Federal government appoints independent panel to investigate beef recall

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An independent panel will investigate the circumstances surrounding last fall’s E. coli outbreak at the XL Foods Brooks plant. The federal government announced the panel on February 8. Dr. Ronald Lewis, the former chief veterinary officer and director of the Animal Health Branch for B.C. will be the chair. Dr. Ronald Usborne, the current chief public health officer for the Northwest Territories and Dr. Andre Corriveau, the retired vice-president of quality assurance, food safety, for Caravelle Foods, round out the team.

“We take the safety of Canada’s food supply very seriously, and we remain committed to the continuous improvement of Canada’s strong food safety systems that allow Canadian consumers to shop with confidence,” said federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in a statement.

According to the press release, the review’s scope will look at three things. The first is an examination of the events and factors that contributed to the outbreak, which led to a massive beef recall. The circumstances reviewed will include food safety-preventive control programs, inspection policies and protocols and the flow of information between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and its partners, including XL Foods and foreign regulators.

The second area of review will consider whether the CFIA or XL Foods could have “reasonably” detected the contamination before the beef entered the market. The third is a review of the effectiveness of the CFIA’s response in conjunction with other “food safety system partners” like XL Foods and foreign. The response includes everything from prevention to incident management to communication between the partners and the public. Ritz said in his statement the review is to be made public.

Though the announcement was already known to the Alberta Beef Producers (ABP), executive director Rich Smith said it’s still good news. “We were hoping that the government would conduct a thorough and independent review,” he said. The group is happier with the independent panel instead of an internal review, which was an idea that was floated. “I think this will do a better job of what can be done better, and that’s really what we’re all trying to learn,” he said.

ABP had joined with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association in calling for the independent review and submitting specific questions about the incident. Smith said he felt the scope of the review as laid out by the federal government likely would address those questions.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson’s press secretary said the minister is pleased to see the review moving forward.

“We’re happy to see that the federal government, through Agriculture Canada as well as the CFIA, are continuing their work to find out just what happened,” said Cathy Housdorff. She said while at the time of the recall the minister was focused on getting the concerns fixed and the plant reopened, he felt an investigation should come at a later time. While the review is in the jurisdiction of the federal government, Housdorff said Olson describes Alberta as “aggressive observers” and he’s in close touch with his federal counterpart. “We’re observers and we have confidence in the federal government,” she said. “We will certainly see the results of it.”

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