Food companies not allowed to sue Ottawa over mistaken recalls, B.C. court rules

On Aug. 17, 2007, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued two warnings about LA Salad baby carrots sold at Costco because they may have been contaminated with Shigella. The Agency said at the time that the carrots had already made four people sick, which triggered a subsequent recall in the United States.

The company responded by saying CFIA’s allegations weren’t supported by scientific fact and accused them of shoddy testing. In babycarrotsdocuments filed in B.C. Supreme Court, the company claimed damages due to a continued loss of business.

Six years later, a B.C. court ruled that it and other such companies cannot sue the federal government over mistaken recalls, saying CFIA inspectors owe a legal duty to the public, not the food producers they might wrongly accuse.

The National Post reports that with regulators more often criticized for failing to keep on top of foodborne illness, the case offers a rare view from the other side: producers who, deservedly or not, suffer hugely from public alerts.

If they don’t face any liability ever, they can make mistakes and never find out which food product was actually making people sick

The food-inspection agency should be held accountable in court when it points the finger at the wrong culprit, if only to ensure the real sources of outbreaks are uncovered, said Dale Sanderson, L.A. Salad’s Vancouver lawyer.

“If they don’t face any liability ever, they can make mistakes and never find out which food product was actually making people sick,” said Mr. Sanderson. “There should be an incentive to do a really good job. … I can’t believe the CFIA won’t recall food because they might get sued.”