Members and supporters of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition now know why Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is seldom available to respond to enquiries – he’s been getting busy ratcheting up the travel expenses on the world stage.
According to information on spending by federal cabinet ministers, dating to March of 2010, Ritz has accumulated expenses of about $271,000 – other travel and hospitality expenses for employees of the CFIA are available here. In 2011 alone, government chauffeurs earned $600,000 in overtime. Gerry has recently been part of a delegation working on a free-trade agreement between Canada and Morocco, followed by a trip to Saudi Arabia. Of course, the failed ostrich farmer defends his expenditures – “there’s a good amount of work to be done out on the global stage.” I’m not doubting him; everyone knows that it must be a hard-sell for Canadian products in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, but I guess the real test of Ritz Crackers’ skills will come once he starts negotiating to sell maple syrup and seal pelts to North Korea. You go Minister!
At the same time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ritz Crackers, the proverbial foxes in the hen-house, are privatizing the food industry and handing public services over to a non-elected, non-accountable private sector, by downloading from government food inspection to inspection by manufacturers and distributors. As a result of this new paradigm, food companies will, for the most part, inspect themselves and federal inspectors will spend the bulk of their time going through company-generated reports. The Conservative government has already pledged to pull out of federal meat inspection programs in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Somehow, this does not pass the smell test, and it certainly seems to be an ominous foreshadowing in an industry where management already places great pressure on staff to avoid writing up violations.
Currently, approximately 1 to 2 per cent of foreign food imports that enter Canada are inspected. Bob Kingston, the head of the union representing Canada’s federal food inspectors, said inspection programs are under funded and bare-bones compared to what staff request. He estimated that only “a couple of hundred” of the CFIA’s 4,700 inspection staff focus on foreign food – a figure the agency rejects. The University of Manitoba’s Dr. Rick Holley, a food safety expert and CFIA advisor, says a push for traceability is not a priority when there are other problems with food safety, including a lack of comprehensive information on what is making Canadians sick. Gerry Ritz, who manoeuvred to prevent meat processors being forced to open their books during the BSE crisis, tap-dances around the issue with a straight face, “Canadians trust this government to protect the safety of Canada’s food supply and rightly so.” Puttin’ it on, puttin’ it on, puttin’ it on………
Since the 2003 case of mad-cow in Canada, South Korea was the last major beef-importing country to agree to resume imports of Canadian beef. AG-Canada recently trumpeted the news that our first live shipment of lambs has reached Vietnam, and Canadian beef producers have gained market access to Kazakhstan – Kazakhstan imported almost $14 million worth of Canadian agricultural food products in 2011. Perhaps it’s merely a coincidence that Kazakhstan is a huge consumer of horsemeat?
Canada has been plagued with a bad rep for horse slaughter, and live export typically leaves hundreds of thousands of animals of various species without government oversight as they are vulnerably slaughtered in 2nd and 3rd world countries after enduring lengthy trips via sea only to be held for weeks or months at port afterwards. Australians are revolting against live export in their country. I have the greatest concern for Canadian horses, who are already shipped via air to Japan – will they also suffer this fate on an even larger scale if Ritz sees an opportunity to develop this trade?
It’s widely known by horse welfare advocates that an EU requirement, designed to safeguard horse meat exported to Europe for human consumption, will restrict the sale of meat from horses who have been given specific drugs that are unsafe in the food supply. Effective 2013, the EU will not accept imported horse meat from countries like Canada unless it can prove that certain drugs were not ingested by slaughter-bound horses.
The CFIA has always claimed that the absence of big problems in any of their drug testing protocols show that the system works. Lest you think that the CFIA only dumps toxic horsemeat on other countries, critics say Canada’s ability to safeguard its citizens from the risks of both domestic and imported food is falling behind – charges leveled even as efforts are under way at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to update practices for the 21st-century global marketplace.
