Safety testing by food industry in Canada started since March, report says

National co-operation needed on food safety

The Gazette

Published: Friday, August 22

 

Source of Article:  http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/editorial/story.html?id=f5918976-7156-4037-8bb8-8adfdfcb39cb

 

A nationwide outbreak of food poisoning, possibly connected to contaminated meat products, has led people across Canada to ask just how well protected Canadians are when it comes to food-borne (and other) threats to public health.

To date, one person, in Ontario, has died from a strain of listeriosis that health officials think might be linked to bacteria found at a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto. Officials have confirmed 17 other listeriosis cases - 13 in Ontario, two in British Columbia and one each in Quebec and Saskatchewan - and believe more will be found.

The link between the food poisoning and its likely cause was made thanks to Ontario's post-SARS tracking and information system, Dr. David C. Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, told CTV.ca.

It is hardly surprising that Ontario - the province hardest hit by the 2003 SARS outbreak - would set up a detection system, but Quebecers and others will be shocked to learn that no other province has done so.

This listeriosis case does not, of course, compare with the SARS epidemic, which killed 44 people in Toronto alone. But the fact remains that this outbreak will be contained because of the system put in place after the SARS scare. Post-SARS, Ontario set up a formal system to share "epidemiologic information" with other provinces and the federal government.

But in the absence of information from other provinces, the Public Health Agency of Canada cannot systematically analyze information. It cannot detect a pattern in data it doesn't receive.

This needs to be corrected. All jurisdictions should see the obvious advantages of sharing information about public health risks with each other and with Ottawa. The need for a central registry seems obvious.

Meanwhile, this case will also raise some questions in the public mind about planned changes to the federal meat-inspection system. An agriculture department document is reported to have outlined a plan to leave meat inspectors with only "an oversight role." Industry would implement and run food safety control programs.

That might be fine. This problem, after all, occured before this change was made. No system is perfect.

Whatever the rules, industry has a strong interest in selling healthy products, as Maple Leaf's vigorous, transparent effort this week demonstrates. But Canadians expect full explanations, and the assurance that the public interest comes first.

On food safety, Canadians will want redundant measures to make sure we are in no danger. And who can blame us for that?

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