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BC consumers will face new and higher risk: Agriculture union

Ottawa plans to dump inspection of dozens of meat plants on the British Columbia government in a move that could expose BC consumers to heightened risk of eating contaminated meat products, according to the Agriculture Union - PSAC, which represents federal food safety inspectors.

After providing meat safety inspection service for decades, the union has been advised by Canadian Food Inspection Agency that federal inspectors will no longer check BC establishments that produce meat for BC consumers exclusively for E. coli, listeria, salmonella and other contaminants that can have deadly consequences when eaten.

No later than January, 2014, responsibility will fall to the province of BC which has no meat inspectors and little of the support infrastructure needed to do the job to current but inadequate safety standards.

CFIA inspectors will continue to conduct food safety work in meat plants that are federally registered, a situation that will widen the existing gap in federal and provincial meat inspection standards.

At a news conference in Vancouver held to underscore the new risk consumers will face and the double standard this decision will only make worse, Kingston launched an online petition at calling on the government to change its plans.

For the government of British Columbia, the cost of inspecting almost 60 meat production facilities that are provincially registered will triple because CFIA has provided this service below cost for some years. 

With less than half of the required budget, BC will be faced with inspecting all provincially registered meat production facilities with an inexperienced staff that is not big enough to cover the territory and which lacks the necessary supportive infrastructure.

Provincial meat inspection standards are often much less stringent than those that are in place for federally registered facilities, said Agriculture Union President Bob Kingston.

Ottawa is also abandoning inspection of provincially registered meat plants in Saskatchewan and Manitoba which, like BC, have no meat inspectors.

As a result of this decision, inspection of meat from provincially registered facilities in these provinces will likely fall below acceptable standards, and will certainly be beneath the standards and meat inspection practices enjoyed by Canadians living elsewhere. 

The federal government is resurrecting the plan to abandon this service in BC, Saskatchewan and Manitoba after it was shelved following the Maple Leaf food poisoning outbreak which left 22 people dead.