Friday, August 22, 2008

When companies self-regulate, we lose

Lawyers, physicians, accountants. Notwithstanding all the jokes surrounding those professions, we put so much faith and trust in them that we have allowed them for the longest time to be self-regulating. Since they understand ethical behaviour and the disrepute visited upon the entire profession when a crackpot violates professional standards, we don't need the government to tell them how to do their jobs.

Food inspection is not the same. In the bad old days when there was self-regulation (i.e. no regulation at all) people died from tainted and mishandled food in far greater numbers than what we would expect today. Some poor results still occur every now and then -- tainted tuna, mad cow disease, and the current outbreak of listeriosis -- but generally speaking, we trust our food supply chain to be safe. Why? Because of strict government regulations, including in many cases federal or provincial food inspectors with dedicated offices right on site of processing plants.

No surprise then that the Cons, according to a leaked cabinet document, want to turn over management for food inspection to the agri-food business itself. Actually, it wasn't really "leaked" per se -- it somehow ended up on a government website which could be openly accessed by anyone.

I'm not the only one to note that many on Team Harper were also on Team Harris, which was in power during the tainted water scandal in Walkerton which killed seven and made over 2000 others sick. Part of the blame was because of the lack of specific water quality standards and a way to review them. The result is that we're now paying double and then some for water, what we did just a few years ago, to get our systems up to standard. But it's a price worth paying.

I'm not against streamlining inspection rules, nor am I against giving the food industry a say in how that should be done. They pay corporate taxes as well as inspection fees to the government so they have every right to be involved in the process. Less bureaucracy helps both industry and government in the paperwork burden. In fact, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was created a few years back for precisely this purpose -- to eliminate duplication within the federal government on this file, as well as to try to coordinate with provincial inspectors.

But consider if we allowed the auto companies to do absolutely what they wanted, we wouldn't have fuel economy and motor vehicle safety standards; in fact vehicles wouldn't have seat belts, let alone air bags. Death tolls from high speed accidents would be far greater.

If we allowed steel and aluminum plants and chemical plants to do what they wanted, we'd have far more smog days -- and we have enough of them already in the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Basin with regulations. The numbers of people with respiratory illnesses would be much greater.

If food companies police themselves, many more people will die. And bottom line, people won't trust the food they eat. It's that simple.

I don't mind paying extra within the price of food at the supermarket or general store to have this reassurance that the stuff I consume meets a standard which is far higher than where the agriculture and agri-food business would like it to be. The claims that industry may have higher standards than what the government requires is bunk -- the moment those minimum standards go away, the push will be to push internal standards to levels even lower than which had been required by the government.

It's worth noting, this is being planned as a "cost-cutting" measure. This, from a government which has chosen to starve itself of taxes and is going into deficit on purpose, to get Canadians to accept even more cuts in social programs. To quote The Who, we won't get fooled again.

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1 comment:

penlan said...

I'm with you 100% on this. I cannot forget the nightmare that was Walkerton & when Steve appointed the 3 amigos to his Cabinet I was appalled. I immediately, like many Ontarians, remember the horrors of the cuts done by the Harris govt. that did mega damage in many sectors in the Province.

I have done a post at my blog on this subject as well & am glad to see you posting on it as well. Always enjoy your insights!