'It's just chaos' - Macleans.ca

‘It’s just chaos’


Over the weekend XL Foods laid off 2,000 workers, thus bringing a halt to inspections at the plant.

It blamed the decision on the fact the federal government hadn’t given it a firm date for when it would get its license back in order to fully resume operations. “XL Foods is committed to the best interests of the cattle industry, our employees, the city of Brooks and all affected by the idling of the Brooks facility,” Brian Nilsson, co-CEO of XL, said in the news release. “We are hopeful that the CFIA will bring this to a swift and viable resolution.”

Lee Nilsson, fellow co-CEO, also made a pointed reference to the agency in an interview Friday with the Alberta Farmer Express. “I know it’s caused a great amount of turmoil in the beef community. I’d just like to say hang on because all things will pass, but at this point there seems to be an uncertainty as to which direction CFIA is going with regard to E. coli at my plant, or any other plant in the country,” Mr. Nilsson said.

XL Foods then announced that 800 employees would be recalled so that inspections could continue.

Doug O’Halloran, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union local 401, which represents the employees at the plant, said management has bungled the entire situation. “Again, it’s just chaos, and I guess it begs the question, is there something further wrong with the XL Plant that they’re not sharing, because why would you lay these people off who may go get other jobs if you need these workers when the plant fully reopens?” said O’Halloran. “It doesn’t make any business sense.”


‘It’s just chaos’

  1. Pass law that says execs have to eat the food that their companies produce. Food safety problem solved.

    • Not really. Denial is a powerful force.

    • They’d just recruit tasters, like medieval monarchs.

  2. I guarantee this will be biz case that MBA classes will study on how not to manage a crisis.

  3. XL Foods is committed to the best interests of the cattle industry, our employees, the city of Brooks and all affected by the idling of the Brooks facility.

    Look, I know that this press release was specifically about the layoffs, but come on. From a PR standpoint, aren’t we still EASILY in the stage of this crisis where every statement coming from XL should be expressing their feelings for the VICTIMS, and the best interests of the beef-eating public first and foremost?

    It seems to me that this type of unsafe food recall can literally DESTROY a company, and if the company has any hope of surviving they need to fall on their sword quickly, and KEEP FALLING ON IT.

    I feel terrible for the workers (especially as it seems that many of them were trying to bring the problems at the plant to light) but what does XL think is going on here? At this point, terrible impact on workers or no, I think there’d be a fair bit of public support for shutting the company down entirely and never letting them sell meat again. THAT’s what you’re dealing with XL, and I don’t think you’re handling the PR very well.

    • While I agree in principle with what you are saying, let’s keep in mind there have only been 12 confirmed cases of e-coli infection. And no deaths.

    • You are right about the poor PR, but think about it: Maple Leaf Foods did such wonderful, positive PR during the listeriosis crisis a few years ago that Canadians forgot all about any threat to their food supply, and the minister and CFIA were basically off the hook. Maybe if things are handled less smoothly, some changes of substance will take place (and the heat will stay on CFIA and ministerial accountability). Just a thought.

    • Yes, but really, is it such a bad thing for this particular company to go down? Oh, terrible for the workers, but I’m thinking maybe a) someone who has a clue could buy it (Hey, Maple Leaf Foods!) and b) maybe we could process our beef at a few more plants–spreading the work around some.

      • XL Foods accounted for 1/3 of the beef products in Canada. There are 2 other plants that account for the other 2/3. Both are owned by Cargill, which is the largest private company in the world. It’s not Canadian.

        Be careful what you wish for.

        • Interesting point. So how do we go about encouraging smaller firms into the slaughterhouse business? Are the regulatory hurdles too complex, or is Cargill just aggressive about purchasing competitors when it can?

          Or what other alternatives are there?

          • Unfortunately, the industry has evolved to the point where profit margins are realized only through “efficiencies” of scale. If consumers were willing to pay a premium for product produced in demonstrably safe, regulated and humane conditions, maybe these large toxic facilities would collapse under their own weight.

          • I know a bit about chicken farming from a local supplier I purchase most of my meat from, and while I’m not sure about how well it applies to beef, it’s interesting to me that this supplier has said the reason I can’t purchase small animals from them is because they are required by legislation to have their chickens butchered at approved plants. However, the cost to them at the small lot sizes they have apparently works out to about $4/head. So to make any money, they have to raise very large birds.

            Now how this applies to our conversation is that it appears to me there are some regulatory hurdles that are keeping smaller operators out of the industry. Because I can’t imagine that getting on the “approved slaughterhouse” list is a cheap endeavour.

            Maybe there’s some way that smaller farms could operate as their own slaughterhouses and pay a reduced cost directly to the government to have them come out and ensure the products are safe?

            Unfortunately, I don’t really know enough about the economics of the situation to know if this is a realistic solution.

          • We live on a farm. Many years ago, we used to finish beef cattle, feeding them our own pesticide-free grain and medicating only when an individual animal needed it (as opposed to large feedlots which, at the time, medicated everything on four hooves). We took orders for custom-cut-wrapped-delivered beef, processed in an inspected kill at a small locally-owned abattoir.

            It took long hours and hard work. With a small profit-margin, it was not independently sustainable on our scale (we worked off-farm as well), but we had lots of repeat customers and could have had many more. Our customers knew exactly what they were getting from us, in terms of quality and safety.

            Family farms like ours have pretty much disappeared from the rural landscape in our corner of the country because we couldn’t compete against corporate feedlots and factory farms.

            IMO, the quality of our food is a victim of this “progress”.

          • On the other hand surely regulation is only as good as its enforcement (a fact the Harper gov’t seems to be learning (or not) to it’s horror) and more operations, all probably some distance from each other, putting in less $ seems just as likely to harm as help.

          • Oh agreed. But I wonder about cutting out the middle man of the slaughterhouse industry. Pay the gov’t directly so that Cargill or XL and their administration/management/shareholders don’t take their cut, and then direct all that money into funding proper inspections of smaller, local slaughterhouses?

          • Good conversation, guys. We must find a better way.

          • I wonder if a cooperative of the smaller farms (not the big feedlots) hiring, together, a smaller slaughterhouse would work. You know, spreading the cost of it around a bit to get the superior quality these farmers are known for, kind of thing. Regulations would maybe have to be tweaked, or not, and yes, it might cost several cents/pound more. Double bonus, some of us will eat less (as in smaller portions) of beef!

          • If you look around, you’ll likely find you can find your meat from such a source now.. although the cost is significantly more than just a few pennies/pound. So I don’t think this is a scalable solution.

            I’m starting to wonder if there’s some point where economic government intervention into the industry is justified? As in a head-tax where the rate also grows with the number of animals slaughtered in a given facility — for the express purpose of keeping the houses smaller and disease outbreaks such as this one more contained?

  4. Wow. Do they think that causing such turmoil will somehow lead the CFIA to open the plant quicker? Bizarre. Maybe next they should hire some Pinkertons to visit the workers who’ve spoken out about problems at the plant.

  5. This is the second major failure in food safety under Gerry Ritz’ leadership. Last time, 22 Canadians died.This time, there was an inexcusable delay in notifying the public and beginning a recall.

    Now we find that the plant is in chaos, with the business playing hardball with CFIA and then retreating almost immediately.

    At this point, the only thing I’m confident of is that Gerry Ritz will not resign or face any other consequence.

    • “Last time, 22 Canadians died.This time, there was an inexcusable delay in notifying the public and beginning a recall.”

      I’m sure we’ll soon see CPC ads extolling how food safety has improved under the CPC, using this very example (though worded more favourably).

  6. XL Foods: We’re committed to promoting vegetarianism…