© AgMedia Inc.
by SUSAN MANN
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency agrees with Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s recommendation that it must reassess how it keeps alien diseases and pests from entering the country through legally imported plants and plant products.
An audit by Fraser’s office released last week found “there are extensive problems in the Agency’s activities that compromise its ability to manage risks to Canada’s plant resources.”
CFIA chief plant health officer Greg Stubbings says Agency representatives have informed the Auditor General they agree with all the recommendations and will make changes.
The Agency is now working on a management response to the Auditor General “to say what our action plan is,” he says.
Reaction from the farm community to Fraser’s report was mixed. Len Troup, chair of the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers’ Marketing Board, says the agency has a very tough job.
With the amount of people traveling, “it’s a whole lot different than it was 20 or 30 years ago,” he says. “And their job is probably 10 times more difficult than it was.”
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Bette Jean Crews says her group and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture want increased inspection “on imported goods to make sure they meet our standards.”
The audit focused on CFIA’s management of risks to Canada’s plant resources. In doing its job, CFIA uses two science-base activities – plant health risk assessments and pest surveys.
But the Agency has difficulty delivering timely assessments and there is a growing backlog, the report states.
Furthermore, the yearly pest survey plans of the Plant Health Surveillance Unit aren’t risk-based and focus almost exclusively on existing invasive pests and diseases rather than identifying new potential threats.
The Auditor General also found CFIA’s national inspection targets for plant imports are interpreted and applied inconsistently across Canada. High-risk imported commodities are sometimes released for distribution without being inspected.
“The inspection of plant imports competes with pest surveys and export certification for the inspector’s time and exports are a higher priority,” the report states.
In the plant protection programs, there is poor use of technology for information management. Thousands of faxes are sent across Canada and some documents get lost.
In addition, the Auditor General found the CFIA has no system for tracking imports. Decisions to approve or reject import application packages are based on the “manual reconciliation of information from a variety of paper and computer sources,” the report states.
Inspection offices can’t provide CFIA’s plant health division with inspection results. The division doesn’t know if the inspection standards it sets are being followed and are being targeted to the right commodities and importers.
The Auditor General notes that the lack of supporting information management was first identified in a 1996 audit of the federal Plant Health program and “there has been little progress since then.”
The Auditor General’s report can be read at: www.oag-bvg.gc.ca . BF