Ag critic speaks on tainted beef issue

Written by Trevor Busch

Thursday, 18 October 2012 17:31

The ongoing tainted beef crisis at XL Foods in Brooks has been negatively impacting the province’s beef industry up and down the supply chain.
Besides the direct repercussions of over 2,000 employees temporarily laid off by XL Foods, feedlots have been backed up, cattle prices have been affected, and consumer confidence has been severely undermined.
On the weekend, the beleaguered company announced they were re-calling 800 workers previously laid off to allow the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) evaluation to proceed, which requires the limited re-activation of beef processing activities in order to complete a comprehensive assessment.
Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan, who serves as the agriculture critic for the Wildrose Alliance Party, commented on the initial investigation by the CFIA and his hope this week’s limited re-activation of the plant will be a significant step towards full-scale operations resuming.
“I guess there wasn’t a lot of information going out, which with it being a short-term situation, that’s what I think they thought it was going to be, just a quick blip and no big problem, and then the situation got longer and they figured out there were maybe a couple more issues there,” said Donovan.
“It’s too bad it took as long as it did to get rectified. They’re opening modified, to work on the carcasses that are in there, to get everything working. So hopefully that works out, and they can get rolling again and back on their feet. Cattle prices have dropped quite a bit, because there’s not the market for it.”
Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith, along with Donovan and Strathmore-Brooks MLA Jason Hale, served free hamburgers at a barbecue on the Legislature grounds last week. Smith spoke to the media about the ongoing XL Foods beef incident, food safety in Alberta, and how to support Alberta beef producers going forward.
Donovan is hoping any investigations into the E. coli problem at XL Foods will reveal any weaknesses that may exist in food safety procedures.
“I think we have great food safety already. I think it has been identified there was problems — everybody wants safe food in Alberta, it’s our bread and butter, our industry. I would like to see an investigation to figure out what the hold-up was, and see why it went as long as it did without some of the issues on it. I don’t know if it’s an XL Foods issue or a CFIA issue, or what it is — I’d like to get more information. I think we’ve got a safe food product in Alberta, and I think we’ve got the guidelines to show for it.”
Although the incident at the XL Foods plant falls predominantly under federal jurisdiction, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t already profoundly impacted the beef industry in the province, according to Donovan.
“One of the things is we’re hoping to figure out what happened with the CFIA. This isn’t really a provincial issue, it’s a more federal issue, because CFIA are the inspectors for the federal plant.”
As far as provincially, it hurt our economy, not including the 2,400 employees they had working there that are off work, there’s also cattle buyers and cattle haulers, there’s feedlots that were backed up — there was quite a hit to a lot of people in Alberta. I don’t like to see that, especially with feedlot alley being in my riding, in Little Bow riding. As far as that goes, we know it was a big hurt that way.”
An investigation into the matter is warranted, added Donovan.
“Anytime there’s something like that where it’s shut down upwards of three weeks, I think there needs to be an investigation of some sort to find out what went wrong, is there safeguards that would have caught that, if stuff wasn’t being cleaned, or the boiler — I’ve been hearing from one source that the boiler wasn’t getting hot enough that they were using to clean. That should have been identified, and I think they’ve identified that now, and that should never be an issue again. But those are the things that you need to look and find out and see how that has slipped through the cracks. Our party stance is we’d like to see an investigation on this, just to see what happened, and to make sure that there are guidelines in place make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Despite the issues surrounding the tainted beef recall, Donovan is confident domestic consumers won’t omit beef from their weekly shopping list.
“Feel safe that it is a good product, and that you’re also helping your neighbours out when you’re eating it. We’re all in it together, and I think that’s what we need to do, is show that in Alberta we’re very confident in the food we’re getting, and keep on using it.”