In June, MP David Wilks chose to make significant cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency by voting in favour of the Conservative omnibus budget bill. Liberals voted against these cuts because Canadians deserve to feel confident that their food supply is protected just as our farmers and ranchers deserve safe and stable business.
Unfortunately, these cuts went ahead and undetected E. coli contamination at the XL Foods facility in Brooks, Alberta, led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history, spanning all the provinces and territories, plus 41 states. Alarmingly, the outbreak was first detected by US food inspectors, not CFIA, and it took over two weeks for the first recall to be issued. At least 10 people have fallen ill. Conservative messaging that everything is fine is cold comfort to those who are sick or were exposed to E coli.
Canadians expected the government to heed the lessons of the 2008 listeriosis crisis, which left 22 dead and 35 others gravely ill. Yet the comprehensive audit of our food safety system recommended by an independent review has yet to occur four years later.
Not only a terrible human tragedy, this may turn out to be the worst crisis in our beef industry since the discovery of BSE, or mad cow disease in 2003, which led to an immediate worldwide ban on all Canadian beef exports. Our cattlemen and food processors are at risk of another financial body blow, yet the Conservatives have just cut farm risk management programs, Agri Stability and Agri Invest.
Why is Mr. Wilks cutting support for farmers in crisis? Why is he supporting cuts that remove vital resources from food safety professionals and creating a space where the industry is responsible for more and more of its self-regulation?
Waiting for Canadians to get sick is not a food safety strategy. Liberals support our scientists and professionals who are on the front line of food safety and call on Mr. Wilks to do the same.
Frank Valeriote, MP
Liberal Party Critic for Agriculture and Agri-Food