Auditor general raises concerns about food safety, border security

November 26, 2013 3:07 PM

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Canada's Auditor General has raised red flags around food safety, border security, emergency plans in First Nations communities living on reserves and rail safety in his annual fall report tabled on Tuesday.

Michael Ferguson found that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency did recall unsafe food products in a timely fashion, but the recall system fell apart once a major food recall was announced.

"While illnesses were contained in the recalls we examined, I am not confident that the system will always yield similar results," Ferguson said in his fall report.

The CFIA did not adequately manage the food recall system between 2010 and 2012 said Ferguson, who found that the agency did not have the documentation necessary to determine whether recalled food products had been disposed of, nor did it have the information necessary to identify and correct the cause of the recall in a timely way.

While registered meat establishments are required to maintain product distribution records to quickly help locate products during a food safety investigation, the audit report found many examples of incomplete documentation.

On the subject of food safety, the auditor general looked at two large meat recalls in 2012, and found that timely access to records was a challenge.

The XL Foods investigation was delayed because the firm was slow in providing the CFIA with distribution records, which the agency said were given to them in an unusable format. The investigators spent several days going through the paper work before it could be used.

Similarly, during the recall by New Food Classics in March 2012 also involved delays in obtaining distribution records, the audit report found.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose said in a written statement that the federal government "is committed to ensuring that Canadian families have confidence in the food they buy and eat.

"The CFIA accepts all the recommendations in the report and work is well underway to address them," Ambrose said in the statement.

Another major concern identified by the auditor general in his fall report had to do with illegal entries into Canada.

People who pose a risk to the safety and security of Canadians have succeeded in entering the country illegally,

the auditor general found.

"I am very concerned that our audit found too many examples of controls not working," Ferguson said.

The Canada Border Services Agency does not always receive the information it needs from air carriers in order

to efficiently target high-risk passengers, the audit report found. And, it said, the RCMP often lacks the information necessary to monitor the success of its border enforcement activities.

The auditor general was also concerned with "significant weaknesses" found in Transport Canada's oversight of rail safety.

Transport Canada completed only one in four of its planned audits of federal railways over a three-year period, the audit report found.

While Transport Canada made progress in addressing many of the recommendations from the Railway Safety Act review, the audit report found that a number of long-standing and important safety issues remain.

There were issues of "trespassing, grade crossings, concerns about the environment, the collection of data on safety performance from federal railways, and the implementation and oversight of safety management systems," the report found.


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