Ritz to meet with head of government probe into listeriosis outbreak
Source of Article: http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2009/04/29/ritz-listeriosis029.html
Last Updated: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 | 8:21 PM ET
The Canadian Press
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 23. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz will meet with the head of a government probe into the listeriosis outbreak, he confirmed Wednesday.
Investigator Sheila Weatherill will question Ritz about his role in the outbreak last summer of the food-borne illness that caused the deaths of 22 people who ate deli meat tainted with the listeria bacteria. The bacteria was traced to a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto.
The Edmonton health care executive appointed by the prime minister to head the listeriois investigation raised eyebrows last week when she conceded she had not formally spoken to Ritz since being hired in January.
Ritz, who oversees the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the country's food safety watchdog, seemed a rather glaring omission on Weatherill's witness list — and Weatherill refused to say whether the minister would be interviewed.
But Ritz told a special parliamentary panel on food safety Wednesday he will meet Weatherill for questioning "in the coming days."
Ritz's appearance at the food safety panel will be his first real grilling over the listeriosis outbreak.
He apologized last fall after The Canadian Press reported that he unnerved some public servants by cracking tasteless jokes during a conference call about the outbreak last August.
Ritz quipped: "This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts."
Weatherill must report to Ritz by July 20, which is four months past the original March 15 due date set when Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised an "arm's-length" investigation last September.
Secrecy shrouds Weatherill's work. It's not known exactly who she has questioned, and she isn't speaking to reporters until she hands in her report.
Maple Leaf Foods apologized for the contamination at its plant and agreed to pay up to $27 million to settle class-action lawsuits with the hundreds of people who fell ill and relatives of those who died.
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