Food security is a growing concern

MP Jean Crowder writes that access to local, safe, humane slaughterhouses is one concern she continues to hear.

Nanaimo-Cowichan NDP MP Jean Crowder

Nanaimo-Cowichan NDP MP Jean Crowder

Local food security is a growing concern among my constituents.

Access to local, safe, humane slaughterhouses is one concern that farmers and food activists continue to raise.

It is clear that consumers and producers on Vancouver Island want small, local-scale slaughter and meat-packing plants, and we do have a number in neighbouring communities, including one in Westholme.

Even these provincially-regulated facilities are feeling the chill from the largest food recall in Canadian history and consumer wariness around the safety of our meat supply.

The first duty of any government is to keep citizens safe from harm. But it was American inspectors, not Canadian ones, who detected E.coli bacteria in beef from Canada’s XL Foods.

It took our government 12 days to issue even their first, limited recall. And the Agriculture Minister tried to reassure Canadians that no tainted beef had reached store shelves.

The next day, media began reporting on Canadians falling ill from tainted meat and the largest food recall in our history; fully a third of all Canadian beef products had to be pulled from the shelves.

The Conservatives’ priorities on food safety are wrong. They adopted “industry self-regulation” for food safety. They cut funding for food inspection in their last budget. And they’re wrong to not take responsibility for this and help all of the beef producers, large and small, that are seeing their sales decline.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency Reports on Plans and Priorities — signed and tabled by the Minister of Agriculture himself on May 8 — makes it clear why food inspection services are waning.

“Planned Spending is declining by approximately $46.6 million and 314 FTE’s from 2012-13 to 2014-15.” — 1.5.1 Financial Resources and Human Resources CFIA Reports on Plans and Priorities.

When consumers lose confidence, it’s the industry that pays the price.

According to experts, the BSE crisis cost the beef industry more than $5.5 billion. Our small producers were hurt just as much as the large producers even though they often do not have the same food safety problems.

The union representing workers at the XL Foods plant in Brooks confirmed that workers have been scared into refusing to report food safety issues at the plant. Among these serious concerns is a failure to properly clean knives on the production line and a processing speed that is far too fast.

Conservatives should start listening to worried families, take this crisis seriously and help mitigate the impact on Canada’s beef industry.

The priority should be the services Canadians depend on and the safety of our food supply.