Inquiry tiff overshadows food safety advice: MP

Source of Article:  http://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=1625095

 

Posted By BILL HENRY, SUN TIMES STAFF

Posted 6 hours ago

Disagreement over calling a full public inquiry into the Listeria food poisoning outbreak last summer has overshadowed a parliamentary committee's strong agreement to put more resources into the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, MP Larry Miller said.

Boosting the agency, either with more inspectors on the ground or a change in the system, was the report's dominant recommendation, while news reports focused instead on dissent over calling an inquiry, Miller said.

The Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP is chairman of both the federal agriculture committee and its food safety subcommittee, which in a report late last week called again for a Listeria inquiry, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper has rejected.

The opposition dominates the committee, prompting government members to file an opposing minority report that supports Harper's position, as does Miller. Conservatives on the committee say Harper has already appointed independent investigator Sheila Weatherill to examine the food-poisoning outbreak.

The committee's report also highlighted a need for more inspection oversight in meat plants. That would help avoid another outbreak like the one traced to Maple Leaf deli

meats and connected to 22 deaths last summer.

The committee also points to delays in warning the public about the outbreak. Toronto health officials first saw an increase in cases about mid-July. Health warning to Canadians weren't announced until mid- August once the first deaths were reported.

Miller said despite that, and partly because Maple Leaf was quick to accept responsibility and trace the problem to a flaw in its cleaning system, Canadians retain "strong confidence" in the food safety system, which he said the report indicates needs more frequent and stringent review.

"No system is perfect," Miller said. "There's always ways to improve your systems. But was there a big glaring hole in the system? No. I don't think the report speaks to that at all."

Miller also said the minority report from Conservative committee members agrees with the substance of the overall report, just not the call for an inquiry.

"The only difference of opinion was on the fact of whether to call another inquiry especially when there's one already going on the government side," Miller said. "The report speaks against having another inquiry just for the sake of having it."

The Weatherill investigation has already heard from more than 70 witnesses for 50 hours of testimony detailed in 900 pages of documentation, Miller said.

Once Weatherill reports, the committee could decide if a full-blown public inquiry could add anything, along with the committee's report from last week.

Opposition members, including Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter, have said the $2.7 million Weatherill investigation behind closed doors is meant to cover up any government lapse during the outbreak.

That's just "politics" said Miller, noting Easter would not commit a Liberal government, if elected, to the full-blown inquiry the subcommittee asked for.

Easter and Liberal colleague Dr. Carolyn Bennett said the food safety committee by itself wasn't able to get to the bottom of contradictory testimony.

For example, Easter said the committee couldn't determine exactly when the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a federal body, first heard about the Listeria crisis.

Other puzzles included amended food-inspection reports, conflicts between federal food safety officials and provincial and municipal ones, and confusion over the number of government food-safety inspectors.

With files from Sun Media

 

 

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