Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith calls for “full and complete” investigation into XL Foods

By Darcy Henton, CALGARY HERALD October 10, 2012

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith is calling for an investigation to determine what went wrong at XL Foods and what can be done to prevent another E. coli outbreak at an Alberta meat-packing plant.“Once this is over we have to have a full and complete investigation to find out what went wrong,” Smith told reporters at a party-sponsored beef burger barbecue during an early autumn snow squall on the Legislature grounds. “We’ve seen examples of food contaminations that have been handled very well from a communications point of view where everybody seemed to be working together. What went wrong this time? I think Albertans need to know that. I think Canadians need to know that and I think the world needs to know that if we’re going to restore confidence that we know what to do when these kinds of incidents happen.”

Smith said she thinks that rather than pointing fingers, the most important priority now is making sure the safety protocols in the XL plant are being met so the plant can resume production.

Smith said the investigation should probably be led by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), but perhaps a more independent probe will be necessary.

“I would hope that CFIA, Alberta Agriculture and the company would all be co-operating with that process because it is in all of our interests to find out what went wrong so that it doesn’t happen again,” she said. “It’s not a matter of a witch hunt or a matter of trying to find someone to blame. It’s a matter of figuring out how we can get these processes working so when this happens again … we don’t make the same mistakes twice.”

She said there could have been more done by the federal departments, CFIA, Alberta Health, Alberta Agriculture and XL Foods and she chastised the company for not stepping up to the plate to explain what happened.

“The company could go a long way if they worked with those different agencies publicly to be able to put the public’s mind at ease,” she said. “This is not a model for how you want to deal with a crisis — and that’s why we want to make sure that it is not repeated.”

Smith urged XL Food owners to take proactive measures to alleviate public concerns.

She said the crisis hasn’t damaged the reputation of Alberta cattle producers, but she said XL Foods could help their plight by speaking publicly about what happened, apologizing and vowing to never let it happen again.

“No one has died of this, thank heavens,” she said. “There have been 10 people who have come down ill. In some ways it has not been as damaging a food crisis as we have seen in other areas. The damage has come because they have not been as forthright and as accessible in telling the public how they are dealing with it.”

Smith said the crisis demonstrates that the province needs small and mid-size packing plants to augment the large ones like XL.

“I think the Alberta public, maybe even the Canadian public, felt that by going to larger and larger packing plants that we would end up increasing food safety, and maybe in some cases we have. But the problem is when a contamination happens, the product can get spread far and wide before it is caught and it’s hard to trace it back and you end up with a greater risk to the food supply,” she said. “I think we need a combination of both and I think we have to work with the industry to find out how we can increase slaughterhouse capacity at both the small and mid-size level so that we have options for our producers.”


But she says some small plants have had to shut their doors because they were overwhelmed by regulations that were not adding to food safety, but were adding to the cost of doing business.“That’s part of the reason why we don’t have as many small and mid-sized operators anymore is that they ended up strangled by all those additional costs, even though it wasn’t resulting in a better product,” she said.

Smith expressed concerns for the families of the individuals who have fallen ill as a result of eating contaminated beef.

“We absolutely hope that everybody makes a full recovery and that we don’t see any more infections,” she said.

NDP MLA David Eggen said Premier Alison Redford needs to pressure the federal government to ensure there is proper regulation and should also bolster provincial regulation and capacity for smaller packing houses.

“We need to find a way to assist smaller abattoirs to get going in the province so that we’re diversifying our slaughter capacity,” he said. “We need to find a way to build more slaughter capacity in smaller centres around the province and to have provincial inspection that would support that.”

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Original source article: Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith calls for “full and complete” investigation into XL Foods