Proposed meat inspection rule changes draw NDP fire

A proposed change to Canada's meat inspection rules could permit meat from already-dead animals to be processed for human consumption, although federal inspectors say that would only happen on rare occasions.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz calls the NDP statements 'outrageous rhetoric'

The NDP claims attempts to streamline the federal Meat Inspection Regulations will call into question the safety of meat for human consumption. (Mohammad Hannon/Associated Press)

A proposed change to Canada's meat inspection rules could permit meat from already-dead animals to be processed for human consumption, although federal inspectors say that would only happen on rare occasions.

The proposed changes to the inspection regulations will leave Canadians wondering if the meat they buy is actually safe,  federal NDP says.

But the Canadian Food Inspection Agency disagrees, saying the changes designed to streamline the system have only been proposed at this point and if passed would have no effect on food safety.

The NDP released a statement Tuesday saying the Conservative government will allow private inspectors, who may not be qualified, to inspect meat and also change what meat is acceptable — meaning already-dead and crippled animal meat would be okay for processing for the tables of Canadians.

The party is also concerned how budget cuts to CFIA mixed with the proposed regulation changes would affect the inspection of meat for human consumption.

"First the Conservatives will let private inspectors monitor meat, and now they’re essentially allowing road-kill-ready meat into the food supply," said Malcolm Allen, the NDP agriculture critic. "Even scarier is the fact that we won’t know how long animals have been dead before processing — or even that the meat will be inspected at all."

Tim O’Connor, a spokesperson for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said that is untrue.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says the amendments would not reduce food safety in any way. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"Dead stock is not allowed for human consumption," he said.

He said right now the federal rules are black and white: under no circumstance can an animal designated for human consumption be slaughtered outside of a registered facility.

With the proposed rule changes, O’Connor said there could be a possibility for rare cases where an animal could be slaughtered on farm; for example, if a steer broke its leg or was too aggressive to be safely transferred.

"It would only be under very limited circumstances," said O’Connor.

Since losing the steer would be a financial hit to the rancher, they could seek approval from CFIA for euthanizing the animal at their location.

They would need an inspection by a veterinarian to verify the animal is safe for human consumption before it is euthanized. The vet would also certify the date and method.

Then the rancher would have to document their techniques, which would have to fall in line with humane treatment and the Health of Animals Act requirements, before transferring the meat to a processing plant within a required time frame where it would be inspected again.

Details still to be worked out

O'Connor said the exact protocol still has to be worked out, as the amendment proposal is still in its early stages and still has to go through a consultation process.

He said the role of private inspectors or veterinarians is also still undecided, and would still have to fulfill current food inspection requirements.

Meat pegged for interprovincial and international trade has to be completed at a federally-registered processing plant, which would have to follow food inspection requirements already in place.

There are some processing plants and slaughterhouses that are not federally-registered, but O'Connor said regulations for those facilities fall under the control of each province.

"The NDP know full well, despite their outrageous rhetoric, that this proposal will not reduce food safety in any way," said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in a statement.

"Only live animals that are inspected and safe for human consumption but cannot be transported safely and humanely would be eligible for on-farm slaughter and then transported to a federal processing facility."

John Masswohl, director of government and international relations at Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said the proposed rule change is a win-win situation for the better treatment of the animals.

He said it's better to euthanize an injured animal on a farm and then transport it.

"Right now, the farmer could only choose to transport it or euthanize and dispose of it," Masswohl said.

He also said diseased or dead animals would not be considered.

"I don't know where [the NDP] are coming from, or what regulations they read," said Masswohl.