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Maple Leaf


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BE Reaction Paper 2

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RSM 1160 HF

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Business Ethics

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Richard Powers



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Another food safety issue in developed country

Born and raised in Asia, I’m not surprised to hear story that chemical pesticide is overused by farmers, that even multinational company such as Nestle withdrew billion of rupees worth of Maggie instant noodles over unsafe level of lead or that baby products were adulterated with melamine which is known to cause renal and kidney stones.
Even though in some scandals, these involved companies proclaimed the incident was unintentional, I do believe those company operated to maximize profit over business ethics that they established with their consumers by saving cost of quality assurance before distributing products to market.
However, as a third world citizen, I accept these scandals are part of life, part of loose regulation of developing country. That’s why I was very surprise to acknowledge of 2008 Canada listeriosis outbreak linked to contaminated products from Maple Leaf Food plants in Toronto, Ontario. The scandal broke on the front pages of Canadian papers for months after more than 20 people died and 50 cases were confirmed.
The scandal erupted not only because it was involved with leading consumer packaged meat company but also because it showed responsibility and attitude of government and independent auditing firms towards quality assurance. The paper will discuss roles and responsibilities of three entities in the outbreak: government health agency, auditing and regulatory compliance firm and finally Maple Leaf Food Inc.

Overall, Government agency- Health Canada took responsibility well by proactively sending laboratory service to test, sample, assess health risk and timely sharing information. They also collaboratively worked with news media

to provide immediate advice on health and food safety to public and this alleviated severity of the outbreak. In addition, Health Canada actively used The Foodborne Illness Outbreak Response Protocol as a guidance to all interested stakeholders to cooperatively work on root cause and stop spreading of the bacteria.
However, they couldn’t shift blame on someone else if they were responsible for food safety regulation, a framework that both consumer and commercial company relied on to make their business decision. Surprisingly, planning to save money, Canadian Food Inspection Agency delegated their jobs to private company and these companies were allowed to implement their own methods. It is similar to asking students to grade their own paper.
Everyone certainly will employ the most affordable method to lower their cost but still show evidence to consumer that they pass minimum standard. Most importantly, the consumers didn’t know about this policy and they completely believe that food from well-known company must be passed national standard. At least government body should publish this policy so that consumer could have more information to make decision.
I believe most important promise was health and prosperity and if they couldn’t fulfil their promise, it was just an empty talk. Rawlsian Liberalism suggests idea that law and policy should only be passed once officers consider long term consequences for most people in society. NDP claimed that change in food inspection policy was first started by the Liberals and then continued under Conservative Party. Indeed, if local authority didn’t set the high standard to protect consumer, all commercial company would work out an easy way to allow product to be distributed to market and consumer would suffer. Government body were responsible and accountable agent but they didn’t take the problem seriously. Agricultural Minister Gerry Ritz in end Aug, 2008 commented in a conference call with officials "This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts." Seriously? There were people dying because of mismanagement of the government and an official made fun of that. I strongly criticize tasteless and inappropriate comment from high profile people. What did they promise citizen during election? What was the responsibility that they committed to fulfil? What was the hope that they raise to millions of people? I’m not sure

why food inspection is out of budget priority, possibly it would not guarantee current government seats for next selection. Furthermore, the scandal affected not only food safety notoriety within Canada but international reputation with other countries. Imported country would lose trust in Canadian products; they would either import less or impose higher quality insurance standard. Either way wouldn’t suggest a pleasant business-doing with Canada.

Firstly, the company did not fulfill mutual agreement of providing safe healthy food for the consumers.
Contractarian Ethics claims that people are primarily self-interested and a rational assessment of best policy to attain maximum value will lead them to act morally. That rational assessment suggests that company should do business from the idea of contract or mutual agreement with their stakeholders including consumers. They didn’t take the food issue serious enough. Executives of Maple Leaf believe that the outbreak first started sometime in July of the North York facility, but still the entire plant went through intense sanitation from end Aug. It is not only a very late move and affects lives of million people but also this suggest level of responsibility and reactiveness of the company when crisis happened. The reason for that, Maple Leaf believed that every product has error, every company makes mistake so it shouldn’t be a big deal if their food product is effected by Listeria. For them, “eliminating Listeria from a plant is akin to eliminating the flu from office”. I completely dislike the attitude of board management and their response.
No company is perfect but it shouldn’t mean they could go for mediocrity.
Secondly, the neglect attitude of Maple Leaf not only cost lives and health of people but also interrupt other business. As a food company, Maple Leaf is responsible for lives and health of million people. Had they monitored their production lines and quality assurance regularly and intensively, they could have stopped heavily bacteria contamination from meat slicers. Not only consumer was infected but other

stakeholders include retailers, wholesalers, restaurants needed to call for alternative supplier. Given that attitude, daily call to emergency hotline of Maple Leaf from consumers and distributors was decreased over a few weeks. No one bothers to communicate with the company if they firstly denied their responsibility and secondly once they admitted, they didn’t fulfill responsibility wholeheartedly.
Thirdly, employee wasn’t well equipped with knowledge and skills to understand health risk associate of their products to the consumers about 320 employees were required to attend training session on Listeria and on hygiene and approximately 250 people were laid off while the plant were under investigation. This shows the company’s policy and attitude towards quality assurance.. Had they aware of, they could have raised concern to the management and closely monitor packaging process.

Make an apology only if future state is improved considerably and same situation won’t happen again.
For government, firstly, they should review food inspection policy and procedures to ensure that they reflect food safety issues. Privatizing or non-privatizing is not an issue but the government body has to ensure consistent standard and criteria. Secondly, they should inform consumer any change in public policy that can influence consumer’s decision. More proactive communication with public is important. Thirdly, Health Canada should improve laboratory capacity for emergency situation so that the issues could be detected sooner.
For Maple Leaf Food, they should invest more for quality assurance system including staff training, testing laboratory capacity, sanitation system. Additionally, they should be more proactive to stand in front of public, bear the responsibility and act on that.
1. RSM 1160HF Course Book
2. Wikipedia on Maple Leaf Food Scandal 3. CBC News on Listeriosis Outbreak

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