Gerry Ritz deserves a vote of non-confidence
The XL Foods plant in southern Alberta, whose E. coli crisis sparked the country’s largest meat recall, is shown in this file photo. (The Canadian Press)
Published Friday, October 5, 2012 6:39PM EDT
Back when it was called Lakeside Packers, I toured the XL Foods slaughterhouse in Brooks, Alberta.
We started where plastic-wrapped steaks were loaded onto trucks and worked our way back through the increasingly-queasy meatpacking process until we got to the kill floor.
There the bleating moos of doomed cows would end abruptly to a sound like a dental drill as a metal spike was shot into their brains.
It was gross. I was turned off beef for months.
But the one reassuring thing I noticed was the abundance of inspectors and veterinarians in special hardhats throughout the process. They appeared to be taking plenty of samples while monitoring the slaughter and carcass cleaning intently.
Since then, this particular plant's culling capacity has expanded fivefold. Yet food safety union leaders insist that inspector levels have not kept pace.
But that's only part of the problem. The food safety agency president complains he lacks the power to compel test documentation. The plant owners have acknowledged the need to improve cleaning and staff training. And to top it off, the government's food safety budget will be 27 per cent lower next year.
There are predictable calls for Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to quit, even after the missing minister resurfaced in the House of Commons after three days of crisis non-communication. Putting down the Ritz won't happen under this prime minister.
But for downplaying the problem during those first critical days as the beef recall reached an historic high, Ritz deserves a vote of non-confidence for failing to appear in charge at a key moment.
There is no greater responsibility than to backstop public safety. That means making sure Canadians are safe from criminals, foreign threats and danger on planes. But nothing matters more than ensuring consumer confidence in the food supply.
Even as improvement is noted in the government’s response, perhaps we should be thankful that, on this particular weekend, it's time for turkeys not beef on the dinner table.