There's growing concern over the Harper government's decision to close its food inspection lab in St. John's, as a union official says the decision could delay the inspection of seafood exported from this province.

Until now, samples of seafood exported from this province went through the St. John's lab.

They will now have to be shipped to a lab in Dartmouth, N.S., instead.

Fabian Murphy — vice-president of the Public Service Alliance's agriculture union, which represents the lab workers — warns that with a shelf life of 48 hours, samples may not always make it to Nova Scotia in time.

"I guess it's difficult enough to get them into St. John's from around the island," Murphy told CBC News. "So now to have to move them to Nova Scotia is going to create a delay for sure."

Closing the lab in St. John's is part of the Harper government's decision to cut the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's budget by $56 million over the next three years.

Murphy fears the government's long-term strategy is to privatize food inspection, regardless of the risks to food safety.

But Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is defending the changes, saying facilities in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. are more modern and better equipped to handle complex food and plant testing.

"The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is not making any changes that would in any way reduce the safety of Canadian food," Ritz said in a prepared statement.

"The move will create enhanced pools of scientific expertise in two geographic areas instead of three, allowing the agency’s scientists and diagnosticians to work together more closely and efficiently."