Maple Leaf Foods, the Canadian company responsible for last year’s listeria crisis that killed 22, has backed recommendations from a parliamentary committee to overhaul the country’s food safety system.
Calls for a public inquiry, greater autonomy for Canada’s pubic health inspectorate and a proposal to boost the number of inspectors through greater funding, were just some of the recommendations made by the Agricultural Sub-Committee late last week.
However, there were fears the report’s message could be weakened after it emerged the committee members, divided on party lines, were unable to agree on one set of recommendations. The three opposition parties called for further public scrutiny, the need for closer cooperation with the United States on food safety standards and for food inspection reports to be publicly available. Conservative politicians issued their own document making no mention of proposals for a public inquiry.
However, Maple Leaf ignored the political in-fighting to publicly acknowledge its culpability in the matter and table a number of far-reaching recommendations. The company has already agreed to pay C$27m in damages to those affected by contaminated meat products originating from its Bartor Road processing plant in summer 2008.
National standards crucial
The company has called for the implementation of national standards for food inspection and declared the “patchwork of existing regulatory regimes cannot continue”. Maple Leaf also supported the committee’s suggestions for a comprehensive review of Canadian Food Inspection Agency resources, recognizing the need for sufficient number of inspectors to police and enforce the tougher safety regime.
Changes that result in faster identification of proven safety risks, either through greater cooperation between the government and other agencies or through accelerated testing and expansion of laboratory capacity were also key measures that need to be implemented, said a Maple Leaf statement.
Company president and CEO Michael McCain said: “The Committee has produced a comprehensive report that has important implications for advancing the strength of the Canadian food system.”
The report provided a clear direction for more improvements and Maple Leaf would take part fully in this process, McCain promised.
He added: "As a result of our responsibility for the listeria tragedy we had to improve, we did, and we will continuously. Maple Leaf will continue to take an advocacy role in the pursuit of improved practices across the industry, freely sharing our lessons learned and new approaches to food safety that contribute to a world class system for Canadians."