Meat eaters everywhere were probably captivated by the story of Backstreet Bully, the well-known Canadian racehorse that was slaughtered in early January 2013 as meat for human consumption. As a competitive racehorse, his meat would be laced with potentially deadly performance-enhancing drugs. But for Health Canada, the agency charged with the responsibility of protecting humans from meat not fit for human consumption, Backstreet Bully was no different than many racehorses slaughtered every year then packaged for human food. The same can be said for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), operating under the Department of Justice for the Federal Government and responsible for the administration and enforcement of Canada’s agricultural products. No apologies or explanations from either organization. They sure know how to make us feel safe!
Ignore for the moment the abuses heaped upon these poor animals during their competitive lives. Ignore the fact that race folks fill these horses with nasty cancer-causing drugs such as nitrfurazone and bute in the interest of entertainment. Ignore that these horses become living pharmaceutical train wrecks, destined for painful, disease-ridden deaths. The real question for the moment is what drugs are the Health Canada and CFIA inspectors consuming? Apparently, it is not bad enough that they allow our horses to become drug junkies, but then they allow their dead carcasses to be packaged up for our dining pleasure! We owe a debt of gratitude to these inspectors for having our backs when it comes to food safety.
According to Health Canada’s website, they are the arm of the Federal government responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health. Really? This is a maintenance and improvement program we could do without. These horses are not suitable for human consumption. Health Canada’s mandate is to enforce legislation in place to prevent these occurrences by conducting investigations, inspections, seizures and prosecutions. We know this because their website proclaims it to be so. Unfortunately, their investigations and inspections are seldom, sporadic and obviously far from thorough. They are mostly negligent. And, as a result, Canadians and other nations that buy our meat products risk the health of their citizens assuming incorrectly that Health Canada and the CFIA are functioning properly and responsibly.
And, it’s a mistake to assume that the negligence of these government agencies is limited to drug laden horsemeat. Canada has an unenviable record of discovering other forms of tainted meat long after outbreaks of E coli contamination. In October 2012, for example, XL Foods of Alberta dumped hundreds of tonnes of frozen beef into a landfill in the Brooks Alberta but not until they were ordered to do so after a massive outbreak of E coli erupted in late August and early September of that year. The fall out from this catastrophe and others caused the Federal Government enough embarrassment that Government officials began to claim that they were prepared to pass legislation aimed at making the food system safer. So its more legislation they need! I would’ve thought it was more competent inspectors.
The promise of legislation should be completely unnecessary according to Harpreet Kochhar, executive director of the CFIA who boldly boasts that, “no meat enters the food supply unless we actually tested it and make sure that it is safe”. Apparently tainted does enter the food supply—and in significant quantities.
Sadly, Kochhar presides over an inept organization that lacks the manpower or systems to protect anyone. In fact, it took this E. coli outbreak to “review its observations of deboning and cutting activities, specific E. coli controls, meat hygiene, sampling techniques and overall sanitation in the plant” according to CFIA spokesman Paul Mayers. It is not clear how any new legislation is going to improve this process. One suspects this rhetoric is the type nonsense spewed by the government hoping to allay the fears of its citizens while carrying on as though it’s business as usual. In fact, XL Foods was back in business in a few weeks.
Canada does not have the only impoverished system of protection for the public. Last year at a public fair in Cleveland 38 people were infected with E. coli, including a 2-year-old boy who died and at least 7 more people suffered kidney failure. 3 of those suffering kidney failure have now been placed on dialysis permanently. This past February France’s agricultural minister confirmed that 3 horse carcasses tainted with a veterinary drug harmful to humans had entered France’s food chain. The 3 carcasses were among 6 sent to France from the UK that contained the drug phenylbutazone, also known as bute–used as a pain killer in horses, especially racehorses like Backstreet Bully.
France’s president François Hollande promised tighter controls and mandatory labeling so as to advise consumers of the origin of meat presented for sale. Perhaps Canada could send France it’s new legislation when it’s drafted. Based upon recent Canadian legislation it’ll probably have a high-sounding title, something like, “The Safe Foods Act.” The new law will fit nicely alongside “The Safe Streets Act” and “Stand Up for Victims of Crime” and other lofty sounding law titles that sound good and lack substance. Substance requires performance. Government talk is virtually always cheap.
Big companies are now confessing to having sold products containing the DNA of horsemeat although none should exist in their products. After Irish investigators found horse DNA in hamburger products sold to the public, that government launched a major investigation. The UK Food Standards Agency recently released results that found 6 new beef products that tested positive for horsemeat. A follow-up investigation by the same agency discovered another 29 beef products that contained horse DNA. Nestle, Sodexo and Birds Eye, all major worldwide food producers, have launched massive recalls of their products based on similar testings. Apparently no one uses old horses to make glue anymore.
Where does all this leave the consumer? It should leave them wary of their government’s ability to ensure their safety from foods that are readily available for public consumption. While the problem exists across the entire food industry, nowhere is it more pronounced than in the beef industry. Oh, excuse me, perhaps we should now refer to it as the horse/pig/poultry/E coli industry. If Popeye’s sidekick Wimpy were still around, he would be borrowing money from Popeye for something other than a hamburger.