In which direction shall we move?

Randomly selected excerpts from Gerry Ritz’s press conference this afternoon.

Question: Last night we learned that two inspectors who were investigating a herd of pigs hit with swine flu in Central Alberta in April fell ill themselves and they became sick because they didn’t follow proper procedures in carrying out that investigation and they say they weren’t even instructed on what the proper procedures were.  So I’m wondering as Minister responsible, what you think about that, what it says about CFIA management and what you’re doing about it?

The Hon. Gerry Ritz:    Well we’ve, we’ve begun to move forward on those types of things, making sure that the front line inspectors have the tools they require, whether it’s gear or computer technology, whatever it is, we’re starting to address those.

Question: Thank you.  You talked a little bit about the back end and the failure at the back end of the agencies to coordinate with each other properly and a lack of leadership.  But on the front end, she identified that only three out of 12 audits were done in the three previous years by CFIA, so it was a failure of CFIA to do those audits.  And also talked about, in her words, stressed inspector stations at Barter Road.  Do you now recognize that, that CFIA, both those inspectors were over, do you accept that they were stressed and they were stretched too thin and that, and maybe explain why the audits were conducted?

The Hon. Gerry Ritz: Well as you know, I’m not involved in the day to day operations, so I can’t speak to the stress of the front line operators.  CFIA management constantly assured me that the jobs were being done in a very expeditious and professional manner.  I accept that.  I think these are talented people on the front lines.  Were they stressed as this moved forward?  Absolutely.  We all were, as were the families of the victims.  Having said that, we’re moving forward to give them the tools and, you know, more inspectors on the front lines to make sure that their jobs are not stressful, that they can do them properly and in the time frame that’s required. There’s a number of things that as, as Ms. Weatherill said, this is a very complex issue.  There are a number of things that contributed to this.  There is no perfect answer, there is no, no one to stand up and said I did it. Everyone takes responsibility for their portion of it.

Question: Minister, I’m wondering if it’s a problem in your mind that the CFIA is sort of pulled in two directions.  On one hand, you’ve got, you know, interest of industry and producers over here and then you’ve got its oversight role over here and I’m wondering if there’s a tension between the two that can be rectified somehow?

The Hon. Gerry Ritz: Well I know that’s been around for a number of years Steve.  Actually, that’s what led to the creation of the CFIA is, was trying to focus that and try to streamline the whole idea of a regulatory system that, that protected domestically and internationally our foodstuffs.  That’s an ongoing situation.  I have never seen that on a day to day situation, stress and strain.  No one likes to be over regulated.  You know, this report does call for some more rules and regulations that industry will be asked to accept.  I know from some of the submissions by Michael McCain, he has said that more regulations may be required.  He’s willing to look at them.  So you know, we’ll move forward together.  It is a collaborative work.

Question: We talk a lot about what went wrong, where the failures were, but 22 people died here.  Where’s the accountability?  Has anyone been fired and are you willing to compensate the families that were so aversely affected by this clear failure of our system?

The Hon. Gerry Ritz: Well there was a lawsuit, as you know, and there were compensations paid out through McCain’s.  Other than that, as I said, it’s a very complex issue.  Everyone takes responsibility for their portion of it.  You know, there was a quote from one of the advisory doctors on that I think was very telling where he said in a complex situation like this, there is no one particular person or event that would have facilitated or, or stopped this situation.  It’s, it’s the, for lack of better terminology, the perfect storm and unfortunately, it led to that scenario.

Question: But Maple Leaf Foods took responsibility.  Why can’t the government take some sort of responsibility?  Clearly, there were breakdowns within the government and that’s acknowledged in this report.

The Hon. Gerry Ritz: Well our, our responsibility is to move forward with a better, better food safety system and I pledge to the victims and the, you know, their families and friends that we will move forward.  That’s my responsibility, I accept it.

Question: So there’s no compensation to them?

The Hon. Gerry Ritz: No.

Question: There won’t be any?

Moderator: Okay, that was our last question.  Thank you Minister.

The Hon. Gerry Ritz:    Thank you.

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