Redford rejects calls for public inquiry into tainted beef – XL Foods allowed to process carcasses under close watch; no meat to leave plant yet

By Jamie Komarnicki, Calgary Herald October 11, 2012

CALGARY — Premier Alison Redford shot down calls from opposition parties and the union representing workers at the XL Foods plant for a public inquiry to get to the bottom of the huge beef recall stemming from E. coli tainted product at the Brooks facility.

“Every single time that something doesn’t go well, we don’t need to have a public inquiry,” Redford told reporters in Calgary Thursday.

“We have to learn, we have to take the time to sort out what has happened, where we can improve systems, where the CFIA can improve systems, where commercial enterprises may be able to improve systems,” she said.

“Every single time does not require a public inquiry and I certainly won’t be supporting a public inquiry.”

The premier’s comments come the day after the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 called for the public probe, claiming better training and work conditions are required to ensure meat is safe.

But a statement from XL Foods late Wednesday said the company has an “open door policy” for workers and welcomes input on plant operations.

“I am saddened that the UFCW has chosen to attack the workmanship of its many members,” co-CEO Brian Nilsson said in the statement.

“We have extensive training programs for new workers and hold our workers in the highest regard for their abilities,” he said.

According to Nilsson, XL’s line speeds are “less than industry average” for a plant the size of the Brook facility, which processes about 4,000 cattle a day.

Meanwhile, two weeks after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency temporarily pulled the XL Foods plant’s operating licence, workers are now back on the line today.

The federal agency is allowing workers to process more than 5,000 carcasses from cattle slaughtered in the days before the plant was temporarily shuttered.

The processing, which will take place under close CFIA watch, will also allow the federal agency to scrutinize whether the plant has improved its food safety controls, said Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, the CFIA’s executive director of western operations.

“This will allow the CFIA to review in a controlled manner the company’s improvements made to all previously addressed deficiencies,” he said.

The processed meat won’t be allowed to leave the plant at this point, said Kochhar.

The plant won’t be allowed to get completely back to work slaughtering and processing new cattle until the CFIA confirms in writing that it’s safe to do so, he added.

Redford called Thursday’s development good progress.

It’s “very good news to see that we’re going to be able to see activity that’s going to generate economic support for beef produces in Alberta very soon,” she said.

The premier said while Alberta’s cattle producers may face some difficulties in the wake of the beef recall crisis, the province has an insurance fund in place that will support the industry.

The Brooks plant is at the heart of a massive beef recall, that’s seen hundreds of products yanked off shelves in Canada, the United States and as far away as Hong Kong.

Its operating licence was suspended Sept. 27.

According to public health officials, 12 cases of E. coli poisoning, including seven in Alberta, have been genetically linked to the specific strain of E. coli 157: H7 found during investigation of contaminated meat at the XL plant.

At the request of XL Foods, CFIA inspectors began an in-depth review of the plant this week to see if it was ready to get back to work.

That review determined the plant has been sanitized, and condensation, ice build up and drainage issues have been fixed, Kochhar said.

The plant will be subject to “enhanced inspection,” including two inspectors — in addition to the 40 inspectors and six veterinarians already working full time at the plant — who will “focus on oversight of E. coli controls, sanitation, general food hygiene,” Kochhar told reporters Thursday.

The meat being processed starting Thursday comes from the roughly 5,100 cattle slaughtered in the day’s leading up to the plant being shuttered, said Kochhar.

According to Kochhar, 99 per cent of that beef tested negatively for E. coli. The carcasses with E. coli contamination — and the carcasses that came before and after it on the line — have been destroyed, he added.

NDP Leader Brian Mason said Thursday the province must account for a grant it gave XL to speed up production, and whether proper steps were taken to ensure federal inspection kept pace with increased speed.

In 2011, XL Foods was given a $1.6-million grant for upgrading its facility and to double its per-day capacity for ground beef.

“The government did not take into account the impact the grants would have on food safety, nor was there an understanding or appreciation for the capacity of inspection and how it needed to be increased,” he said.

But Redford said the Tory government’s job is to spur economic development in the province.

“I think that Mr. Mason needs to better understand a commercial project such as this before he makes those comments,” she said.

“XL is a commercial entity. They make the decisions they make. Our job is to create an environment in this province where we have strong economic conditions.”

With files from Kelly Cryderman, Calgary Herald

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Original source article: Redford rejects calls for public inquiry into tainted beef