Sunday, October 7, 2012

Where the Buck is Gerry Ritz?

“The buck stops here.”

That was the famous phrase on the plaque on the desk of President Harry S. Truman.  Simply put, Truman’s plaque says that “I am responsible.”

What do you think the plaque on Stephen Harper’s desk says?  How about the ones on the desks of his Ministers?

Maybe they say “ rolls downhill”?

With the recent E. coli outbreak from meat processed at the XL Foods plant you would expect the Agriculture Minister to be front and centre to ensure the situation is handled quickly and correctly.  Gerry Ritz, other than a quick statement is M.I.A.  Shhh.

It appears that the only thing the Harper Government has to say is that there were 46 inspectors at the plant.

Any bets on who gets hung out to dry on this one?  I’m betting on the inspectors.

Gerry Ritz isn’t going to lose a dollar over this.  He’ll still get his pay.  The workers at the XL Foods plant will be out until this is cleared up.  Two weeks is the last I heard, just long enough to get their waiting period in for EI.

The bosses at XL Foods aren’t likely to miss a paycheque over this either I imagine.

Who will get it in the teeth are the two groups at the ends of the food chain.

The cattle farmers are stuck with a backup at the meat plants.  They’re already seeing a drop in the value of their cattle if they can get them to market at all.  Large cattle farms may do okay but the smaller family farmers will struggle to stay afloat.

The other group to get hit will be the consumers.  The middle men will get fat because there will be around 30% less beef available and they’ll just up their cut and we’ll pay for it.

I think what frustrates me the most is the Harper Party echo boxes saying things like “its only 10 people who got sick” as if that’s not a big deal. What if it was your kids that got sick, or your Meemaw?  It would likely be a big deal then.

Look, we rely on the government to ensure our food network is safe.  The government through its agencies like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are supposed to monitor the meat packers to prevent things like this from happening.  When it happens, it is their job (both the CFIA and the Government) to react and set a corrective action in place.

Here is a timeline of what occurred and when from the Vancouver Sun.

On September 4th there was E. coli found in trimmings by both the CFIA and their US counterparts.

On September 6th CFIA asked for test results and distribution information for August 24th, 28th, and September 5th.

On September 7th CFIA formally requested detailed information to product details, distribution, sample results, and information on the plant’s preventative controls.

On September 13th the US Food Safety and Inspection Service finds 2 more E. coli samples and the CFIA removes XL Foods from the list of companies eligible to export to the US.

On September 16th CFIA and XL Foods start issuing health hazard alerts regarding the E coli contamination found in some XL Foods products.

On September 25th Alberta Health Services tell the CFIA that it has linked 4 illnesses to steaks purchase at and Edmonton Costco store.  CFIA asks Health Canada for a health risk assessment and that results in a recall of steaks from that particular store.

On September 27th CFIA temporarily suspends the operating licence of the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alberta.

Note that it took two full weeks from when the CFIA decided that XL Foods’ beef wasn’t fit for US consumption that they decided that it wasn’t good for Canadians to eat either.  And they were still processing 4,000 head of cattle each day until the 27th.

Obviously the system failed.  XL Foods failed to maintain proper cleanliness to prevent this from happening.  The CFIA failed to stop this from happening as well.

But the system is the one that the Harper Party put in place.

Think back to the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis outbreak.  Part of the cause was determined to be the reduction in inspectors by the Harper Government.  The corrective action was the system that is now in place.  The one implemented by Stephen Harper and Gerry Ritz.

The added inspectors they talk about are the replacements for the same inspectors that they had just gotten rid of.

Even then the inspectors were warning that the amount of paperwork they had to do was cutting into the amount of time they spent actually inspecting.  They saw this coming, the Harper Government ignored their warnings

This brings us back to Harry S. Truman’s buck.

The system that is in place today is the one that Gerry Ritz signed off on.  The same system that failed and put the lives of countless Canadians at risk of illness and death at the hands of a little bug called E. coli.

If Gerry Ritz is unwilling or unable to stand in the House of Commons and defend his failed system and show Canadians why he should be the Minister of Agriculture then he should step down.  If he doesn’t, then Stephen Harper needs to take action and move Gerry Ritz to the back benches and place a competent manager into the Agriculture portfolio.

Where does the buck stop boys?  Shall we honour the time tested Harper Party technique of pointing fingers at everyone else or will you man up for once and deal with the issue you helped to create?

It’s Thanksgiving time here, we should be thankful that only a small number of people became sick enough to require hospitalization due to E. coli poisoning.  Who knows how many more just thought that they were suffering from a case of the flu.

I wonder, are unreported illnesses just as real as unreported crimes?

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