The Canadian government recently released new food safety guidelines. It is no coincidence that the legislation was passed so soon after the E-Coli scare at the XL foods plant in Brooks, Alberta.

Joshua Keil is a dietetic intern with a B.Sc. in Human Nutrition.
He is currently working in Halifax, and specializes in food security issues.

With reports surfacing that inspectors at the XL plant were told to ignore inspection of beef bound for domestic consumption, it begs the question what is the best way to prevent future outbreaks.

Bill S-11 was passed unanimously by all 308 members of parliament. The new legislation is supposed to improve food safety oversight, by strengthening traceability and improving import controls; streamlining legislative authorities by aligning inspection and enforcement powers; and increase international market opportunities for Canadian commodities. The new law shows that the Government of

Canada is taking the scare seriously, and it allows the government to enact tougher penalties for violators. But will it make a difference? Probably not. Large industrial production methods create huge amounts of food, but also make it difficult to prevent and track pathogen outbreaks. The new law will help Canada rise from the bottom of several international food safety rankings, but as Raj Patel notes in his book “Stuffed and Starved” large processing plants are in impeccable order and have stringent cleaning and food safety procedures yet we still see food borne outbreaks. This suggests that the problem is systemic and not so much the fault of regulation. The government response, though helpful, is reactive in nature. What we need is proactive policy that emphasizes safe, sufficient, and quality food for all Canadians

Suggestions to strengthen food safety have been around for a long time, but they have lacked political will. In 2002 a report by MacRae & Alden, they suggest that the best way to improve food safety is for Canada to develop a comprehensive and coordinated food policy with its main goal to provide nutritious and safe food to all Canadians. Many solutions to improve food safety are also presented to increase health and food security. MacRae and Alden outline recommendations on what should be included in a national food safety policy.

1.Canada requires a strategy that ensures everyone has enough quality food to be healthy;

2. Food production, processing and consumption are suited to meet the many needs of each region of Canada;

3. Food supply and quality are dependable and resilient; food is safe for all people and the environment;

4. Environmental resources are used efficiently, and create no waste;

5. The food system provides a decent income to those who provide the most essential service, in particular rural communities have enough work and income to maintain and improve their quality of life, and care for the environment;

6. Flexibility exists to improve and adapt to changing conditions;

7. Everyone who wants to be involved in the food system can participate.

Centralized production that prioritizes output over safety and quality is the cause of these outbreaks. Until this is addressed little can be expected to change. Food safety within the current system will always be limited; it is important as citizens we stand up and demand a sustainable food system that places people before profit.

Joshua Keil