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Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is www.alexbinkley.com. Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ...

The Binkley Report

The right recipe for food safety

'Food safety is as much about education as punishment'

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

Image: Cover of Humanity's Saving Grace, a novel by Alex Binkley. Click to purchase at Amazon.ca

01 May 2015The latest war of words between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Agriculture Union creates an excellent opportunity to remind everyone that all the government policies and inspectors in the world won’t make our food safer.

What will, is making sure that every step in the food supply chain understands what’s expected of them in ensuring the safety of our food, and then monitoring them to make sure they’re doing it right from the farm to the grocery store or market. If not, tell them to clean up their act and if that doesn’t work, hit them with fines and legal charges.

Food companies have a powerful incentive to make safe food. Their bottom line and reputation with retailers and foreign food buyers takes a big hit if they market an unsafe product that has to be recalled or worse sickens or kills people. Remember the pain and agony Maple Leaf went through in the aftermath of Listeria being found in some of its deli meats. If the companies can’t make safe food products, they won’t be around for long.

Health Canada and CFIA have to set clear food safety standards for farmers, processors and retailers. That includes listening to the food industry, which has plenty of expertise on what preparing safe food is all about.

Much of the industry regards government standards as a minimum.

Once the standards are in place, then government agencies must ensure their inspectors can tell these policies are being met.

The XL incident in 2012 showed having inspectors in a plant is no guarantee of safe food. Nor is taking a gotcha approach to food inspection. Food safety is as much about education as punishment.

The latest food safety incident in the news is the recall of poultry products from Lillydale in Alberta for possible Listeria contamination. In this case, the company found a problem and informed the CFIA of the recall. Inspectors can’t spot bacteria, but they should notice conditions that might cause it in case someone in the plant didn’t.

Food in Canada is safe. There are food poisoning incidents, but not at levels that overwhelm our hospitals. Still the system could do better if everyone remembered their role.

There’s a national bottom line at stake. As well as keeping people healthy, a strong food safety system is essential to growing exports of Canadian food products. The agri-food industry is an important manufacturer in terms of job creation and purchases of domestic of farm output. We need to keep it healthy as well for our economic well being.

Alex Binkley

 

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