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JBS in Canada more of treat than a trick

It is Halloween as I write this and XL Foods is back to work, so all is right with the world. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but it is good to see the meat packer get back into operation after being shut down for a month, amid one of the largest meat recalls in Canadian history.

Too bad, as one reader notes in a letter below, that recalled meat — reportedly up to about 500 tonnes — had to go into the landfill. What a waste. You’d think there would be some way with “proper cooking” to salvage some of it. Hey, they can put a man on the moon, but try and zap E-coli…

But, XL Foods is under the management of JBS-USA, which by all accounts is a good thing. The new managers held a news conference, which is refreshing, to say they want to not only manage the plant, but hope to be able to buy it. And again that sounds like a good thing.

In fact it must be a great thing, because I see an article which says that the U.S. beef industry protectionist group R-CALF is opposed to JBS buying the Brooks plant. Now I am trying to think why this would be a problem for U.S. beef producers. In the news article, R-CALF says they are concerned that if JBS buys the Brooks plant, it “would catapult JBS perhaps into being the largest beef packer in the United States…”

Hello! I think the horse is already out of the barn on that one. According to my extensive research, JBS S.A. (South America), the parent company of JBS-USA is already the largest beef processor in the world. This is a company that kills anything that moves — beef, pork, poultry — with annual revenues of about $33 billion.

The Brazil-based JBS bought the old U.S. meat packer, Swift & Company in 2007 and renamed it JBS-USA. JBS already processes about 52,000 head of cattle per day, so adding another 5,000 head at Brooks isn’t unbelievable growth in an era when more and more companies are doing multi-billion dollars deals before breakfast.

I might be living in a dream world, but I think it would be better if the Canadian meat industry also had two or three moderate-sized packers, just so all the proverbial carcasses weren’t just in one or two big industry coolers. But, then I would like them to bring back Gunsmoke and Bonanza on TV and it is unlikely that will happen (certainly not with the original cast members.)

Along with a couple of comments on the XL Foods issue on this page, there is also a news item from an Alberta company that has developed a scanning device to quickly and accurately determine if bacteria is present on meat. And that sounds like a pretty good idea. We all know how effective the blue light is on CSI when scanning bed linens or looking for tell-tale blood splatter. E-coli will have no place to hide.

From the Mailbag

To the editor,

On the morning of Oct. 22, I woke up, and on my favourite TV news channel the first thing I saw was the story on the landfill at Brooks, Alberta and the truckloads of meat being buried there.

My first reaction was shock as to what a million pounds of beef is in terms of volume. Then it brought a tear to my eyes as I realized what it really meant. It meant that nearly 1,333 head of cattle were wasted, and some of those wasted animals could have been ones that I raised.

As a rancher I have a social contract with my animals. I provide feed, water and shelter to them and in turn they provide their young to feed Canadians. As part of the contract I am to be humane to them, not to abuse them or mistreat them, to care for them if they are ill, to provide assistance if they need it during birth and above all, to ensure their young are cared for and that their short lives are not wasted.

We have a moral responsibility to ensure we do not mistreat or waste these animals. They deserve better. Canadians must get involved and demand accountability for this wanton waste and demand our food system be restructured so that no more XL’s occur. Write your MLA, MPP, MP and county and city councilors and demand change — and demand to be part of that change. And yes please light a candle and place it in your window for those 1,333 wasted lives.

Neil Peacock

NFU board member

Cattle Rancher

Sexsmith, Alta.

Dear Editor: Re: Readers ticked off with CFIA and XL Foods mess, Grainews Oct. 22.

There is another side to the story.

First of all, each individual who works at the XL Foods plant is aware of safety issues. From the kill floor to the finished product, the employees are working hard to keep their jobs.

At each level of production, supervisors are overseeing the hands-on employees at their jobs. Has there been a breakdown in communication? Are the supervisors, managers, top executives and owners not listening, or communicating with the employees?

For example several nozzles on the water hoses on the kill floor were broken. Immediately there is a breakdown in cleanliness. Everyone working in this plant knows what is right and wrong. Their jobs and livelihoods depend on doing a good job. However, if supervisors and maintenance staff do not act promptly, there is a problem. If the owners do not support their supervisors and each employee, there is a problem.

Instead of blaming the CFIA inspectors, why not promote loyalty, good work ethics, good maintenance, supervisory support and price in each and every job.

In this way, no CFIA inspectors are needed. Each individual employee is a safety inspector. Health standards and practices are maintained.

Owners, management and workers are all working together for the greater good, for the common good of XL Foods and our country — Canada.

Peter and Marion Giesbrecht

Red Deer, Alta.

New scanning technology

A new technology being introduced into the Canadian food-processing industry may help in the battle to provide less cross contamination of harmful bacteria. Called Bactiscan, it is a portable light source that can be used to scan food processing equipment surfaces and show instantly areas where cleaning was not effective. Once unclean locations are identified, thorough analysis and control procedures can be implemented and the areas cleaned properly.

“The technology uses light in various wavebands which cause unclean surfaces to fluoresce somewhat,” says Easytesters spokesperson, Bob Holland. “Viewed in a near dark environment, it’s like the unclean area glows. It’s very easy to see where the cleaning has not been effective. Digital photographs can be used to document and compare the unclean surface before proper treatment and after.”

Currently, many food processing facilities use the internationally recognized Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) procedures to develop safe cleaning and reporting standards for their food processing facilities, says Holland.

HACCP is a system that directs plant procedures for identifying chemical and biological foodborne concerns. Under HACCP, manufacturer’s procedures directly require staff to correct deficiencies. HACCP is constantly changing to strive for the best known control procedures.

