No confidence: Canada’s food safety rules good, but must be followed, enforced

Canada has an excellent international reputation for crafting rules and regulations and a lousy international reputation for verification and enforcement.

This has been a truism, along with the best health care in the world – it’s not – for the 50 years I’ve been around; others can speak to no-bs4more dated legacies.

Canadian Press picked up on this theme and applied it to food safety.

Veteran cattleman George Graham has a common-sense solution for how to prevent a repeat of an E. coli outbreak and extensive product recall in the fall that made 18 people sick, threw thousands out of work and smeared the Canadian beef brand.

Officials who regulate and work in the industry must simply do their jobs properly.

“We have an extremely good product and we have a very good food-safety program compared to other places around the world,” Graham said from his feedlot in southern Alberta where his family has raised cattle since 1918.

“We just need to be more vigilant that the job is getting done.”

It’s more complicated. The bugs are constantly changing, better science is developed, and the rules need to be flexible. And the best will always go above and beyond the minimal standard of government.

Professor Rick Holley, a University of Manitoba food safety expert, said there is no excuse for the sanitation problems that led to the closure of the Brooks plant.

He said Canada is respected around the world for its progressive food safety rules. The problem, he suggested, is that those rules are not as vigorously enforced as they should be.

How could 40 inspectors and six veterinarians at the XL plant somehow miss the problems?

Ron Glaser of Canada Beef – the marketing folks – said the industry is developing an information campaign that it is expected cow-faceto roll out in the new year, to reassure consumers.

It is likely to include information on how producers take care in raising cattle and an assurance that Canada has an extremely safe food system.

And it will be void of data.

The days of trust us, we’re farmers, processors, retailers, restaurants, has long passed.

If people want to know where their beef comes from as an indicator of confidence, put a url on the package so consumers can look it up; link to the farm and slaughterhouse; show them what happens; and, because farmers, processors, retailers, restaurants or even government inspectors have X-ray bacteria-sensing goggles, make test result data publicly available. McDonald’s demands that data from the slaughterhouses that provide beef for their burgers, why shouldn’t consumers have the same access?

Inexplicable Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the federal government has faith in JBS USA, the company that’s now managing the Brooks XL plant in Alberta.

“JBS is a tremendous corporate partner. They brought an era of food culture to that plant that we haven’t seen for quite some time so we look forward to them and moving on to the future.”

I get creeped when Ritz starts talking about food culture.

And I tried to parse the quote but my head started spinning, so I’ll leave that to my elders as well.