Nova Scotia

AG report slams meat industry inspections

Nova Scotia's Auditor General Jacques Lapointe released his report Wednesday, and he's not impressed with how inspections are done in the Nova Scotia meat-processing industry.

Nova Scotia’s Auditor General Jacques Lapointe released his report in the House of Assembly Wednesday, and he’s not impressed with how inspections are done in the Nova Scotia meat-processing industry.

Lapointe looked into meat inspections and said there are a number of issues, from how the plants are inspected, to how often they are inspected and the lack of follow-up when problems are found.

Lapointe said there aren't clear guidelines on what inspectors should be looking for. He said, for example, they don't test for bacteria, instead they simply rely on visual inspections and their experience.

"What they do in each case is not well-documented," Lapointe told reporters Wednesday. "The process is not adequate at all."

He also said the province is falling short of meeting its goal of inspecting every plant once a month. 

When inspectors find a problem, companies aren't given a deadline to fix it.

Lapointe noted in his report that "many facilities are not taking meat safety as seriously as they should."

There were no specific examples of tainted meat landing on store shelves.

However, Lapointe did point out 133 deficiencies that were detected by inspectors during inspections, most involving sanitary issues. He also said there was " evidence of any follow-up to ensure deficiencies corrected, 21 repeated in subsequent inspections, 11 of them over two or more reports."

In one extreme case, the same deficiency was found in four consecutive inspections over a period of two and a half years.

Lapointe made a number of recommendations to bring accountability to the inspection process. He said inspectors can shut down a plant for major violations, but that they should also be able to ticket and fine plants that don't fix the less serious problems.

"They need to look at this grading system, and they need to be a little more sophisticated about it," Lapointe said. "They need to give inspectors the tools to deal with it, more specifically, they need different forms of enforcement. They don't have those tools right now."

Safe system

Agriculture Minister John MacDonell admitted there are some issues, but insisted the system is safe.

"There's never been an incident of a health issue that's been connected to any of our slaughter houses or processing facilities that we have ever been aware of," said MacDonell.

MacDonell said most of the deficiencies identified in the report are minor, and the fact that there has never been an outbreak of illness from a Nova Scotia meat plant, means consumers have nothing to worry about.

However, MacDonell said they will implement all the recommendations in the report — including having inspectors test for bacteria.

There are 14 meat-processing plants in province and 28 slaughter houses in Nova Scotia.