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Is the meat recall gong show over?



If there is one
thing we are learning about the XL Foods meat recall is how not to handle a
wide-scale meat recall. To me it is a gong show.

The first alarm was
raised a month ago — September 4 — 
with a batch of meat testing positive for E.coli 0157:H7 and since then
it has just mushroomed to a wider and wider daily recall of more meat products.

The U.S. decided it
would no longer accept meat from the XL plant; the CFIA yanked the plant’s
licence to operate; the Alberta Premier makes a Sunday trip to a farm 200

kilometres from the plant to comfort distressed beef producers (that must have
helped); the federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz shows up this week to take
a tour of the plant (sort of like flying over the charred landscape after a
forest fire); the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, at the same
time, suggests management at XL Foods had not fully co-operated with all
aspects of their investigation; the CFIA’s director of meat inspection saying there
were some deficiencies identified at the plant years ago that had not been
corrected; and then it becomes a political football with a marathon emergency
debate in the House of Commons over the federal agency’s handling of the E.coli
outbreak (and we all know how useful that whole discussion was in getting the
plant operating again); and in the meantime there are daily additional recall
notices which now cover more than 1,500 meat products from the plant.

My wife took meat we

bought at Costco back for a refund. And I see a few retailers in Calgary with
signs on the meat counter “this is not XL Foods beef”.

The cleanup of the E.-coli outbreak
just wasn’t handled in a nip-it-in-the-bud manner. It was more like an issue
that bled out slowly. The problem certainly got worse before now, about a month
later, it seems to getting better. Some workers may be heading back to the
plant this week.

I don’t believe this
event will permanently rattle consumer confidence in Canadian beef, but it has
to make people wonder what the heck is going on. A month after the initial
outbreak is detected, and we’re still seeing more product recalls!

I’m not even
critical of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. There is always room for
improvement, but it appears they handled it well. They have certainly been up
front with keeping the public informed.

The big gap in this
whole month-long affair, in my view, is where the hell is  XL Foods management in all this mess?
Are they away golfing or what? I don’t suspect they are, but to me if there was
one of those man-up, get-out-there-and-show-leadership moments, this would have
been it.  Again I think about
Michael McCain being up front and dealing with the Maple Leaf Foods listeria
crisis, and I also think about BP and the cleanup of the Gulf oil spill in 2010
— the engineers were on camera slogging around in this slime, but where was the
company president?

This is an era of
instant overwhelming communications and everyone is acutely aware of optics and
perception as it relates to image and branding. And I assumed the meat
processing industry was on board with branding of Canadian beef. But I guess it is not their business. 

It would have been a
great clip on the 6 p.m. news for people to see the president of XL Foods, out
on the meat processing line, wearing gum boots and wielding a steam cleaner
showing the company was committed to correcting the problem and getting back
into production.

I complained earlier
that XL management should be stepping up to the news microphones, but one
rancher sent comments and disagreed:

“Really? You
think by them (XL) telling you anything, makes it better? Oh, sorry, it would
just make you FEEL better… They’d just be LYING and lying for the sake of the
almighty dollar. We all work with people who don’t pull their own weight, or
who don’t follow procedure – some of these people work there too and it bit
them in the you know where. No amount of ‘corporate care’ speak is going to
change the fact that its out there and that it will probably happen again. Now,
dismissing all the probable culprits and their managers and the people who
hired them, MIGHT have some impact as to whether future outbreaks occur.”

And then I had an
email from a producer about the XL Foods recall: 
“it shows don’t put all your eggs in one
basket,”
he says.
“No sympathy for Nillsons.”

And another rancher
I talked to yesterday, also made a very good point.  Yes, food processing plants need to be producing good
quality and safe food products “but if people would just learn to cook
the damn stuff properly, there wouldn’t be near the problem.”
 
And that’s valid too.

If you have any
thoughts on the XL Foods meat recall, send me an email or call.

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in
Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]

 

 

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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