On March 29, the federal government tabled its 2012 budget. The changes are substantial, including a two-year increase in the retirement age, a five per cent cut to the federal public services and new limits to environmental assessments of major resource extraction projects. In this series, Mud and Water analyzes different aspects of the federal budget.
Part 2: Food Safety and Labelling
The 2012 federal budget cuts over $5 billion from programs and services that Canadians depend on. According to the budget, more than 19,000 jobs will be eliminated. But if previous rounds of cuts are included, as many as 35,000 jobs will be cut by 2015.
Stephen Harper pretends the cuts are all fat, and that no reductions in services will result. Back office efficiencies and reduced red tape are the lines being parroted by the corporate media.
The image of civil servants lounging in back offices, undisciplined by the forces of the market and providing only for their own perquisites and privileges, has a popular appeal. But this does not correspond to reality. The health and safety of Canadians depends on civil servants having the resources to do their jobs well. This is probably no truer than in the case of food regulation. And yet it is here that Budget 2012 makes some of its deepest and least thought out cuts.
Cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in this year’s budget total $56 million. This is on top of a further $42 million in cuts between 2007 and 2010. This has resulted in a 13% reduction in service. It is important to keep in mind that, in 2008, 22 people died from listeriosis contamination. The Weatherill report found that oversight was lacking at the Maple Leaf plant and other food processors. Even so, the government’s response has been to cut back food inspection even further. The 2012 Budget proposes an additional loss of 651 positions from the CFIA. To protect Canadians, the government should inspect the fat before cutting it.
Beyond the cuts, this government has once again shown it is ideologically driven to cut government involvement in society as far as possible. Under the heading, “Making It Easier for Canadians and Businesses to Deal With Their Government” the budget proposes a series of ill-defined and poorly thought out changes to how food labelling is regulated.
Of particular concern is the creation of a “web-based verification tool.” Instead of having government employees inspect food products, Canadians will be asked to inspect them themselves. Consumers will be encouraged “to bring validated concerns directly to companies and associations for resolution.”
Food regulation is one of the oldest and most central responsibilities of government. With this government, there is no responsibility too big that it cannot sidestep and leave the market to regulate itself. Bon appetit.