Of course, restrictions hardly bothered the CFIA in the past, but now they have this passport system with which to contend – a detailed electronic log of a horse’s lifetime veterinary record and the drugs it has been given – much more difficult to falsify than the current EID. A number of drugs — including, but not limited to phenylbutazone, which is banned entirely, must not have been given to the horse in at least the last 180 days prior to slaughter or they can not be imported into EU nations. At one time Canada seemed determined to institute a comprehensive, national traceability system for livestock, but we cannot even launch a gun registry in Canada, a country where most citizens are already opposed to guns. Canadian horse owners are simply not interested in paying for microchips and barn calls to satisfy third party concerns about the eligibility of our horses for meat.
Both the Equine Welfare Alliance and the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition have stated that “….we know that 50 percent or more of the horses slaughtered in Canada (from the United States) will not meet the EU standards. … There is no information from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) stating how U.S.-based horses will be checked. … Under the current circumstances there appears to be no possible way Canada can continue to receive U.S. horses and still meet the criteria.” Our main horse slaughter proponent in Canada, Bill DesBarres, appears to be utterly silent on this issue, as has been his counterpart in the US – “Slaughterhouse” Sue Wallis. In a recent article in the Canadian publication – the “Equine Consumers Guide,” he writes to promote horse slaughter in Canada, he makes no mention of it whatsoever. Not even as an after-thought.
Once Canada’s horses are no long acceptable to the EU, what can we expect? This $70 million dollar industry is not going to go quietly in the night. Purpose-Bred horses will still find a market, but we can see that simultaneously Ritz is pushing live shipments of animals to countries like Vietnam and Kazakhstan, who, as far as we know, have no such drug stipulations. Susan Stewart, of SS Visions, is currently promoting “Equine Canada Export Market Development Seminars” in an effort to continue to promote Canada as “the most respected country brand in the world.” She also lead a “path finding mission to China” on behalf of pro-slaughter Equine Canada and Ag-Canada.
Ag-Canada continues to look for solutions without a problem, while ignoring or downplaying issues of the magnitude that I’ve mentioned earlier in the blog post. There’s an old saying that it is best to avoid watching sausages being made – or to ask what’s in them. It seems that, according to Ag-Canada, Canadians have suffered for lack of better “bangers” to go with our mash. So, over 800,000 of our tax dollars are going towards developing a safe, non-exploding variety of sausages. Exploding sausages you ask? I have never heard of a sausage-related injury. So why is the Conservative government giving Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. in Brampton, Ont. a fat cheque in the sum of $826,000? “The investment… will help the company purchase new manufacturing equipment that will produce a higher quality sausage that is more resistant to splitting or bursting while cooking,” says a government news release.
Once probed, a representative of Ritz claimed that Cardinal is supposed to pay back the “loan.” I wonder if the loan to Cardinal is anything like the loan I’m supposed to pay back to my mother? I also wonder if Canada’s “high tech” slaughterhouse, Les Viandes de la Petite-Nation, has paid back its loan of $2 million for improving and modernizing slaughter capacity, which resulted in the trademark
Temple Grandin designed walkway for cattle, but did not enable the plant to avoid cruelty charges by the CHDC and a subsequent two day shutdown by the government.
Revelations such as this explain why I have a perpetual WTF looping in my head these days. There’s just no horse-sense – only non-sense from our government. We have no problem sending toxic horsemeat to other countries, but we’ve got our panties in a bunch over the possibility that a sausage might “explode” inside its casing, causing some sort of grilling horror during the BBQ season. I honestly thought sausage consumers were managing OK by poking a few holes in the sausage so that nobody would get maimed. I guess that, conversely, this new development will also eliminate a lot of jobs when competing companies fail to take advantage of this new technology and “exploding” sausages fail to find their market (because nobody threw $800,000 bucks at them)? Or perhaps we could keep the exploding variety and incorporate it as part of our national defence plan, and we could claim that Jimmy Dean is a Canadian defence contractor.
Live export, horse slaughter, exploding sausages, lavish expenditures, and the downloading of responsibility for our food inspection to the un-elected private sector. Somebody stick a fork in Gerry Ritz. I think he’s done.