Ottawa – In the 2014 federal budget – the Economic Action Plan 2014 – the federal government plans on investing $390 million over five years to strengthen Canada’s food safety system.
The feds say that the funding is earmarked for:
• hiring more than 200 additional inspectors and other staff;
• establishing a national information system to enable authorities to move quickly to detect and respond to food safety risks; and
• continuing core bovine spongiform encephalopathy-related programming aimed at safeguarding human and animal health.
The federal government says it will also pursue legislative amendments as needed to facilitate the implementation of food safety program improvements.
Food safety programs
The federal government proposes providing $153.6 million over the next five years to enhance the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) food safety programs that target high-risk foods.
Funding will go to hiring the new inspectors and other staff, developing programs to minimize food safety risks and enhancing capacity to prevent unsafe food imports from entering Canada.
But University of Manitoba food safety expert and professor, Rick Holley, calls this reprehensible.
“The [investment] is being directed toward improving the CFIA’s food safety programs and toward detection of foodborne illness related events. It doesn’t really represent a significant effort to prevent foodborne illness from developing,” says Holley. “It’s consistent with the approach Canada has taken in recent history, the last 20 to 30 years, which is to direct its resources to identifying the problem rather than preventing it.”
In Canada, adds Holley, “in order to make any kind of progress in improving the safety of food, we have to understand better what the high-risk foods are and what the organisms are that are most important and we’re doing very little of this.”
Sharing food safety information
The Action Plan plans to provide $30.7 million over five years to establish a Food Safety Information Network to link federal and provincial food safety authorities and private food testing laboratories across Canada.
The network will allow food safety data to be compiled, analyzed and shared in real time, allowing for more rapid detection of and response to food safety hazards.
The Action Plan plans to provide $205.5 million over five years to the CFIA, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada to continue routine BSE-related programming aimed at safeguarding human and animal health, maintaining consumer confidence in Canadian products and enhancing market access.
Canada has implemented a suite of internationally recognized, science-based, routine measures to effectively minimize the likelihood of exposure and spread of BSE within the cattle population and to protect consumers from the associated human health risks.
But Holley also questions the value of this investment – in terms of what it will provide to Canadian consumers. “This [investment in BSE programming] will have very little impact on human health,” he says. “It’s really a trade issue.”
As Holley explains, the move and the investment is to help Canada maintain its commitments to the U.S. and other countries it trades beef with. From a business perspective it makes good sense, he explains, but it shouldn’t be represented as a food safety issue.
What Holley would have liked to see is more resources directed at FoodNet Canada sentinel sites. A sentinel site is a community from which in-depth data are gathered and the resulting analysis is used to inform programs and policies affecting a larger geographic area.
Canada’s FoodNet is patterned after the U.S. system, but says, Holley, it’s nowhere near as comprehensive or useful.