Canada is gearing up for a shift in its food system. Two things have happened to spur this possible upcoming shift in Canadians' buying and eating habits.
First, Maple Leaf Foods, Canada's largest food processor, has announced that some of their products contain a strain of listeria bacteria. There have been many illnesses and several deaths. My email inbox, which receives updates on all CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) health hazard alerts, has been bombarded with messages about all of the different products that are associated with this outbreak. People are only just now realizing how many brands are manufactured by Maple Leaf Foods, and also how many restaurants use their products; McDonalds and Subway are among them.
Interestingly, Maple Leaf foods is owned not by some greedy billionnaire looking to take over the world, but technically by a bunch of schoolteachers. The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Board has a controlling interest in the company, which makes you wonder that anyone associated with education might be careful about where they invest their money. Or maybe not.
Second, the Canadian federal government plans to transfer key parts of food inspection to industry so companies can police themselves. This change would include the elimination of a Canadian Food Inspection Agency program that requires companies to get labels approved for meat and processed fruit and vegetables before they hit store shelves. Since details of these changes have not yet been fully disclosed, due partially to a communications leak and also to the current and ongoing listeriosis outbreak, consumers don't know if the new plans will work for or against the health of Canadian consumers.
As for the listerioisis, Maple Leaf Foods president Michael McCain has accepted all responsibilty for the outbreak. He posted a video message on YouTube and sent out a press release. Here is an excerpt:
I once again wish to express my deepest personal sympathies to those Canadians who have been affected by this tragedy. While this is the most unfortunate of events possible, I absolutely do not believe that this is a failure of the Canadian food safety system or the regulators. Certainly knowing that there is a desire to assign blame, I want to reiterate that the buck stops right here.
If the buck really were to stop there, Maple Leaf Foods would completey revamp their food processing methods and perhaps consider doing something to change the way all processed foods are handled in Canada. They could also contribute to educating the general public about what is really going on with our food supply. Hopefully this horrible chain of events will cause Maple Leaf Foods and other food businesses to stop trying to have consumers believe that these processed foods are "fresh" and "natural." Two examples of these marketing ploys are Maple Leaf Foods Prime Naturally and Simply Fresh™ product lines, which I highly doubt are either "natural" or "fresh" — unless you are fairly flexible with the definitions of those terms.
Hopefully this will be a wake-up call to Canadians to be more aware of what foods they are buying, eating, and feeding to their children and elders.
More to come as the situation develops...