XL Foods – Moments from the Emergency Debate in the House of Commons – October 3, 2012

Conservative MP talking points continually insisted that the budget for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency had increased.

Not so:

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, we were told by the parliamentary secretary that the budget would show new money for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. I think what we have here is a case of bait and switch.

If we go to page 168 of the budget, we will see the figure of $51.2 million in new resources under “Strengthening Food Safety” in big letters. That $51.2 million is over two years, split between three different agencies: the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency. By my reckoning, that is about $8 million a year if it is distributed evenly.

If we go to the fine print on page 261, we see $2 million less this year, $10 million less the next year and on an ongoing basis $56 million less.

There was the suggestion by the parliamentary secretary when she was speaking that there was $100 million new dollars to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, but she referred to the 2011 budget.

I have the 2012 budget which clearly shows that the funding for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is to go down year on year to a $56 million decline, holding steady by 2014.

Following the listeriosis outbreak in 2008, which claimed 22 lives due to contaminated meat products described rather euphemistically as “luncheon meat” and served to seniors in institutions, Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz established a public inquiry under Sheila Weatherill, former head of Edmonton’s health department.  The Weatherill Report detailed a culture of complacency and made over 40 recommendations.  In the October 3, 2012 emergency debate, the government claimed all recommendations had been implemented.  It is clear from reviewing those recommendations that they have not been followed.  It is also clear the lessons were not learned.

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, there has been a tremendous amount of confusion tonight between various parties claiming for themselves different facts…

I want to put this to my friend.

The Weatherill Report made a couple of observations that seem not to have been acted on. One of them is found at page 4 of the Weatherill Report, and this is referring to listeriosis. She said: “There was a lack of a sense of urgency at the outset of the outbreak”.

I think we are seeing that again. We are seeing misinformation and delays. The reality of the current crisis is that we do not seem to have learned from the last one.

The Weatherill Report’s starting point was that the concentration of meat production in a handful of giant operations made the system inherently less safe.  But neither Weatherill nor anyone else in the House of Commons seems to think that the model itself is the problem:

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I want to take this debate to a different level and I want to quote from the Weatherill Report. I think in addition to the fact that we have lost food inspectors and we are concerned about food safety, we may not be addressing the big picture. I just want to cite this from the Weatherill Report:

“The risks of food borne illness are also greater than ever before. Large-scale farming and food processing, the impacts of globalization with foods around the world all contribute to increased opportunities for contamination. These same trends make it harder to trace the source.”

I look at this one plant processing between 2,000 and 5,000 cattle a day, up to 40% of all the beef in Canada, and ask if perhaps the industrialized, concentrated corporate food model is not about food, but about corporate profits, and we would be better to support local farmers, local abattoirs and local processing.