The largest ever beef recall

by Aaron Wherry

While e.coli cases are reported in Saskatchewan, Gerry Ritz appears in Alberta and experts point to flaws in the system.

Kevin Allen, a food microbiologist at the University of British Columbia, says Canada should look south of the border for answers. He said, “Something wasn’t working right” at the XL foods plant, overseen by 40 government inspectors and six veterinarians. “When you look at U.S. policy, they have a zero tolerance. They will simply not tolerate the presence of this organism in their beef and I think that’s a much more proactive approach, where food safety and the possible consequences are put first and foremost,” said Allen.

Rick Holley, a professor of food science at the University of Manitoba, disagrees with Allen on a zero-tolerance policy on E. coli 0157:H7, but he’s clear on one thing: beef eaters shouldn’t take huge comfort when the government talks about how much better equipped it is to prevent, detect and respond to potential food safety risks because it implemented all of the food-safety recommendations from four years ago. “We’re no different from where we were four years ago,” said Holley.

After Question Period today, the Liberals will ask the Speaker for an emergency debate on the recall.




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The largest ever beef recall

  1. Why does Harper still have that slimy character Garry Ritz heading the ministry of agriculture? Last time around he joked as people died, claiming they died “the death of a thousand cold cuts.”

    These sociopathic con men just don’t get it.

  2. ‘XL Foods inspectors did ‘a terrific job up to this point’

    I’m sure there’s an award for statements this dumb.

    • Hmmm…..given that the plant has been in operation for decades and processed billions of pounds of meat with no problems, I am sure the statement was fairly accurate…..the inspectors have done a pretty job until now.

      • Yup, the Titanic was doing great too till it hit that iceberg.

        Bush kept the US safe during his watch….well, except for that unfortunate slip-up on 9/11 of course.

        • Yup, and Dalton McGuinty did a good job until he bankrupted Ontario and made it illegal for teachers to strike….
          Catholic politicians in Quebec didn’t involve their religion in their policies until now……
          So what? That doesn’t diminish the good work that was done for many years prior to when this incident occured or are you suggesting that food safety was an issue at XL Foods before the Conservatives took over the Federal Government?

          • LOL Ont isn’t bankrupt, or remotely close to it.

            But I dunno HI….dirty oil, and now bad beef. Tsk tsk.

          • You think Alberta is the ONLY place in the world that has had Ecoli? Did you miss the 53 people who died from German sprouts in May/June 2011 or did you buy their original claim that it was from Spanish cucumbers?
            Oh and I noticed you didn’t deny that Dalton has outlawed the rights of civil servants to strike OR that Quebec Catholic politicians are instituting into policy. My goodness all your terrible claims about Alberta being backward. Those central Canadian provinces are taking overy our “redneck” evangelical reputation! tsk tsk. …Oh and don’t kid yourself, your Ontario beef producers will take a hit too. Those Americans don’t distinguish between the provinces when it comes to Canadian beef. R-Calf will be out their doing their lobbying to keep the beef out of the US.

          • And of course that doesn’t count the mad cow problem and Klein’s famous ‘shoot, shovel and shut up’

            I dunno HI….pre-tty bad.

          • Emily, Mad Cow has now been discovered in the US and everywhere else they have bothered to test for it. Ralph Klein was absolutely right. The Americans used the excuse of one incident of BSE to close the border to ALL Canadian beef, even those animals too young to possibly to have the disease. Meanwhile, they had cattle with the disease in their own country and they covered it up. What Ralph suggested was exactly what the Americans were doing with their cases of BSE…shooting, shoveling and shutting up. Canadians are just too naive and too honest. What we didn’t realize was what the Americans had figured out…if you don’t test for it, you don’t have to report it.

          • And of course there’s those crappy winters, and grown adults running around playing cowboy…

            Tsk ….sad

          • Oh I don’t think our winters are worse than yours and nobody “runs around” playing cowboy…they ride horses…..and they appear to be happy while doing it. It is a shame that the entire industry will take another hit that it doesn’t deserve but this farming business has always been difficult.

          • And of course the place is a graveyard….where dinosaurs went to die.

            Bible belt buckle too…wackos galore.

            And I’ve never found a Con yet, who has a sense of humour.

          • Say What? Calgary is NOT a bible belt. I know very few people who attend church regularly and my kids went to Catholic school. Calgary is a party town. It is young and vibrant. As for a sense of humor….hmm……I have some from friends from Newfoundland who vote Conservative…..say no more.

          • Yup and there is nothing outside of Calgary, as we all know.

            ‘Night HI.

      • Harper has changed the system since he came into power. And he’s made cuts.

