VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – You may want to avoid some food imported from the United States as long as the partial shutdown of the U.S. government rages on.
A food security expert says too few inspectors are on the job right now, and that could be casting a shadow on what you eat north of the border.
“On the meat side, not so much,” Professor Sylvain Charlebois with Dalhousie University in Halifax says. “Most inspectors are working in plants and they’re privately compensated and they conduct audits on a regular basis, so we shouldn’t be worried too much about meat products coming in from the United States.”
It’s things like produce that Charlebois is concerned about — items that are overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, one of the many departments caught up in the shutdown.
“I would include lettuce, melons, I would include, also, rice, tomatoes, onions, and carrots,” Charlebois notes as items that could become vulnerable because of the shutdown.
“The [Food and Drug Administration] is responsible for 80 per cent of all facilities in the United States, and they’ve had to cut back on some of their inspections,” he explains. “They are inspecting, but not as much as they used to.”
That’s not the only issue, however. Charlebois says the regulatory oversight of the entire system is “being compromised” as a result of what is happening with the U.S. government.
“For example, if an outbreak occurs, you want to collect data, you want things to be centrally coordinated within an industry or even beyond an industry. You want a regulator to communicator to communicate with other regulators, like in our case the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Right now, the CFIA in Ottawa is challenged to talk to anyone at this point because of the shutdown.”
According to Charlebois, almost half of the imported produce to Canada comes from the U.S., especially in the winter, and this point makes the country vulnerable to the shutdown.
“I suspect that given the uncertainty generated by the shutdown, I suspect that in the private sector here in Canada, companies will be more proactive. That’s what we saw last year with the Romaine lettuce issue.”
In 2018, a number of retailers across Canada pulled Romaine lettuce from their shelves amid an outbreak of E.coli in the U.S., as well as parts of Canada.