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Agriculture

Officials flagged 900 food items from China with ‘problems’ over two years

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OTTAWA — Canadian inspectors intercepted nearly 900 food products from China over concerns about faulty labels, unmentioned allergens and harmful contaminants that included glass and metal between 2017 and early 2019, according to internal federal records.

The document provides an inside look at imports from China that caught the attention of officials for appearing to fall short of Canadian standards — from gum balls with “extraneous” metal, to three-minute chow mein that contained an insect, to spicy octopus feet flagged for a “non-specific hazard.”

The list, compiled by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, was obtained through access-to-information law.

Its release comes at a time of significant public interest in Canada about cross-border food inspections, especially those involving China.

The scrutiny of agricultural goods has been central to a diplomatic dispute between Canada and its second-biggest trading partner. Bilateral frictions have intensified since the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver and China’s subsequent detention of two Canadians on espionage allegations.

The governing Liberals have come under pressure from rival Conservatives to respond by taking a harder line when it comes to Chinese imports.

In recent weeks, China asked Canada to suspend all its meat-export certificates to the Asian country after Chinese customs inspectors detected residue from a restricted feed additive, called ractopamine, in a batch of Canadian pork products. A statement by China’s embassy in Ottawa said the investigation uncovered at least 188 forged veterinary health certificates and argued the Canadian system had “obvious safety loopholes.”

Chinese authorities have also blocked imports of Canadian canola seeds, alleging they found pests in some shipments. The federal government says it has tried unsuccessfully to send a delegation of inspectors to China to examine the evidence.

The economic consequences of China’s trade actions on Canadian food shipments, as well as the detentions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, are widely seen as attempts by Beijing to pressure the Liberal government into releasing Meng.

The list from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency shows it’s not uncommon for inspectors to raise concerns about imports from China.

Between the beginning of 2017 and the end of February this year, agency officials “detected problems” with 889 food or food ingredient imports into Canada from China, according to the document.

Only four food shipments, however, from China were refused entry into Canada over that period, CFIA’s quarterly reports show.

An agency spokeswoman said CFIA investigates concerns to determine if it’s a hazard or fails to comply with Canadian standards. When necessary, she said officials take action — including minor label corrections, recalls, product seizure, entry refusals and the cancellation of licences.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in an emailed statement that the issues in the CFIA list do not necessarily correlate to a particular problem with imported food products from foreign countries.

“This is a list of cases reported to the CFIA that informs operational and follow-up activities to verify compliance and take any appropriate actions, in accordance with laws and regulations,” Bibeau said.

“The Canadian food safety system is strong and recognized as one of the best in the world and the government is confident in all products approved by the CFIA as safe for local consumption as well as for export.”

The list only provides numbers for China and does not include comparable numbers for Canada’s other trading partners.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer recently called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to step up inspections on all products from China and to consider slapping tariffs on imports.

Bibeau’s office has said Canada has no intention of increasing inspections on Chinese imports.

Sylvanus Kwaku Afesorgbor, an expert in agri-food trade and policy, wrote in an email that Canada would likely take a long time before implementing actions against Chinese imports.

“Canada will always play to the rules and exhaust all democratic channels available through international trade agreements such as (the World Trade Organization),” wrote Afesorgbor, an assistant professor at the University of Guelph.

“Any retaliatory action may result in trade war and that may negatively affect the two countries.”

Glenford Jameson, a Toronto-based lawyer with expertise in the food sector, said the CFIA list provides an extra level of detail that’s usually omitted from public documents. He added that none of the concerns flagged in the document are highly unusual.

“This list is a list that wouldn’t be surprising from any country, including the United States, and is really just a byproduct of having a stringent food-inspection and food-regulatory system,” Jameson said.

“No food commodity is traded at 100 per cent perfect compliance all the time.”

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Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

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Agriculture

Federal Government Examines Living Conditions for Thousands of Foreign Workers

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Canada Improving Foreign Worker Living Conditions

The Canadian agricultural economy relies heavily on foreign and migrant workers for its continued prosperity. While there has been a call to take action and overhaul the foreign worker program for years now, the pandemic has pushed those priorities even further. Living conditions have long been in need of change, but the government is now looking to seriously improve the conditions for these workers — primarily from a public health perspective.

While some actions have already been put in place — such as consultations with industry leaders, provinces and territories as well as foreign workers themselves — we’re still in the beginning stages of the consistent change that needs to happen in order to thoroughly improve living conditions.

Health Risks

As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept all around the world, it specifically highlighted some of the shortcomings of the current system for Canadian foreign workers in terms of health and safety. By June 2020, hundreds of Canadian agricultural workers were infected on the job, causing two fatalities.

Since many of Canada’s foreign agricultural workers rely on consistent income from their often labor-intensive jobs maintaining farms and equipment, they can’t afford to miss work, even if they’re sick. Staying home may not be much better. Housing for foreign workers keeps everyone in close quarters. Housing standards are often inconsistent, leaving many workers in cheap communal units that work as a perfect breeding ground for the virus.

Even many workers who needed to quarantine described being kept in conditions that didn’t allow for social distancing and didn’t provide adequate supplies for the required length of the quarantine. Since reports vary and standards tend to be inconsistent, it’s clear that there’s a disconnect between the government’s vision and the reality of the living conditions these workers are facing.

Seeking Input

The government understands that things are in need of change. Although there has been a push for improvements in the past, the pandemic has made clear just how unsightly the living conditions are. As a start, the Government of Canada is seeking input until 22 December 2020 on proposed requirements for foreign worker living conditions.

While this is a move in the right direction, requirements only make a difference if they are upheld, and that will be the key to ensuring conditions are actually maintained and improved. It’s about consistency on a municipal and local level, not just federal regulations.

Mexico Halting Foreign Workers To Canada

For now, Mexico has halted their foreign workers from coming to Canada — specifically as a result of the deaths associated with foreign worker COVID-19 outbreaks. While this doesn’t change the conditions for those already living in Canada, it did stop over 5,000 new workers from entering the country over the summer. Mexico’s ambassador to Canada maintains that this is an action of solidarity with Canada.

What Needs To Change?

While policy changes and new requirements are important to the equation, those requirements and policies need more regulation in order to uphold them on a local level. There also needs to be a push towards better working and living conditions for foreign workers on the whole — not just in terms of residencies.

Reducing the number of hours these workers spend on the job, paying them better wages and providing them with universal health care are all changes that would benefit the health and safety of foreign workers — and incentivize workers to stay home if they’re sick. They are an integral part of the Canadian economy, and they deserve better rights and conditions.

Making Steady Improvements

Although the Canadian government is just now beginning to make strides towards improving conditions for their foreign workers, they’re definitely heading in the right direction. From here, things will look up as long as they remain committed and make sure they keep human rights a priority.

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Agriculture

Canadian Agriculture More Energy Intensive, More Efficient

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Canadian Agriculture More Energy Intensive, More Efficient

It’s no secret that agriculture has contributed to climate change through various means. For example, you may know that livestock generates greenhouse gas emissions due to how farms process it. That said, it’s now clear that farmers have found sustainable ways to offset those contributions. In Canada, it’s all about energy use.

Here’s how Canadian farmers have become more efficient as they raise crops and livestock, setting a standard the world should follow.

Energy Demand and Consumption Have Fluctuated

The demand for energy has increased across the agricultural sector as a whole. However, it’s key to note that farmers have begun to use less energy despite that fact. That points to more efficient practices. The farmers who complete their work productively save time, money and energy. As a result, Canadian workers have reduced their energy consumption per dollar by 17%. That’s thanks to sustainability.

The most common energy sources include fuel, gas and electricity. It’s how farmers use those resources that counts. Combined with technology choices and new practices, it’s clear that efficiency is more achievable than ever.

What Contributes to This Phenomenon?

It’s crucial for people in agriculture to explore eco-friendly alternatives. The grasslands that many western Canadian farmers cultivate contains excess carbon, so you can imagine what the country as a whole holds underneath its surface. Farmers have now adopted new methods to adjust how they harvest their crops. These systems are better for production, as well as soil and seed health overall.

The agriculture industry has gone through many changes, too. There are fewer farms — but those that still operate have employed agricultural technology to be as efficient as possible. These tools include different equipment that cuts down on time to increase proficiency. Plus, it’s now more common to use solar power as an alternative to traditional energy solutions.

Why Accuracy and Precision Matters

It’s a lot easier to be energy efficient when you don’t waste your resources. The means farmers practiced before they used specific innovations often created a time deficit. If you have a smaller machine, you likely need to do twice as much work. However, when you have access to equipment that fits your field, you don’t have to be as wasteful. The accuracy and precision created by technology make this a reality.

Soil Conservation Is Led by Ranchers

Many farmers have looked to ranchers for help. It’s a native part of ranching to preserve topsoil and other elements that are inherently sustainable. As a result, it seems like ranchers have been leading the charge against climate change for decades. The tactics they use to avoid tilling soil, for example, help preserve the amount of carbon that lies underneath the Earth’s surface.

The “no-till” practice is efficient in its own right. Rather than till your soil to plant a new crop, you simply leave behind what’s already there. This method is much better for soil nutrition, and it can keep carbon exposure at bay. As a result, you have much fewer carbon emissions. In general, the idea of soil conservation isn’t a new one, but old tricks can still work alongside modern technology.

The Future of Agriculture in Canada Looks Bright

If farmers continue on this path, it’ll be clear that climate solutions are at the forefront of their minds. These efforts create more benefits for them as they save time and money. Plus, there’s always the responsibility of maintaining the planet’s health. After all, without a strong ecosystem, agriculture would suffer. Through means that are more accurate and conservative, Canadian farmers have been able to become more efficient. Click here read more stories by Emily Folk. 

I’m Emily Folk, and I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up I had a love of animals, and after countless marathons of watching Animal Planet documentaries, I developed a passion for ecology and conservation.

 

 

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