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U.S. report says inspections of Canadian
meat imports have been deficient
Libby Quaid, Canadian Press
January 10, 2006

WASHINGTON (AP) - Two years ago, U.S. food safety officials warned that Canadian meat and poultry inspections were lacking, yet the Agriculture Department refused to stop the flow of imports from Canada, a department investigation found.

Since then, two billion kilograms of processed meat made its way to U.S. supermarkets and restaurants, according to a report from the department's inspector general.

The Agriculture Department said Monday it had addressed problems at individual Canadian plants, some of which lost export privileges.

"In no instance was public health placed at risk," said Richard Raymond, undersecretary for food safety.

Meanwhile, Canada has altered its system in an attempt to comply with U.S. rules. As the leading foreign supplier of fresh and frozen red meat to the U.S., Canada shipped more than $2 billion US worth in 2004, according to department reports.

In a November 2003 memo to then-secretary Ann Veneman, the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service warned that public health could be compromised if the agency didn't respond immediately to deficiencies in Canada's system.

Yet food safety officials postponed a review of Canada's system the following year. According to an internal e-mail, Veneman directed FSIS to work with Canadian inspection officials to resolve the differences.

"When FSIS officials returned to Canada in May 2005, they continued to find the same types of deficiencies they found in 2003," the report said.

The department halted shipments of beef and live cattle after the discovery of mad cow disease in Canada in 2003; those restrictions have since been lifted.

The report was obtained Monday by The Press.

The inspector general identified three big concerns with Canadian inspections:

-Inspections were not done daily at Canadian food processing plants.

-Canada lacked adequate sanitation controls.

-Inspectors didn't sample ready-to-eat products for listeria, which can cause deadly food poisoning.

Daily inspections are required at U.S. processing plants, and the law requires foreign countries to have equivalent inspections. U.S. officials halted imports from Australia in June 2004 and Belgium in 2003 because those countries didn't have daily inspections, the report noted.

A critic said the Agriculture Department seems to have a "make it up as we go" attitude in deciding which country's standards match U.S. standards.

"This undermines the integrity of American food safety standards and consumer confidence in our meat supply," said Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, senior Democrat on the Senate agriculture committee.

Raymond noted that U.S. inspectors have doubled their testing for listeria at Canadian ports in the past two years.

Canada has made changes since last year, a Canadian Food Inspection Agency official said.

U.S. report says inspections of Canadian meat imports have been deficient Libby Quaid, Canadian Press Published: Tuesday, January 10, 2006 Article tools Daily inspections have been done at processing plants since late summer, said Bill Anderson, CFIA director of food of animal origin. Canada is still trying to get the U.S. Agriculture Department to accept its previous random inspection system, he said.

Canada's tests for listeria are internationally recognized, but inspectors there have switched to the U.S. approach of testing finished products, Anderson said. And all processing plants have been ordered to comply with sanitation controls similar to those in the U.S., he said.

The Agriculture Department said it will take until 2007 to make a final decision on whether Canada's system is equivalent to the U.S.