Federal agency failed consumers
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 13, 2012 06:00 am
Through no fault of its own, Alberta’s beef industry has suffered another major blow to its already fragile reputation in the wake of the nation’s largest beef recall.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency – the agency responsible for ensuring that the Canadian food supply is safe – was far too slow to take action to protect consumers.
More than a month after E. coli was first detected in meat processed at the Brooks, Alta. plant, the list of recalled products from XL Foods continues to grow, as does the number of individuals battling E. coli. So far, the tainted beef has been linked to a dozen cases of the illness.
The bacteria was first detected on Sept. 3, when a shipment of meat destined for the U.S. market was tested by American officials. Meat at the plant tested positive for E. coli the next day, during routine testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The border was closed to XL Foods products on Sept. 13 and has yet to reopen.
Twelve days passed from the time E. coli was found before the first of several public recall alerts was issued. The Sept. 16 recall for ground beef has since been expanded to include more than 1,800 products sold worldwide.
It took another 11 days before the Canadian Food Inspection Agency took action to suspend the plant’s licence, which occurred Sept. 27. Limited operations resumed at the plant Thursday, although no products will leave the facility until the agency grants permission.
By the time a public warning was issued by the agency, two individuals had already fallen ill to the bacteria. The negligence displayed by the agency – a government body – could have had fatal consequences.
Canadians should have unwavering confidence that the food they are consuming is safe. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has a duty to ensure this is the case.
The outright failure to notify the public in a timely fashion that this bacteria had been detected in one of Canada’s largest meat processing plants has significantly damaged the trust Canadians have in the agency, and rightly so.
It is true that the agency has guidelines in place for producers, like XL Foods, to ensure only safe-to-consume products are hitting the market.
Although these guidelines exist, it is also the responsibility of the agency to ensure they are being followed and take action if they are not.
The company behind this massive recall is not without blame either. The guidelines should have been followed and more should have been done to ensure the bacteria never entered the food chain.
Upon receiving confirmation that reported illnesses were linked to the strain of E. coli present at the facility, a wider recall should have been issued and an explanation should have been provided.
Instead, the company kept largely silent throughout the ordeal, only to issue a weak public apology on Thursday.
Keeping consumers in the dark while a remarkably serious recall unfolds before them was the wrong move and could result in long-lasting damage to the company, which processes roughly 35 per cent of Canada’s beef products.
Provincial opposition parties have called for a public inquiry into what went wrong at the facility, although Premier Alison Redford rejected that call. At the end of the day, food safety is a federal matter.
Beef producers will feel the effects of this recall long after XL Foods stops appearing in newspaper headlines and government stops hosting burger-flipping photo-ops.
These producers, many of whom are still feeling the effects of the mad cow crisis of 2003, are now coping with setbacks resulting from a negligent company and an even more negligent government body.