Stephen Harper and Gerry Ritz are talking tough now about strengthening our food safety system, after a listeria outbreak has led to the death of at least 15 people. And Tony Clement is down in Denver making macabre jokes. But before? Before the crisis they were doing everything they could to weaken the system:
OTTAWA — The Canadian government strongly opposed tougher U.S. rules to prevent listeria and lobbied the United States to accept Canada's more lenient standards, internal documents reveal.
Briefing notes prepared by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for an April 7, 2006, meeting with the board of directors of the Canadian Meat Council outline how both industry and the Canadian government were frustrated with the increased precautions the United States was demanding.
Specifically, Canada opposed daily inspection visits and the testing of finished products for Listeria monocytogenes.
Further, the documents show the CFIA agreed to the meat packing and processing industry's request to end a 20-year-old practice of having inspectors issue reports and rankings on facilities. The Canadian Meat Council complained the reports were ending up in the hands of reporters through the Access to Information Act, leading to bad coverage.
Yes, we wouldn't want the media to find out which plants were failing inspections and not meeting standards, would we? They would tell the public, and the public might decide to buy their food from the safer plants, forcing the bad plants to either improve or go out of business.
That would be...wait a minute, isn't that exactly how the free market is supposed to work?
The government documents indicate Canada's meat producers were frustrated that they must add more stringent safeguards to their production lines when producing meat for export to the U.S. market.
"Industry would prefer a single set of standards for both the Canadian and American market," states the document prepared by Dr. Richard Arsenault of the CFIA, anticipating what meat council board members would tell CFIA at the meeting. "[The CMC] will also express their frustration about the recent [United States Department of Agriculture] imposition of product testing for Listeria monocytogenes and of daily visits in U.S.-eligible meat processing plants."
When it comes to something as fundamental as food safety, we shouldn't strive for the lowest common denominator. And in certainly seems in hindsight like more listeria testing would have been wise. If we need to harmonize standards, and given the heavily export-driven nature of our economy I think that makes sense, shouldn't we harmonize to the highest standard?
Gerry Ritz thinks so...now, after the crisis has erupted:
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who is responsible for the CFIA, hinted this week that Canada might move toward U.S. practices of preventing listeria, such as the pasteurization of packaged meat.
But before the crisis his department was taking a different track:
But the documents reveal the CFIA lobbied the United States to adopt Canada's rules.
"The CFIA is working at bilateral levels to convince the USDA that its system is equivalent to theirs in order to minimize the need for extra import rules," the document says.
It's easy for Stephen Harper and Gerry Ritz to say now, after 29 confirmed cases of listeriosis and the death of 15, that they support higher standards. But these documents and the documents released previously show their true thinking on the matter.
It's their thinking then, before a crisis erupted, before the public and media glare was on them, that showed their true judgment. And they had it completely wrong. They're only now being shamed into stronger action by the glare of the public spotlight, following the eruption of a food safety crisis.
On how many more issues, on how many more matters that have yet to become a crisis, have they and are they now executing this same bad judgment? On how many more issues, on how many of the little, every-day decisions of governing that are so impactful on the country, are they donning they applying their ideological mantras to their decisions instead of governing in the best interests of all Canadians? Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers