Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Mr Harper's Listeriosis (non)Probe


Well, well, well......

It looks like Mr. Stephen Harper's pre-election call for a probe into last fall's listeroisis outbreak that killed 20 Canadians may have been nothing more than diversionary deflector-spin after all.......

Sue Bailey of the Canadian Press has the latest in that sad, tragic story:

OTTAWA — The Harper government has not yet named the leader of a promised probe into the listeriosis outbreak that killed 20 people — a lag critics say discredits an already suspect process.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the "arm's-length" investigation last September, four days before forcing an early federal election. But he stopped short of calling for a full judicial inquiry as the death toll climbed from the listeriosis outbreak linked to Maple Leaf Foods.

The outbreak came as the government was preparing to hand the industry more responsibility for meat inspection.

Harper promised "an arm's-length investigation to make sure we get to the bottom, on the government side, on the bureaucratic side, of exactly what transpired and to make sure as we go forward and we make changes to our system that this kind of thing can't happen again."

An independent report was to be finished by March 15.

With less than three months to go, a senior government source confirms there's still no lead investigator.


My initial intention was to write a snarkolepsy-laden post about the possibility that Mr. Harper is actually waiting for a meat processing industry spokesmodel with really long arms to be appointed as the lead white washer/investigator.

But I just can't do it.


Because of three facts....

Fact #1: Policy changes instituted by Mr. Harper's government led to a decrease in the monitoring of meat processing plants by government inspectors.

Fact #2: Bacteria bloomed in the meat cutters of a meat processing plant where there was a Harper government-mandated decrease in monitoring by government inspectors.

Fact #3: People died after they ingested bacteria-laced meat that was cut in a meat processing plant where Harper goverment-mandated monitoring by government inspectors was decreased.

Given these facts, why are the people who instituted the Harper government policy changes that resulted in a decrease in meat processing plant monitoring not being held responsible?

Clearly, this is a question that University of Ottawa microbiologist Amir Attaran would like an answer to:

An editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal charged last October (2008) that "government policy errors helped bring about" the listeriosis disaster at Maple Leaf Foods.

Changes to government monitoring mean Canada now has some of the lowest listeria standards among developed countries, it said. It demanded a full public inquiry into Canada's food inspection system.

"It's absolutely clear that this so-called investigation is intended to be a whitewash," says editorial co-signer Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa researcher who is a lawyer and biologist by training.

"With Walkerton we had an inquiry," he said of the E. coli-tainted water tragedy in southern Ontario that killed at least seven people and sickened 5,000. "With tainted blood, we had an inquiry.

"With listeria, which killed a few-fold more people than Walkerton, we don't have one. It's no exaggeration to say that the Harper government has done less than any government in recent Canadian history to seek to understand what went wrong when Canadian citizens died. And it has sought to do less just because it knows it's culpable.

"This government is not willing to swallow its medicine. That's the difference."

This is not some esoteric issue involving the death of Canadian democracy by pierogies.

Instead, this is an essential issue involving the needless death of real Canadians that must be fully investigated to make sure it NEVER happens again.

Otherwise, how will Canadians know, with certainty, that bacteria which could potentially kill them are not blooming somewhere else?


It is important to realize that the bacteria that caused these tragic deaths is not some sort of newly emerging 'super-bug'. Instead, this is a extremely common, garden variety microbe that we know how to monitor, contain, and neutralize. I wrote about this subject here.
If you are interested in the original CMAJ editorial and it's damning indictment of Mr Harper's policies on a number of public health fronts, you can read more about that subject here.
Update: Meanwhile the CanWest-owned Regina Leader-Post has just published a viewpoint with a headline that indicates that the CEO of the company that owns the meat processing plant in question showed 'exemplary leadership' because he "won the battle of perception with the media and consumers" Funny thing about the battle of perception though - it does absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing!, to stop the blooming of listeria in meat cutters. Cheeze-Willikers, maybe the CEO would make a good lead investigator for the 'Probe'.....


No comments: