Alberta Beef Producers meeting calls for inquiry into CFIA handling of XL Foods recall

MEDIA INATTENTION While the media couldn’t get enough of the safety aspect 
of the recall story, ABP’s chairman says the cattle industry wasn’t given a 
proper chance to tell its side of the story

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There should be an independent inquest into the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s handling of the E. coli contamination and meat recall at XL Foods, say members of Alberta Beef Producers Zone 2.

“I appreciate that the Beef Value Chain Round Table is going to review this, but that’s not good enough,” said Bill Newton, the Porcupine Hills rancher who made the motion for the inquest, which passed unanimously.

“This requires the prime minister’s office. The CFIA has been basically out of control for quite some time.”

Newton, who is also a veterinarian and former president of the Western Stock Growers Association, said there has been too much grandstanding on the issue, with opposition politicians making partisan attacks and the food inspectors’ union lobbying for more funding and higher staffing levels.

Most of the meeting was spent discussing the recall, the ramifications of recalling primal cuts, and whether the cattle industry was effectively represented in the media during the crisis. Alberta Beef Producers chairman Doug Sawyer said his organization and others tried to paint the industry in a positive light, but were unsuccessful in getting media attention.

“You’re right, you didn’t hear from us, (but) it wasn’t because we weren’t trying,” said Sawyer. “I know Rich Smith (the association’s executive director) said he did more interviews in the last month than he did in the previous seven years. We just couldn’t get out in front of it.”

Sawyer agreed there should be a review of whether the Canadian Food Inspection Agency used appropriate and science-based measures.

“Certainly the answers we’re looking for are between the CFIA and the XL company,” said Sawyer.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had a muscle meat recall in Canada and quite frankly, I think it caught everybody, certainly me, with my pants down. I had never even thought about that. And I don’t know that CFIA had, but I can’t speak for them. We’ll find that out when we start doing the proper review process.”

However, Sawyer cautioned that once JBS started managing the plant, industry had to support its efforts to get the plant reopened fully before beginning any inquiry.

“The answers we’re all looking for will have to come out over time,” he said. “Right now what we’re working on desperately is to see if we can make a way to get that plant open again, and that’s no small task.”

Although the Zone 2 meeting was the only one to produce a resolution calling for an inquiry, Smith said the organization is keen to find out exactly what happened.

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