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Ritz regrets XL Foods wasn’t pushed harder

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency should have been “more vociferous” in demanding inspection data from XL Foods during the early stages of the contaminated beef crisis, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz admits.

“The CFIA could have been more hard nosed,” Ritz said at Commons agriculture committee hearings on legislation that will overhaul the agency.

But he also defended federal health officials, saying inspectors weren’t finding a spike in E. coli cases that would have indicated a major outbreak of food illness. So far, 16 cases of E. coli poisoning have been linked to the plant, which forced the largest meat recall in Canadian history.

XL Foods not only failed to provide all the information on the results of its food safety testing until it was formally requested, but instead of supplying it electronically, delivered 12 boxes of paperwork that took time to sort through. It was eventually discovered the data did not support the assurances the company had given federal officials, Ritz said.

“The company didn’t grasp the significance of what it was finding,” the minister stated.

An advisory committee — comprised of experts from the private sector and academia supported by federal experts — will review the affair for CFIA, but Liberal Agriculture Critic Frank Valeriote said a more independent review is required. The results of the review will be made public once completed, CFIA said.

The agency has approved a plan to resume operations at the Brooks, Alta., plant. It will slowly ramp up to full production, which will likely happen by early November. The agency will also add more inspectors to the 46 already at the plant, so it can ensure “strengthened food safety controls are being effectively integrated into daily plant practices.”

XL has turned over the operation and eventual ownership of the Brooks plant to Brazilian-based JBS.

The legislation to overhaul the CFIA , which has already been approved by the Senate, is just the first step in making changes. Still to come is a massive program of regulations that will put teeth into the new food safety law.

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