Talking points on food safety cold comfort

What is disconcerting about the Conservatives’ continued attempts to explain away cuts to Canadian food safety is their reliance on the same, tired talking points.

In his letter to the editor, MP LaVar Payne refers to a “modernization agenda,” much in the same way his colleagues refer to the cuts as “searching for efficiencies.” Tragically, members of this government have a poor track record when it comes to budgetary efficiencies.

Three senior ministers in the current Conservative government were senior ministers in the Mike Harris government that made “efficiency cuts” leading to seven avoidable deaths from E. coli contamination in Walkerton.

Payne speaks to the evolving risks in food safety, yet fails to justify a weakening of regulations around one of our highest-risk food products – meat. Until this Conservative budget, meat imports were inspected separately, which is especially vital when one considers that only two per cent of agricultural and agri-food products coming into the country are inspected. While Payne speaks about “truth in labelling,” he doesn’t mention that the new complaint mechanism is a website where consumers will now be compelled to complain directly to the company. Anyone who has ever called a customer helpline will know attempting to have a complaint addressed can be frustrating and time-consuming at the best of times, so relying on the very manufacturer who exaggerated health claims or understated harmful effects in the first place is hardly an answer.

None of this is surprising from a government recently criticized for its lack of consideration for adequate and affordable access to safe and healthy food. Instead of speaking with, or even considering the recommendations of a United Nations food envoy, the government, true to form, attacked him and others who support finding a solution for the 2.5 million Canadians who cannot access nutritional, affordable and adequate food.

While Payne’s talking points are a great way to divert attention on an issue as serious as food safety, they are thin gruel for Canadians with allergies and dietary restrictions and they are cold comfort for Canadians who still remember Walkerton and the listeriosis contamination.