A retired food inspector is warning lax meat import rules leave Canada vulnerable to bioterrorism and outbreaks of dangerous bacteria such as Listeria.

“In these times the threat to security and terrorism is real,” says a report by Paul Caron, a former Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspector.

“There are outbreaks of animal diseases such as avian influenza and BSE (mad cow disease) in many countries of the world. ... The recent outbreaks of Listeria should illustrate what the potential is for the introduction of a food borne illness from an import meat source.”

The report says the problems begin at the border.

The CFIA pre-clears U.S. meat imports before they enter Canada. The agency tells American exporters at least three days ahead of time if their shipments will be checked.

The report says this could allow “unsavoury” exporters to dump unsafe meats into Canada, and it is an ideal means to smuggle contraband across the border or carry out acts of bioterrorism.

Conversely, the report adds, the United States inspects all meat shipments at its borders.

One in every 10 shipments to Canada is sent to inspection facilities for a closer look by a CFIA inspector. Depending where the meat is going, these facilities can be hundreds of kilometres from the border, the report says.

Companies can also choose which facility inspects their meat, it adds, which opens the door for importers and processors to “potentially choose an inspector who is more lenient in general, or worse yet, potentially an inspector with whom they have an arrangement.”

'Dicey meats'

The report says many inspectors are simply new to the job and lack the training and expertise to spot dicey meats. Turnaround time is another issue. The report says it can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to perform a proper inspection.