        • No that isn’t true. The numbers of inspectors have been maintained in the plants. When I was in nursing school in 1993 there was a child in the Alberta Children’s Hospital who was gravely ill from eating an inadequately cooked hamburger from a Calgary restaurant. It was infected with Ecoli and she had hemolytic uremic syndrome. That girl died at 17 years of age of chronic kidney failure. There have always been cases of Ecoli poisoning due to infected meat that has been inadequately cooked – most of it hamburger. There are significantly more cases of Ecoli poisoning related to vegetables, because they are far more often eat raw. There are somewhere in the vicinity of 50 deaths per month in the US from food poisoning related to vegetables infected with Ecoli. I am not in the least bit casual with regard to food posioning, I am just aware that it isn’t uncommon. US ranchers have a vested interest in cutting off the supply of Canadian beef to US consumers. They certain don’t mention how many people have died from Ecoli poisonoing related to beef processed in US slaughterhouses. Does no one remember the Jack–in- Box restaurant Ecoli deaths? All you have to think back to is the whole mad cow crisis when R-calf, a Montana lobby group blocked Canadian ranchers from sending beef over the border by claiming they had no mad cow in the US…..a complete fallacy.

      • Harper changed the way food inspection was handled. His stated goal (in 2008, but I haven’t heard any different in the ensuing years, even after the Maple Leaf listeria killings) was to move responsibility for inspection from the government to the industry, with government inspectors reduced to a basic auditing role. This arguably reduces the cost for government, as fewer inspectors are needed for auditing, and the required expertise level isn’t as high. Do you need experienced microbiologists to audit management programs and checklists? Probably not. They probably wouldn’t even want that job.

        The Conservatives probably honestly thought that food inspectors were introducing too much red tape into the system, reducing the throughput of food processing companies, and increasing costs for the consumers. There were no problems with our food safety at the time, so the more cynical Conservatives probably thought food inspectors weren’t doing anything…that there was no problem to worry about and these people who ensured public safety were just sucking on the government teat. So they changed the system. Whoopsie. Perhaps, after two deadly outbreaks, it’s time to reevaluate that thought process.

        Or we could go with the immortal attitude of Ralph Klein (shoot, shovel, and shut up).

        • Obviously you missed the documentary where the American meat inspector told ALL about their policy with BSE….they NEVER tested for it and they just disposed of any older cattle that showed signs and symptoms of it. Ralph Klein was right along….the Americans didn’t report any cases only because they never tested for it so they had no definitive results to report….they were the original…”shoot, shovel and shut up” and yet they couldn’t wait to close the border to even young Canadian cattle that by virtue of their age, could not have the disease. You really should do some research into an American lobby group out of Montana called R-Calf. You also should understand that almost all of the compensation money earmarked for Canadian ranchers during the BSE crisis went to the American owned, Canadian based slaughterhouse Cargill. Canadian ranchers kept their mouths shut for fear of being blackballed by this slaughterhouse, the largest one in Canada, once the America border opened to Canadian beef. Meanwhile Cargill was in a win-win situation because they were still slaughtering American beef.

          • So, in your mind all of this is some sort of made-up conspiracy led by American ranchers or Cargill? Remind me not to put you in charge of the CFIA anytime soon.

          • Say what? You really should read the National Post. Only five illness have even been linked to this “crisis” of E-coli tainted meat and also read the Macleans article about the size of this recall compared to recalls in the US and yet they are looking down their nose at us. E-coli is very common. Perhaps you remember that 53 people died in Germany from E-coli in sprouts in 2011. It took them months to accept that it was their vegetable. They tried to blame Spanish cucumbers. Do you think Merkel a bad leader? Further you should investigate how many cases of BSE there have been in the US. Japan used it as an excuse to not accept North American beef until their cattle all got radiation poisoning during the Tsunami. For a so-called “bright-guy”, you are pretty dim-witted when it comes to so-called food safety and the way governments use their claims of it get leverage in trade wars. If it wasn’t for how often California vegetables get recalled for E-coli contamination, this whole closure of the American border to processed Canadian meat might be reasonable. Ask yourself next time there is a recall, why we aren’t closing are border to their products and then we’ll talk about conspiracy theories….it isn’t a conspiracy, it is just business.

          • I don’t care how much you disagree with me, it’s just hateful of you to suggest that I should subject myself to the National Post. *shivers*

          • ….and the Calgary Herald….or other articles on Macleans that suggest this recall in Canada is minute when compared to tainted meat recalls in the US and yet we have NEVER closed our border to their meat or made suggestions that they have food safety issues?

