System part of the problem: report

Peter Walsh
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FOOD SAFETY Study that prompted crackdown of meat industry calls for changes to inspections

The government inspection system that recently found human health risks at most provincially licensed slaughterhouses is itself part of the problem, according to an eye-opening report obtained by The Telegram.

Currently, three government departments - Health, Natural Resources and Government Services - are responsible for licensing and inspecting slaughterhouses. This often means meat processors require two licences to operate.

The government inspection system that recently found human health risks at most provincially licensed slaughterhouses is itself part of the problem, according to an eye-opening report obtained by The Telegram.

Currently, three government departments - Health, Natural Resources and Government Services - are responsible for licensing and inspecting slaughterhouses. This often means meat processors require two licences to operate.

"The existence of two sets of regulations creates agency crossover and double inspection duty among government inspectors. This inherently creates confusion among some of the processors with regards to which regulations they need to comply with and which government agency is ultimately in control," says a 2005 report by Ontario-based Mallot Creek Group.

The report was submitted to government but not made public. It recommends centralizing licensing and inspection to one agency. It also says the province should inspect its slaughterhouses at least five times every year. Currently, only one inspection is required per year for a slaughterhouse to renew its licence.

In April, 2005, the NL Livestock Council hired Mallot Creek Group to inspect 20 provincially licensed slaughterhouses and make recommendations to improve the provincial red meat industry, which only supplies about 2 per cent of the beef, pork and lamb purchased in the province. Mallot Creek found that many meat processors didn't know - or chose not to follow - the rules, especially proper sanitation, which promotes cross contamination of salmonella, campylobacter and E. Coli. All can lead to serious illness to humans - and in the case of one strain of E. Coli - even death.

"The importance of this deficiency cannot be overstated," says the report.

Mallot Creek also criticized the province. It said the rules of the Meat Inspection Act "are not being enforced by the applicable government agencies and field personnel" and concluded "The level of risk to the industry and consumers is high and one that must be addressed."

The report - while not made public - captured the attention of the province's chief veterinarian, Hugh Whitney.

Whitney soon dispatched his inspectors on a province-wide, indepth probe of all government licensed slaughterhouses. The province found the same serious human health risks as the Mallot Creek researchers.

Dirty blades and kill rooms, the risk of cross contamination, a lack of hot water and poor refrigeration were the most common problems.

The province's crackdown has reduced the number of slaughterhouses to 21 because some processors lost their licence. Many more decided not to invest in required upgrades and decided to go out of business. Provincial officials say all are now in compliance with the law.

However, as the Telegram reported Wednesday, at least one slaughterhouse has not made upgrades required under law. Meanwhile, the inspection system criticized by Mallot Creek in 2005 hasn't changed.

Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale rejects the report's conclusion that the province's license and inspection system is part of the problem.

"Obviously we don't agree with that because we haven't changed it. While there are three departments involved they all have very different but very significant roles to play," Dunderdale told The Telegram.

Gerald Kavanagh of Ferryland has been slaughtering animals since 1993. Kavanagh upgraded his plant after provincial inspectors came through in 2006. Kavanagh had to buy a knife sterilizer, upgrade pest control and the waste disposal system. Kavanagh claims to now have a "model" slaughterhouse. Unlike some processors previously contact by The Telegram, Kavanagh welcomed the crackdown.

"I congratulated Hugh Whitney for what they done. I warned them five years ago that the shit was going to hit the fan some unless they cleaned up their act."

Kavanagh is worried though the current licence and inspection system could allow safety standards to slip again to dangerous levels.

"Yes it can happen. It can reverse itself. I hope it don't. I hope the ship is steered in a straight line now for good," said Kavanagh.

Dunderdale says her department has past a point of no return and won't let health standards slip.

"Lessons have been learned as we've moved forward. When you go through the piece of work that we've gone through to go back into old habits wouldn't be a wise thing to do. What would have been the purpose of the whole exercise if we did that?"

pwalsh@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Telegram, Creek Group, Natural Resources and Government Services NL Livestock Council

Geographic location: Ferryland

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  • john
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    No more animal corpse for me!

  • john
    July 01, 2010 - 20:11

    No more animal corpse for me!