EU food safety standards could bring boom or bust to Ukraine

Ukraine’s huge agriculture sector has long been constrained by outdated food safety regulations and practices that have limited the country’s export and investment potential.

ukraine_agricultureBut that should change soon, according to Volodymyr Lapa, the head of the new food safety and consumer protection state regulatory body.

Lapa told the Kyiv Post that new laws that came into force in January have finally brought Ukraine’s food safety and consumer rights legislation into line with that of the European Union.

The new legislation aims to improve standards of hygiene and food safety, as well as government supervisory procedures. Under the law, and to comply with the minimum requirements for exporting to the EU, all Ukrainian producers and retailers must conform to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points standards.

But according to the International Finance Corporation, which advises businesses and the government on how to achieve HACCP standards, only several hundred out of thousands of Ukrainian companies currently comply with them. In 2010, the corporation calculated that 200 out of 20,000 or so manufactures had implemented HACCP standards, though figure does not include retailers.

Under the new laws, the Food Safety and Consumer Protection Agency that Lapa heads will replace the assortment of inspectorates that now exist. A total of 30,500 people are currently employed to regulate various aspects of food and consumer safety, while in future the number will be reduced to 10,000 people.

This sounds familiar: CFIA admits analysis of beef tests inadequate in E. coli outbreak

With the Public Health Agency of Canada late to the public scene as usual, Sarah Schmit of Post Media reports the Canadian Food Inspection Agency conceded Monday it was a mistake not to require companies to analyze test results of beef trim to “connect the dots to get the big picture.”

Richard Arsenault, the agency’s director of meat inspection, confirmed changes are coming so companies will need to do more than test for E. coli and start analyzing data as part of a statistical process control.

The testing requirements were “fairly rigorous” but “in terms of connecting the dots to look for these pictures” they didn’t have to do that, Arsenault said in an interview Monday. “We didn’t think that was something that would have been useful. We now know that it is, so that’s why we’re going to change it.”

Hundreds of beef products have been recalled since Sept. 16, and the CFIA has indicated the recall is likely to expand. CFIA has since temporarily suspended the operating licence of XL Foods Inc.’s facility in Brooks, Alta. The plant, the second largest slaughterhouse in Canada, is also no longer allowed to ship product to the United States.

Under the N-60 sampling program, companies are required to test at least 60 pieces of beef trimmings stripped from the carcasses that go into hamburger meat, regardless of the size and weight of the lot.

“If they don’t put the dots together to get the big picture for the day, they may be missing something. And that’s where we have an improvement and we’re going to make something happen,” added Arsenault.

Bob Kingston, the Public Service Alliance of Canada Agriculture Union president, said CFIA’s new commitment seems “to fly in the face of what the CFIA promised to Canadians after the Maple Leaf outbreak that companies are required to test, analyze and report results showing contamination. It would appear that the CFIA forgot this requirement. This is troubling to say the least,” said Kingston, referring to the deadly listeriosis outbreak of August 2008.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair picked up on this theme during question period Monday, when he chastised Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

“This is the same minister who mishandled the listeriosis outbreak in 2008, and joked about ‘death by a thousand …. cold cuts.’ It was not funny then, and it is not funny now. Is this the best they have to offer Canadians who are worried whether the food they are giving their kids is safe?”

Speaking on behalf of the government, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Ritz “is working very hard and is working sincerely to ensure that this issue is dealt with appropriately, including ensuring we have more food inspectors and more meat inspectors. It goes further than that, we have new legislation that has been introduced, safe food for Canadians, to help CFIA respond to food safety situations quickly,” MacKay said in the House of Commons.

In the case of the XL Foods facility in Alberta, 40 CFIA inspectors and six veterinarians are stationed at the plant full-time, split in two groups to cover two production shifts at the massive facility. The plant produces about one-third of Canadian beef.

It’s quintessentially Canadian to complain about the government and frame food safety things using political filters, but why hasn’t the company, XL Foods, which has received hundreds of millions of tax dollars over the years, not  been out on the public communication frontlines?