Statement and transcript from technical briefing regarding memo to inspection staff at XL Foods Inc.
On November 29, 2012, CFIA representatives held a teleconference briefing to correct allegations that a CFIA memo directed inspection staff to perform certain tasks for meat destined for export to Japan, while ignoring food safety controls for domestic meat.
- Paul Mayers, Associate VP of Programs, CFIA
- Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, Executive Director, Western Operations, CFIA
- Dr. Robert Charlebois, Executive Director, Quebec Operations, CFIA
Thank you for being with us for our technical briefing for today. With us here our guest speakers from the CFIA we will have with us Paul Mayers, VP of Programs. We will also have Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, Executive Director, Western Area Operations and Dr. Robert Charlebois, Executive Director of Québec Operations.
We will start today with a statement by Paul Mayers and a statement by Dr. Charlebois. We will then follow that up with a question and answer period.
Thank you very much Guy and good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. On November 28, 2012, CTV reported on a four-year-old memo sent to inspectors at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The union, which represents inspectors, has recently alleged the memo directed inspection staff at XL Foods Inc. to perform certain tasks for meat destined for export to Japan, while ignoring food safety controls for domestic meat. This is categorically false.
The CFIA ensures that the same stringent food safety standards are applied to domestic and exported products. This was the case four years ago and it remains true today. Within meat plants, there are specific inspection tasks conducted at various stations and production points in production. The memo referenced simply emphasized this division of labour.
This information was clarified with the union and front line inspection staff over three weeks ago when the union first brought their allegations to the CFIA's attention. It was also explained in detail on two occasions to CTV.
What the union and CTV fail to mention is that every carcass processed in Canada must meet Canada's high food safety standards. This is required by law. There is zero tolerance for any form of contamination, and critical control points to detect problems are in place at multiple points throughout the inspection process. If at any time during inspection a potential risk to food safety is detected - regardless of the product’s destination - the line is stopped and product is held until the concern is resolved and product is in compliance.
Canada’s food safety system is recognized as world-class and is constantly verified by the audits of our trading partners.
The CFIA's first priority is safety. We are fully committed to providing Canadian consumers the protection they expect and deserve.
Thank you Paul. Dr. Charlebois.
[Dr. Robert Charlebois delivers the above statement in French.]
Thank you Dr. Charlebois. I will now turn to the question and answer period.
Hello. My question is what is the purpose of the Japan dura mater position if all the meat is inspected to the same level? What is the role of that particular inspection station? What happens there?
This is Harpreet Kochhar. Thank you for the question. This specific inspection station, this is the stationary place where our inspection staff is actually confirming things which would facilitate trade to Japan. In other words if I may explain a little further the inspection staff at this point makes sure that the requirements for exportation to Japan are met which are removing the spinal cord as well as dura mater, making sure that that very point that has been done in advance of reaching the station, also making sure that this is identified as Japan eligible because they require animals under 20 months of age which are eligible to be sent to Japan. This is a specific station which is beyond all the other food safety controls really looking at these three or four conditions which would make this product eligible for exportation to Japan.
Okay. My follow up to that is are there points after that where inspectors would be looking for the same evidence of spinal cord dura mater on the carcasses? Would that be inspected elsewhere along the line after that Japan dura mater point?
In terms of this position, the reason why this is a specifically staffed position is to ensure that nothing escapes this point. However as in the normal production there are animals which are coming on the line which are Japan eligible and which are non Japan eligible too. In either case this specific position actually focuses on removal of that. Beyond that there are other intervention steps which are quality assurance from the plant management.
We have compliance verification tasks which are performed by the inspection staff and there are other interventions which will take care of if there is any bacterial or any other contamination. Those things will all encompass actually looking at the different aspects of food. However beyond that point for Japan specific that is the only point where we are looking at that so that we can ensure that this is actually going to be eligible for Japan.
That sounds like it's a more rigorous inspection for Japanese meat.
That is not true. It is actually a place from where we can facilitate identification of Japanese eligible meat. It has got nothing specifically different from the food safety interventions which we do in the whole inspection system.
Yes, hello. So, I just heard the answer and the question that was asked about you saying that there's a station for meeting import standards for Canadian beef going to Japan and that that explains the reason for this memo, but at the same time, aren't these in fact standards, I mean standards that separate the production line for inspecting beef going to Japan from other production lines, namely for beef going elsewhere, meaning to Canada?
Yes, of course. Well, it must be understood that that particular inspection station is a station that is there in addition to the usual number of product safety inspection stations. So the same safety standards apply to all products regardless of whether they're intended for Canada or Japan, or any other country, for that matter.
In this case, the station is meant to verify trade conditions specifically, that the trade conditions required by Japan are met on top of the product safety standards. It's important to make that distinction.
In my opinion, these trade standards are also a form of safety standard. What I mean is that the carcasses are being verified and that's another level of legislation, but wouldn't Canadians have a right to a system as stringent as Japan's, that allows for an additional step in the inspection process?
As I was trying to explain to you, the same basic safety standards are always met, regardless of the product's destination. It's important to note that. Whether the product is over or under 20 months of age, for example, that's a criterion. So that doesn't mean that products that don't meet that criterion are totally unsafe. That's not at all the case.
I just wanted to clarify the standard for Japan where there is 100% verification of spinal cord dura mater removal, is that also happening for meat that goes to Canadian markets?
Just to be clear and in relation to the two previous questions as well, the food safety standard is the same. Products destined for any of those markets must have specified risk materials removed and no evidence of visible presence of SRM materials is tolerated. The Japan station addresses the fact that Japan has a specific requirement in terms of market access that the animals be derived, that the carcasses be derived from animals 20 months or less and that station addresses the eligibility for Japan in the context of those specific requirements.
