* Slaughter, processing to gradually resume
* Inspection staff, testing ramped up
* Reopening of plant will ease cattle backlog
By Rod Nickel
Oct 23 The Canadian plant that produced millions
of pounds of tainted beef was set to reopen on Tuesday as food
inspection officials tried to restore consumer confidence in the
country's food safety system.
XL Foods' Brooks, Alberta, plant has been closed since Sept.
27 after producing beef contaminated with E. coli bacteria that
sickened at least 16 people in Canada.
Products including ground beef and steaks were pulled off
store shelves across Canada and in most U.S. states. The U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) halted imports last month of
products traced to the plant.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said it has
lifted its suspension of the plant's operating license after XL
made a series of improvements. That means the plant, which has
the capacity to handle 4,500 animals a day, can gradually resume
the slaughter and processing of cattle.
"We are confident that all issues have been fully
addressed," said Paul Mayers, associate vice president of
programs for CFIA.
Problems at the plant ranged from failing to follow its own
food-safety plan to poor analysis of testing results and
numerous sanitation concerns, such as workers not wearing beard
nets and improper washing.
The CFIA has increased the number of inspectors at the plant
and will conduct more testing for E. coli than normal, the
But Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers' Association of
Canada, said consumers are "not confident at all," about the
plant's safety, with some saying they would eat less beef, or
avoid beef from Alberta.
Alberta is Canada's biggest cattle-producing province, and
had a herd of some 5.4 million head of cattle as of July 1.
Privately held XL Foods last week transferred management of
the plant to JBS USA Holdings Inc, a subsidiary of
Brazilian meat giant JBS SA, which holds an option to
buy the company's Canadian and U.S. operations for $50 million
in cash and $50 million in JBS SA shares.
A JBS USA spokesman could not be reached immediately.
E. coli bacteria can cause illness, or even death, and
symptoms include severe stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea.
Cooking meat to the correct internal temperature kills the
The recall has led to calls for the resignation of federal
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who was also at the helm of
CFIA in 2008 during a recall of deli meat that killed 22 people.
XL Foods product recalls began only on Sept. 16, almost two
weeks after the CFIA learned of the contamination and began to
CFIA has said that one of the reasons for its delayed
response was that XL did not produce information as promptly as
the government required, a shortcoming that Ritz has said will
be fixed under new legislation.
REOPENING GOOD NEWS FOR RANCHERS
The plant, which slaughters nearly 40 percent of all
Canadian cattle, competes mainly with facilities operated by
Cargill Ltd, which has boosted production since XL
closed. Cargill spokeswoman Brigitte Burgoyne said the company
will continue to run its High River, Alberta, plant for an extra
day this week.
Supplies have backed up on Canadian ranches and feedlots,
many of which have held cattle from market longer than usual at
extra expense or have exported them to U.S. plants.
"The sooner we can get that plant up in operation the
better," said Alberta cow-calf producer Doug Sawyer.
Cattle prices in Western Canada have dropped sharply with
one of the two biggest buyers of slaughter-ready cattle closed
for nearly four weeks. The market for cows has dropped 12 to 16
Canadian cents per pound, or about C$168 to C$224 ($170-$226)
per head, Sawyer said.
Canada is the world's sixth-largest exporter of beef and
Mayers said the plant will eventually be allowed to reach
its normal production speed. The USDA has not yet decided to
resume imports from the plant, he said.
Food inspection officials will now turn their attention to
whether changes are necessary to boost food-safety in the
broader meat-packing industry, Mayers said. Along with XL and
Cargill, leading Canadian meat processors include Maple Leaf
Foods and Olymel l.p.
CFIA spokesman Guy Gravelle said that XL Foods will dispose
of recalled meat at garbage dumps.