Canada’s food watchdog is poised to raid its operational budget to build an internal contingency fund for emergencies such as last summer’s deadly listeria outbreak, claims the union representing government inspectors.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is officially denying the allegation, but Bob Kingston, head of the agricultural section of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said he learned of the change from multiple and senior agency managers.
He said he’s been told cuts to operations will average between 10 and 15 per cent nationally and regionally go as high as 20 per cent in Ontario.
“Basically right now in CFIA it’s common knowledge,” said Kingston. “Most employees are aware of the fact, they’ve been told there’s operation cutbacks coming this year.”
In an emailed response, the CFIA denied there will be any reduction in operational budgets. It said a $20-million emergency fund has existed since 2003.
The union allegation came as a special House of Commons committee was about to begin hearing witnesses today in a study of last year’s deadly listeria outbreak that claimed at least 20 lives. The CFIA released two “lessons learned” reports Friday afternoon addressing the outbreak, which was traced to a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto.
The reports acknowledged a shortage of “surge capacity” in the event of emergencies.