There is nothing like Bactiscan on the market currently, says Holland, and it is being viewed with interest by the food processing industry.

The technology has been supported by two independent studies in the U.K. Recently, the University of Alberta’s Agri-Food Discovery Place (AFDP) in Edmonton has also been contracted to examine the technology. The AFDP project will examine specific known substances on stainless steel surfaces to see how they appear under the Bactiscan light bands.

The project is taking place within the Meat Safety and Processing Research Unit (MSPRU) of AFDP. The MSPRU is designated a “Containment Level 2” meat processing pilot plant that provides industry, academia and government with the ability to carry out industry driven applied food safety and quality research. Containment Level 2 status allows MSPRU to work with pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria.

The Bactiscan technology is easy to adopt by industry, says Holland. There is minimal specific training required to operate the system. It can either be leased on an annual basis, or inspection services contracted by the hour. A similar product, Bactiscope, used to scan the insides of pipes up to 20 metres, is also being marketed by Easytesters.

“It’s important to consider new technologies,” says Holland. “We’re in a situation today where disease outbreaks can directly affect consumers and threaten the livelihoods of thousands of people in production and the related food industry chain.”

Easytesters is an international technology company with several food processing equipment testing products on the market. The Canadian operations are headquartered in Calgary, Alta.

New Bova-Tech owners

Bova-Tech Ltd. (BTL), an internationally recognized Alberta-based embryo transplant company, is under the new ownership of Dr. Andres Arteaga, with the company’s office and embryo storage facility relocated to Airdrie, Alta. just north of Calgary.

“We are excited with the new opportunities this presents to BTL and will continue to provide the high level of customer service that clients have come to rely on from BTL for more than 25 years,” says Arteaga. Born and raised in Mexico, Arteaga has been involved in the Canadian embryo transfer industry since 2003. He received his masters in Veterinary Science, specializing in Theriogenology from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, Sask.

BTL offers the beef and dairy industries in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba complete commercial embryo transplant services along with international export market opportunities.

“In-clinic and on-farm services for embryo collection, freezing and transplants will continue to be the foundation at BTL,” says Arteaga.

“For customers who prefer in-clinic services we have formed a partnership with two respected Alberta centres which will serve as our official satellite locations.”

“BTL will be working with Earl and Jonathan Scott who recently opened Scott Stock Farm Bull & Heifer Development Centre near Crossfield, and Duncan Fleming and Justin Pittman of Fleming Stock Farms near Granum. These facilities will offer complete services for hosting donors and recipients cows. The Scotts and Flemings have decades of cattle care and management experience with a proven track record for both providing hands-on, customer focused service,” says Arteaga.

For more information visit the Bova-Tech Ltd. website at www.bova-tech.com

Coming Events

CATTLE MARKETING — Canfax, the cattle market info division of the Canadian Cattleman’s Assoc. is staging its first cattle market forum in Calgary, Nov. 13 and 14. The event will be held at the Deerfoot Inn and Casino. Registration details can be found on the Canfax website at: www.canfax.ca by clicking on the forum poster.

GRAZING CONFERENCE – The Western Canadian Grazing Conference and Trade Show is coming up Nov. 28 and 29 at the Sheraton Hotel, Gaetz Ave. in Red Deer, Alta. Held every two years, the conference this year has an excellent line up of speakers including beef producers Neil Dennis of Wawota, Sask., Charley Orchard, grazing management specialist from Great Falls, Montana; and Glen Rabenberg, president of Soil Works, PhosRite and Genesis Soil Rite Calcium. Banquet speaker is David Irvine, an Alberta psychologist who will talk about “Working with the ones you Love: The human side of agriculture.” For more information visit the conference website at: www.westerncanadiangrazingconference.com or call the West Central Forage Association at 780-727-4447.

MANITOBA RANCHER’S FORUM — The long-running Manitoba Grazing School has been revamped and renamed this year as the Manitoba Rancher’s Forum to be held Nov. 27 and 28 at the Victoria Inn, Brandon, Man. While the school was good, organizers decided to refresh the program, with a broader range of topics focusing on the needs of livestock, forage and grain producers.

There will be a wide range of topics and speakers for all involved in agriculture. The topics include: marketing, animal rights, soil and pasture cropping systems, herd health, legal liability issues on the farm, tax management, feedlot topics, goat and sheep production, social media development and much more.

Speakers will range from the Manitoba minister of agriculture to Canadian Cattlemen’s Association President Martin Unrau. Other highlights include Brenda Schoepp from Beeflink, Merle Good, a taxation specialist from Alberta with extensive experience in taxation and business and an ever-popular producer panel on sustainable farming. Agri-businesses will be in attendance with booth displays and handout materials.

Registration is $150 per person for Manitoba Forage Council Members (earlybird), which includes meals and sessions. For more information go to the Manitoba Forage Council website at: www.mbforagecouncil.mb.ca or any MAFRI Go-office.

FORAGE CONFERENCE: The Canadian Forage and Grassland Association is holding a two conference on Innovations in the Forage and Grassland Sector, December 10 to 12, at the Radisson Plaza Mississauga hotel at the Toronto Airport. Several key speakers are lined up for the event including Dr. Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin; Dr. Ralph Martin, professor and Loblaw Chair Sustainable Food Production, University of Guelph; Steve Eby, a beef producer; Evert Veldhuizen, a dairy Producer; Ed Shaw, IQ Forage, Carstairs, Alberta; Marc Lavoie, Macay Enterprises, Peace River, Alberta; Jeff Roberts of Harvest Tech Inc.; and Nick Betts, Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement. For more information visit the association website at: www.canadianfga.ca †

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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