We should have spoken
up on Listeria: food agency
Source of Article: http://www.thespec.com/News/BreakingNews/article/468964
"There's been a lot of
hard questions asked ... in terms of how we can get information to the public
in as timely a way as possible," said Dr. Brian Evans, CFIA executive
vice-president and chief veterinary officer of Canada. "I accept the
criticism that there is a need for us to reflect and to do a much better job
of informing (Canadians)."
Evans and other CFIA officials were largely
invisible during the tainted meat tragedy that left at least 20 people dead and
made hundreds – perhaps thousands more – ill.
In the end, the public face of the crisis turned out
not to be public health officials at any level of government. That
responsibility was left to Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf
Foods, who sat before reporters several times throughout the outbreak to
answer questions millions of Canadians were asking as the death toll
"I think we need to work with the media and
others to have them understand the context of the programming we're doing,
what is the science that we're bringing to the work that we do, and I think
we have to be engaging with the public ... to make sure we're responsive in
the appropriate way," Evans said.
The invisibility of Evans and other CFIA officials
during the outbreak was in stark contrast to the very public approach of
officials during the SARS outbreak in Ontario
when the late Dr. Sheela Basrur
and her colleagues sat before reporters each day to update the government's
concerns, actions and next steps.
During the summer's meat outbreak, repeated requests
for media interviews with the CFIA were delayed and often denied outright.
The typical explanation from CFIA communications
staff was that approvals to speak were not forthcoming from senior government
officials, especially during an election campaign when the outbreak was
Evans said the political process should have no
impact on the CFIA's responsibility to address
Canadians on important public health matters.
"I'm not a politician. From our perspective,
food safety is not a political issue ... Where we have information that will
be helpful to Canadians, we need to make sure that
whatever the approval processes are, it's important that we're able to
One CFIA initiative that will help in that regard is
a newly formed advisory panel comprised of four prominent food safety
experts. The panel will consult with the CFIA on best practices and possible
changes to existing protocols.
One of the first tasks for the new panel will be
advising the CFIA on a set of proposed changes to listeria
testing in food plants, the details of which were first reported two weeks
ago by the Star and the CBC.
The proposed changes include mandatory listeria testing on plant surfaces such as countertops,
floors, ceilings and drains, immediate quarantine and testing of food after
two subsequent positive findings, and mandatory testing of actual food by
CFIA inspectors three times a year.
The proposed changes include a requirement that
company officials proactively warn CFIA inspectors when they encounter
positive tests – a protocol that the Star and the CBC found had stopped being
practised shortly before this summer's outbreak.
"While food safety should be the responsibility
of individual companies, the regulatory agencies have the responsibility to
verify that the food safety of the products produced is assured," said Harshavardhan Thippareddi, a listeria expert and associate professor of food science
at the University
"Thus, the regulatory agency can, and I believe
should, require companies to share any and all data that pertains to any
safety issue, in this case listeria testing