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Readers ticked off with CFIA and XL Foods mess

A few readers have weighed in on the massive meat recall from XL Foods at Brooks, Alberta which started in early September and continues, more than a month later as we reach deadline the second week of October.

I had written a couple of blog comments ( mostly criticizing XL Foods management for not stepping up to the plate. Obviously they have some role in this, but one reader says the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has to get serious about food safety. Here are those comments:

Dear Editor: This mess should never have happened and must not happen again.

As producers we have spent millions building the Alberta Beef brand only to have this black eye show up as a result of negligence I have no control over.

Asia, our “gold ring” market is now suspect of our food safety. The Americans are laughing all the way to the bank. There goes Canada again; shooting themselves in the foot!

This is an inspection and safety issue. There is too much at stake for CFIA to only be responsible for training company inspectors, doing random checks and looking at the occasional form.

As producers we must demand that every single carcass and procedure be inspected by an independent CFIA inspector. Our current federal government has used budget reduction and reduced department spending to download or default on their (our) responsibility for food safety. We must be prepared to check a thousand clean carcasses to find the one contaminated carcass. This is a cost of doing business and keeping business once we get it. The taxpayers of Canada will gladly pay for clean food. The company has the responsibility to process properly and the inspection system must put their stamp of assurance as the last link in the chain.

For (Alberta Premier) Redford to tell people to cook their meat well is an insult to the system and producers. She just told the majority of people they can no longer order a medium rare or rare steak. She did irreparable damage with that sweeping statement. She threw in the towel and said we can’t supply you with an assured uncontaminated steak so you must cook it white.

She should have been up one side of Gerry Ritz and down the other to show her support for the ranchers she represents. She should have said the meat was clean until the hide came off, what happened?

How can we be sure it won’t happen again next year? How much longer must we put up with CFIA dodging their responsibility? How much longer is the federal government going to starve food inspection services of adequate resources? Why lie to the public about hiring additional inspectors when those additional inspectors had nothing to do with the current crisis?

Damn rights I’m mad!

XL has admitted to an inability to keep up with the overwhelming contamination that hit the plant this summer. Many similar animals arrived at Cargill. How did they handle the situation? Did they slow the line speed? Did they hire more cleanup people? How did they avoid contamination or did they just not get caught?

Canadians will likely forgive this fiasco but I’m not sure overseas markets will.

This just puts more pressure on primary producers and hastens the day when XL will own all the auctions, all the feedlots and all the cattle.

I’m going to now take my blood pressure meds and do some yoga.

Norman Storch

Hanna, Alta

PS: Garden Plain looks better all the time and I had steak for supper! (Editor’s note: Storch’s reference is to Garden Plain Kansas, Beginning in 1980, the opening of two massive beef-packing plants on its outskirts turned Garden City into a modern boomtown and the first majority-minority community in Kansas. But when one of those plants burned down in 2000, the boom went bust.)

And a couple more Blog comments:

Editor: I can’t escape the feeling that the western beef producer is going to take a real kick in the u-no-whats over this.

We are now in southern Ontario, (Milton area) and the reaction is ugly. Shortly after the first recall, the host at a white tablecloth restaurant told us after seating that they did have beef products, none of them came from Alberta but from local producers. They did have other entrées if we did not wish to eat beef.

Supermarkets posted the same signs (no Alberta beef) for a few days, then replaced those signs with “Our beef is corn fed Ontario beef.”

The most recent signage adds “All our beef is provincially inspected corn-fed Ontario beef.”

So much for branding — how many years of work by the Beef Information Centre promoting beef has been lost in the past month?

After a lifetime eating our own beef, raised, fattened and butchered on our Cypress Hills farm, I find it unsettling when I have to buy beef these days.

P.S: I cringe whenever I hear the beef spokesmen saying that “with proper cooking, beef is safe.” In other words with the beef we buy we also get at no extra cost fecal matter with E. coli.

The first principle of TR’s (Teddy Roosevelt) pure food laws over a century ago was, “Food must be wholesome.”

Oh, how I wish someone could get up and say that honestly today.

Blair Backman

And on a different topic…a reader sends in his comments concerning an early October column on managing mouldy feed.

Editor: The mouldy feed story (GN Sept. 10, p. 23) by Mr. Vitti is terrific. It is clear, balanced, readable and informative and has much value in managing livestock. One can say more from history, however.

On the human side of things, ergot fungus in wet rye produced a form of neuropathology, which affected perceptions and caused twitching. That’s the mycological explanation for witch mania in Europe and especially in Salem, Mass. after a season in which unusual levels of moisture from heavy fall rains caused unventilated stores of rye to develop ergot. There were witch trials in Europe, esp. Germany, for behaviour of a similar sort following very wet falls. Wet rye fungus was the devil, so to speak.

There is a substantial scholarly literature on this. As a further historical note, the experiments with LSD in the 60s and 70s were reruns of the history of human ingestion of ergot mould. Temporary psychosis occurred in Salem in 1692 when 19 women and one man were executed and in Harvard Professor Timothy Leary’s head after he danced with LSD. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” said philosopher George Santayana.

The relevance of this to Mr. Vitti’s story is that, witches aside, critters which ingest certain mycotoxins may develop behavioural oddities. The cure is often not in pharmacy, but in clean, dry feed.

Andrew Allentuck

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

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



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