to their growing list of people Conservatives consider to be enemies.
UPDATE 2 @ 8:59 pm; The Progressive and Liberal Blogosphere is starting to explode with outrage at Ritz’s remarks.
UPDATE 3 @ 9:09 pm: The Liberals have released a statement calling for Ritz’s resignation, but I sincerely hope they do more then just issue statements. I know some war rooms down south that would be already done making their campaign ads on this issue to point out Conservative insensitivity and the wrong policies that failed Canada on this issue.
UPDATE 4 @ 10:22 pm: More blogosphere reaction from the Progressive and Liberal blogs. I’ll give credit to a Conservative blog if it shows the same outrage toward these comments, by the way.
UPDATE 5 @ 11:06 pm: Good points made by The Jurist looking at this story from another angle – that being that no actions were obviously considered against Ritz until all of this went public, and Ritz’s complete lack of judgement in the matter.
UPDATE 6 @ 11:17 pm: And yet still more blogosphere reaction on this story. I think this story was neglected a bit as a campaign issue, as I mused earlier today, but thanks to Minister Ritz, that is the case no longer.
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
I know there’s been some debate going on as to whether the Liberals should be going negative and if so, what type of “negative” we should be doing. I for one, think that the Liberals are doing the right campaign tactics when they are very tough on the Conservatives on such issues as the listeriosis outbreak:
The Liberals launched their first attack of the onrushing election campaign by accusing the Harper government of undermining food safety in the same way the Mike Harris Tories weakened water safety in Walkerton, Ont., a decade ago…Those of us from Ontario – and those across the country – remember Walkerton,” said Toronto MP Carolyn Bennett, who accompanied Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion at a news conference wrapping up a party caucus meeting here…”We remember when there was an active decision to reduce inspections and what happened to the health of those people in Walkerton,” said Bennett, MP for the riding of St. Paul’s, and the Liberal health critic. Cuts in regulatory spending by the Harris government in the mid-1990s contributed to the E. coli water tragedy that cost seven lives in Walkerton in 2000, according to the report of a public inquiry.
Liberal leader Stephane Dion on the same issue at the same press conference, calling for Agriculture Minister Ritz’s firing:
“Starting March 1, a change has been made that put our inspection situation where inspectors are more inspecting paper than meat,” Dion said. “And under the circumstances, because this change has been covered up, the minister cannot stay the minister.” Dion said that, like the Harris Tories, the Harper Conservatives “don’t believe in the role of the government” in regulating business. Dion noted that three key members of the Harper government – Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Environment Minister John Baird and Health Minister Tony Clement – were in Harris’s cabinet
There is nothing “negative” about pointing out how the Conservatives ideology and averseness to government regulation may have contributed to this health crisis, as the provincial Conservatives in Ontario under Mike Harris did in connection to Walkerton. That goes for going at them over such things as their own refusal to publish details about their own environmental plan to combat Greenhouse gases. Pointing out that this isn’t showing “strong leadership”, but hiding facts from the Canadian public again is not negative, but fair ball.
Personally, not only do I want to see more press conferences or campaign rallies doing similar themes to what Bennett and Dion did, but I want to see the same thing running in the Liberals campaign advertisement ads on radio and tv when the election campaign officially get started, (presuming Michaelle Jean doesn’t throw a curveball at Harper when he visits her).
UPDATE: Want to counter those pre-election election ads on Harper’s “strong leadership”? Liberal strategists and our party would be well advised to use some of the points that Carol Goar makes to shred that claim to pieces, and all done with facts, not personal attacks. Put those facts in the LPC ads, and have Dion and other Liberals pepper your speeches with these facts.
UPDATE 2 @ 2:14pm: I agree with Jennifer Smith’s approach, which I believe is the same thing that I’m advocating.
– Tom Flanagan came out yesterday and claimed that Harper really isn’t aiming for a majority, but a result that would weaken the Liberals further; part of what Flanagan called a war of attrition aimed at eventually destroying the Liberal Party of Canada and removing it from the political scene. Nice reason to spend 400 million $ for an election, eh? I’m not particularly surprised if that’s what he’s aiming to do. Quite honestly, the feeling is mutual; I’d love for this election to destroy Stephen Harper’s political career if he loses and send him scurrying back to the University of Calgary, where he and Flanagan and the rest of […]