All of the food safety parameters are the same and products no matter where it's destined are subject to the same set of requirements as it relates to SRM, as it relates to no evidence of fecal or intestinal materials. Those constitute an adulteration and there is zero tolerance for the presence of those in any of the products.
If I just may ask a question about XL Foods and its ability to export to the US. Has CFIA completed its assessment of the plant's operation and if so has that assessment been sent to FSIS in the US?
That's correct. We have completed our assessment in that regard. We have provided to the Food Safety Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture the package of information reporting on our assessment and our recommendation for re-listment of XL Foods Incorporated.
Hi, can you hear me? Okay. I guess I'm just looking for clarification. You're saying that the rest of the meat does get decontaminated along the chain but we are hearing from people who say that those particular steps are not good enough. The showers aren't good enough, that the meat should be actually trimmed. I'm just wondering is there a reason why first of all if in fact there is a reason why you told them to ignore the meat as it passed by them if it wasn't from Japan. Is there a reason why you did that?
Just to be clear, because this is a very important consideration, what we're talking about is a division of labour. That static station focused on products for Japan. What the memo does is it provides direction to the individuals there that that is their task. What that means is for products destined elsewhere, whether it is for the domestic market or to other markets, that station is not responsible for inspection with respect to that and that's why that station would ignore carcasses that are not destined for Japan because in the division of labour that station is only looking at carcasses destined for Japan.
That's really all that message relates to. It is about division of labour. It is not a food safety message. The responsibility for food safety is addressed by the entire system and the suite of controls including the decontamination steps including trimming of carcasses, if fecal matter or intestinal contents are contaminating a carcass, all of those steps are subject to CFIA's continuous oversight in confirming and verifying that the operator has indeed taken those necessary critical steps to provide assurance of the safety of the carcass.
Okay, so then why was the new memo in November then not telling people to ignore the fecal material? Was that to be more clear or do you feel like . . . I don't know. I guess I'm just confused why you adjusted the memo then.
Understood and clearly with the allegations brought to us there was the potential that confusion might exist. In order to address that potential for confusion we issued a clarification that continued as you will note because of course both memos are presented on our website. You will note that the memo and the clarification continue to focus on the division of labour but the clarification avoided the potential confusion that might have been created in terms of interpretation around the station ignoring then carcasses that were not intended for that station to review because they were not destined to Japan.
I'm just reading a memo for this Japan export program and basically it says the things that need to be removed for export to Japan. This is a USDA thing but I presume it's the same for Canada. It says bovine heads, spinal cord's distil ileum two metres from connection to the sacrum, vertical column excluding the transverse portion, processes of thoracic and number of vertebrae, the wings of the sacrum and the vertebrae, the tail. Can you explain what, how Canada's requirements in this regard are different than those for Japan and why?
They're not different. In fact it's identical. If you were to read the regulations defining specific risk materials in Canada you would find the listing that identified each of those items that you noted. Those are the items that in Canada are defined as specified risk materials and must be removed from every carcass in order for a product to be eligible to enter the food supply.
Okay. So then why do we even need this Japan station? Is it only for verification of the 20 months then?
As Dr. Kochhar mentioned, Japan in terms of its requirement requires that a specific station be present on the line in order to confirm those conditions. Is it necessary in the context of market access? Yes. Is it a requirement from a food safety perspective? No because that assurance is provided already in terms of the system.
Hi folks. I just wanted to come back and clarify something from another response you gave. Are you concerned that there is some miscommunication between the CFIA management and the union? You've issued a clarification as far as the memo goes. I see the comments of the union in the reports out there. Are you worried that the union was not doing proper inspections through whoever's misinterpretation of the memo, that something might have slipped through the cracks?
Let me be clear. The union does not carry out inspections. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency carries out inspections. Our clarification responded to the allegation that the union made that the direction was for inspection staff to ignore food safety controls.
As I mentioned in my statement that is false. That is not correct. We want to be clear with Canadians that indeed there is no direction from this Agency to our staff to ignore food safety in any aspect whether or not product is destined for domestic markets or the international markets. The same food safety requirements apply. They are reflected in law. It is that law that the Agency verifies on a continuous basis in production.
I just wanted to follow up on the recommendation for re-listing that has been sent to the US. Can you expand on why you made that recommendation, when the assessment was made and when you expect the US will make a decision?
It would come as no surprise to you, I'm not going to speculate on the US. They of course will go through their process of reviewing the information we've shared with them. There is an ongoing and regular dialogue. We have a very strong relationship with our colleagues at the USDA and regularly engage them in terms of ensuring that they have information when they have a situation like this.
Similarly if we delist a US plant they share information with us. The information that we provided them is based on the in-depth assessment that the CFIA carried out in the plant. As we've described through our technical briefs and the information on our website the plant at XL in Brookes has been under enhanced scrutiny by CFIA and has of course been the subject of our food safety investigation.
All of that information from that process including our observations of the plant through their start-up and our intense controls through the testing that's been undertaken and through their correction of the items which as we have noted that we issued corrective action request for, all of that, the totality of that constitutes the information set that we put together to communicate to our colleagues in the United States.
When did you make the recommendation for re-listing?
The recommendation was made last week and we worked with them as they worked their way through the package. Of course we respond to any questions they may have to make sure that they understand.
Thank you very much. I'd like to thank everyone for joining us this afternoon for this technical briefing and also I'd like to thank our spokespeople - Paul Mayers, Dr. Harpreet Kochhar and Dr. Robert Charlebois.
The question and answer period is now over.
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