  3. They claim to have forty inspectors in the plant but it was not in compliance with safety standards. He had nothing to offer at the press conference and it was cut short when the questions got hard. I now realize that I’ve twice eaten recalled meat. I happened to link onto the recall list on Sunday and found out my local store was selling XL beef. I hadn’t thought it would have made it’s way out here, but it’s everywhere.

    • No XL meats in the US tho…due to a vigilant inspector. Meanwhile Harper continues to cut cut cut.

        • I stand corrected, the US Officials discovered the Ecoli outbreak on a cross border shipment but some of the product was already in the States by then.

          http://www.globallethbridge.com/timeline/6442724244/story.html
          August 23, 2012: Cattle are slaughtered at a plant in Brooks run by Edmonton-based XL Foods Inc. Beef slaughtered that day is later recalled.

          August 24, 27, 28, 29, 2012: Beef is produced at the Brooks plant that is later recalled.

          September 3, 2012: U.S.
          officials alert the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) that beef
          from the Brooks plant has tested positive for E. coli 0157: H7 bacteria.
          Both agencies begin investigations.

          September 4, 2012: E coli is detected by CFIA and by U.S. border officials. No action is taken.

          September 11 and 12, 2012: The CFIA is alerted of two more cases of E.coli that have been confirmed in meat crossing the U.S. border.

          September 13, 2012: At the request of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Canada revokes the plant’s permit to export beef to the U.S.

          September 16, 2012:
          The Canadian Food Inspection Agency sends out the first alert warning
          people not to eat, sell or serve 26 ground beef and ground-beef products
          sold at several major stores because they “may be contaminated with E.
          coli.” The alert says XL Foods Inc. voluntarily issued the recall
          although no reported illnesses have been linked to the recalled
          products.

          Read it on Global News: Timeline of events: 2012 E. coli outbreak and meat recall

    • Yes, Lakeside is the 2nd biggest slaughterhouse in the country next to Cargill and therefore the meat was shipped pretty much everywhere. However, the fact that it is a large slaughterhouse means its meat actually undergoes testing for pathogens. According to Kevin Allen, the microbiologist from UBC that Aaron Wherry quoted in the article above, smaller slaughterhouses in your province of BC don’t do ANY testing for pathogens, including E-coli “unless problems occur”. Apparently Mr. Allen who was quoted in the Globe and Mail today finds this problematic. This smaller slaughter houses are under provincial governance and it seems only the larger slaughterhouses which fall under federal governance are required to do any testing…at least in BC. We might ask ourselves what the 6 vets and 39 inspectors were doing in this plant but the truth of the matter is that given the amount of meat that has been recalled (1.5 million pounds according to the Globe and Mail), thus far there have been relatively few with very serious illness. We unfortunately have one child who appears to have hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious condition that greatly affects the kidneys. Everyone else it appears had a self-limited bout of severe vomitting and diarrhea. I don’t mean to make light of anyone’s suffering because it is an awful thing to have to go through. However, 51 people died of Ecoli, most of them in Germany in May/June of 2011 due to infected sprouts. I don’t think anyone would say that Germany is a country and doesn’t take food safety seriously.

      • Only beef that is only sold in B.C. is subject to provincial rules. By the way, we only produce 1% of beef in Canada, Alberta 70%. Meat sold inter-provincially and/or exported falls under Federal jurisdiction. I can’t believe a health care professional would take such a casual approach to this.

        • Casual approach? No. The truth of the matter is that the incidence of Ecoli food poisoning has dropped quite significantly in Canada over the last 10 years. To suggest that the Canadian food supply is unsafe is just completely inaccurate. Sadly, I CAN believe that people have found a way to politicize an unfortunate incident. BTW….whether you are processing 1% of the beef or 50%, what does that have to do with your failure to test ANY of it for pathogens? If your province is truly intrested in maintaining food safety, you would do the testing.

  4. You’re doing a heckuva job there Crackers!

  5. Has anyone looked into the veracity of the “40 government inspectors” claim?

    • They claim to have hired 700 new inspectors but won’t give the opposition a list of names to prove it. At this point I believe nothing they’e saying.

      • Inspector is a technical category, note that they are saying 700 net new inspectors have been added since 2006. Pay attention to the wording, it does not say ‘meat’ inspectors or ‘food’ inspectors and apparently includes categories such as seed analysis, certification of lumber for export…all who are classified as inspectors.

        • Yes, I read that somewhere that these were not food, let alone meat inspectors. Meanwhile they’ve cut biologists and vets. Everything is smoke and mirrors with this crew.

