Despite a public apology and acknowledgement of responsibility, the tragedy from tainted meats in Canada may not yet be over.
Even in light of this incident, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) seems to be following through with a plan that would lower inspection requirements for domestic meat products, while maintaining higher standards for exports.
Susan Bourette, a journalist who worked undercover for Maple Leaf in 2004 to write her book, Carnivore Chic: From Pasture to Plate, a Search for the Perfect Meat, thinks deregulation is a bad idea for other reasons. She resists Canadians adopting an American approach to meat inspection when their industry is fraught with so many problems,
In 2007, there were 21 beef recalls on some 33.4 million pounds of beef linked to E. coli – an upswing of nearly 150 per cent from a year earlier. And so far, 2008 looks to be far grimmer…
Incidences of contamination by other pathogens such as listeriosis and salmonella have also been on an upward trend since the 1970s, coinciding with the jumped-up pace of production at ever bigger slaughterhouses and processing plants.
But the market does self-correct, even without inspectors. It's just too bad that people have to die first.
Just as BSE (mad cow) followed with litigation, Maple Leaf has been the target of several class-action suits. Jobs were threatened, and shares dropped. Canadian meat producers are likely to be extra vigilant in the near future.
If they can figure out exactly how this happened, that is.
Aside from learning from the failures of the meat industries elsewhere, government officials should also review legislation relating to liability of public apologies so that responsible companies like Maple Leaf are not penalized in the process.
Provincial associate chief medical officer of health David Williams has indicated that fear of litigation is still a major factor preventing early disclosure, perhaps the only step that would have definitively saved more lives.