CFIA says not more safety concerns at XL

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it has no food-safety worries in allowing XL Foods plant in Brooks to re-open.

“We are confident that all issues have been fully addressed,” said Paul Mayers, associate vice-president of programs for CFIA.

Problems at the plant ranged from failing to follow its own food-safety plan to poor analysis of testing results and numerous sanitation concerns, such as workers not wearing beard nets and improper washing.

The CFIA has increased the number of inspectors at the plant, which had been closed since Sept. 27, and will conduct more testing for E. coli than normal, the agency said.

But Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers’ Association of Canada, said consumers are “not confident at all,” about the plant’s safety, with some saying they would eat less beef, or avoid beef from Alberta.

Privately held XL Foods transferred management of the plant to JBS USA Holdings, a subsidiary of Brazilian meat giant JBS SA, which holds an option to buy the company’s Canadian and U.S. operations for $50 million in cash and $50 million in shares.

Supplies have backed up on Canadian ranches and feedlots, many of which have held cattle from market longer than usual at extra expense or have exported them to U.S. plants.

“The sooner we can get that plant up in operation, the better,” said Alberta cow-calf producer Doug Sawyer.

Cattle prices in Western Canada have dropped sharply, anywhere from $168 to $224 per head, Sawyer said.

Mayers said the plant will eventually be allowed to reach its normal production speed. The USDA has not yet decided to resume imports from the plant, he said.

Food inspection officials will now turn their attention to whether changes are necessary to boost food-safety in the broader meat-packing industry, Mayers said.

Rod Nickel writes for Reuters in Winnipeg

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