    • Has anyone checked out the veracity of the claims of how many people have been affected by tainted meat from XL Foods. According to an article in the National Post it is five people. Those 13 people in Saskatchewan is just supposition. Every month, on average, 3 people in Saskatchewan get E-coli poisoning. More than usual got it so they are WONDERING IF MAYBE the higher than average number is related to meat from XL Foods but they have no substantiation. Meanwhile, the truth is that the number of people infected with E-coli in Canada per year has dropped substantially in the last 10 years. This was reported by Don Braid in the Calgary Herald.
      So while your checking into the veracity of the claims about government inspectors maybe you should also check into whether this is actually a full-blown food-safety crisis like when 53 people died in the spring of 2011 in Germany from E-coli poisoning on sprouts. That German Chancellor…she should have resigned….especially when they initally blamed it on Spanish cucumbers. What an unsafe food handling system that backward country must have.

      • Wow, that’s a lane response, even for you. Do you think a record amount of beef was recalled because of a misconception about the presence of this harmful organism? I fully agree that heads should have rolled in Germany, by the way. Probably not the Chancellor, but certainly the minister responsible for food safety. Food safety is not something to be taken for granted.

        • No I don’t think a Canadian record amount of beef was recalled because of any misconception about the organism being present. However, this recall was very small in comparison to recalls in the US. I think they are recalling EVERYTHING and closing the plant to get everything in top order so that there is no reason for the US border to continue to stay closed to their product. The Nillsons who own the plant are not only in the processing business but they are also own auction marts were cattle are bought and sold. It is in their best interest to get consumer confidence back as quick as possible. This plant has been operation for decades with no incidents of this kind. They want to restore that reputation of recalling every product is what it takes, that is what they will do. By the way, according to Macleans that recall amounts to 2000 head of cattle.

  6. Surely this must be Chretien’s fault. Or Martin’s. Or the dysfunctional minority parliament’s. Or…

    • Well, I mean the opposition did vote against the budget. Obviously they’re not blameless in this.

      • Yes, voting against the cuts should not absolve of them blame.

  7. I’d be interested in learning about the number of inspectors over the last 25 years or so, not just over the last 4 years.

    [Edit] In fact a 25 year timeline that also includes information about legislative and regulatory changes would be very helpful.

    • Not a complete timeline but gives you an idea of what Harper has done while being PM.

      “Just prior to calling the election, Prime Minister Harper did call an independent investigation into the listeriosis epidemic. But this came only in response to a spate of damning leaks from food inspectors. These leaks not only highlighted the secrecy imposed by the Harper Government around the implementation of the inspection changes; they also exposed how the government had weakened CFIA inspection standards and turned over responsibility for product safety to the food companies themselves.”

      “In November 2007, the Canadian government instituted a review of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. As a result of this review the government began changing the way meat is inspected, transferring inspection duties from government employees to the meat industry. Under this policy change, CFIA inspectors rarely enter the meat-processing plants to test for bacterial infestation. A copy of the minutes of the Treasury Board meeting in March 2008 nakedly lays out the government’s goal, to shift “from full-time CFIA meat inspection presence to an oversight role, allowing industry to implement food safety control programs and to manage key risks.”

      http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/sep2008/cmaj-s20.shtml

  8. Why do you people hate meat inspectors?

  9. What is it with this brand of Conservative and the worst form of the e. coli pathogen? The current beef taint is the same pathogenic strain that killed people in Ontario, under Harris. Now, with Harris Conservatives at the highest level of the federal government (not Ritz, of course – he’s just a drone), it reappears. Not in the water this time, but in the food supply chain. And not just locally, but internationally.

    It’s very, very unfortunate that these people were kicked upstairs to foist their ideological incompetence on the nation as a whole. Honestly, 8 years of this imbecility was plenty.

    • No…there are much worse forms of the E-coli pathogen. Check out the one that killed 53 people in Germany May/June 2011. That one caused people to develp the bacteria Shigella. Given how often E-coli poisoning occurs in vegetables (I am sure you are aware of all the recalls of lettuce, etc most often out of California) and meat (you must remember the Jack-in-the-box restaurant deaths in the US), it is hardly suprising that Canada would experience a recall….especially given the amount of beef we produce and process. The fact that only five cases of E-coli poisoning (this reported in National Post) have been linked thus far to the tainted meat and only one serious repercution (a child with hemolytic uremic syndrome) is both amazing and very lucky. This is not the first time that meat has been recalled due to E-coli being detected. It is however the first time that a recall of beef has garned so much political and journalistic attention. I recall a case in 1993 where a child also was harmed and actually experienced kidney failure. I don’t recall the federal government getting raked over the coals for it. I don’t think Germany or any other country that has experienced E-coli food poisoning has been demeaned with regard to food safety.

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