Monday, September 8, 2008

Maple Leaf Outbreak: Some Unanswered Questions

Yesterday, I called for a Walkerton-style Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate fully – and publicly – all aspects of the Canada-wide Listeria monocytogenes outbreak that has sickened at least 38 people and has killed 13 of them.

Yesterday, Doug Powell of Barfblog wrote: 

"Others are calling for a full-scale inquiry, like what happened after Walkerton and in Ontario after some dodgy meat slaughtering practices were uncovered (the Haines report). I participated in both inquiries. There is no need for another."

In the United States, each federal government department maintains an Office of Inspector General. The Inspector General has the power, on his or her own initiative, to audit any of the department's activities. The Inspector General's detailed audit reports are public information, often directly accessible over the Internet.

Canada is not this generous with its information. The independent investigation announced by Prime Minister Harper will not be a public inquiry, and there is no promise that the detailed report of this investigation will be made public. The investigator will report his or her findings to the Minister of Agriculture. Period.

In calling for a public inquiry, I am not suggesting that either Maple Leaf or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency set out deliberately to spread Listeria monocytogenes to hospitals, seniors' residences, nursing homes and other similar facilities across Canada. I am not proposing a witch hunt. But I think Canadians deserve some answers.

What do I think should be included in the scope of a Judicial Commission of Inquiry? Here are a few items:

  • Why did Maple Leaf's food safety program not detect the contamination before the problem spiraled into an outbreak?
  • Why did CFIA not respond to Maple Leaf's internal lab findings of Listeria monocytogenes in the Bartor Road facility environment, or was CFIA not privy to Maple Leaf's internal lab reports? 
  • Why did the initial recall notice – dated August 17 and issued jointly by CFIA and Maple Leaf – say, disingenuously, that "[t]here have been no confirmed illnesses associated with the consumption of these products," when an outbreak investigation was already in progress and under investigation?
  • Why are elderly and immune-compromised Canadians being fed high-risk prepared meats in the country's health care institutions?
  • What can be done to prevent this from happening again?

This investigation must not only be carried out. It must be seen to be carried out, if Canadians are to regain – and retain – their confidence in the nation's food safety system.


  1. Well-stated, Cuzzie. I hope there'll be some answers. I'm not betting on it though.

  2. Thanks, Cuzzie.

    There's an election coming up. Maybe it's time to ask some pointed questions of the candidates running in your riding?


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