CFIA delays implementation of key food-testing requirement

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Last Updated: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 | 9:55 AM ET

CBC News

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has delayed an important element of its new listeria-testing policy in meat processing plants.

In February, the CFIA announced a new policy requiring companies to report the results of internal tests directly to the agency inspectors before CFIA meat inspectors conduct their own tests for Listeria monocytogenes, the deadly strain of bacteria linked to the deaths of 21 people.

But according to an internal memo obtained by the CBC and Toronto Star, the agency has suspended its own tests until April 1.

Companies had concerns about the way the agency's inspectors conducted the tests and the techniques they were using, CFIA spokesman Paul Mayers says.

"We take account of any stakeholders expressing interest, information and guidance in terms of how the rules will be applied," Mayers says.

As a result, the agency is in the process of training inspectors, he says. That is expected to be completed by April 1, but in the meantime, companies will continue conducting their own tests and submitting positive results to the agency.

A second internal memo obtained by the CBC and Toronto Star acknowledges that inspectors haven't been doing any of their own tests for three years, which could explain the delay while training is conducted.

In a move toward deregulation of the industry in 2005, the CFIA handed companies the responsibility for testing their own products.

The new policy's testing protocols come after a joint investigation by the Star and the CBC unearthed numerous monitoring problems on meat production lines.

The joint investigation found that shortly before the listeria outbreak last summer, the CFIA dropped a requirement compelling companies to inform inspectors when they had positive test results. That oversight has since been corrected.



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