* Consumers no longer shaken by E.coli cases-analysts
* Consumer group sees problems with inspections
By Rod Nickel
Oct 1 The huge recall of Canadian beef because
of E.coli contamination is unlikely to slow that country's beef
consumption or its exports, analysts say, largely because the
public has become familiar with E.coli.
On Friday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
temporarily shut down privately held XL Foods' beef-packing
plant at Brooks, Alberta, where products containing the
potentially deadly bacteria were made.
The CFIA also has recalled millions of pounds of beef
products, including ground beef and steaks, from the plant. The
U.S. Department of Agriculture, which stopped importing beef
from the plant in mid-September, is recalling beef in more than
Meat buyers from importing countries are unlikely to be
rattled by a risk they are well aware of, said Kevin Grier,
senior market analyst at the George Morris Centre, a Canadian
Canada is the world's sixth-largest exporter of beef and
"The system is working in the sense that the last line of
defense is recall," Grier said. "Everybody in the business knows
that this can happen, and it's happened in the United States.
"I don't see it having long-term implications because
knowledgeable people realize this is something that can plague
E. coli, which can cause sickness or even death, is widely
present in meat-processing plants, but regulators require
packers to control the bacteria within certain levels. E.coli
can be killed by thoroughly cooking meat.
The Brooks plant is one of Canada's largest, with capacity
to slaughter an estimated 4,500 head of cattle per day. Ranchers
in Alberta, the biggest cattle-producing province, have said
they are concerned by the closure, even if temporary, of a large
buyer of their cattle.
HUGE GROCERY CHAINS AFFECTED
Grier said anecdotal reports he has heard from Canadian
retailers indicate steady beef sales during the weekend, despite
the recall. In 2003, after mad cow disease was discovered in an
Alberta beef herd, Canadian beef consumption increased, he said.
The recall affects a who's who of North American grocery
outlets, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Safeway and
Costco Wholesale Corp.
Nine people have become ill because of E. coli, all in
Alberta, including four who ate steak sold at an Edmonton
Costco. Four of the cases have been confirmed to be linked with
XL Foods. The recall affects products made at XL on five dates -
Aug. 24, 27, 28, 29 and Sept. 5.
The recall has not raised concern among members of the Meat
Import Council of America, who include meat heavyweights Cargill
Inc and Tyson Foods Inc, said executive
director Laurie Bryant.
But Bruce Cran, president of the not-for-profit Consumers'
Association of Canada, said Canadians are more likely now to ask
where their beef was produced. The fact that it took two weeks
for the first recall of XL Foods beef in September since CFIA
learned of the E. coli contamination, alarms consumers, Cran
"I think a lot of damage has been done, probably because of
the system that's in place."
Opposition legislators have alleged that sweeping budget
cuts by the Canadian government this year to reduce the deficit
contributed to the spread of contaminated products.
CFIA has said that 46 agency staff work full-time at the
Brooks plant, an increase over three years ago.
Some critics have suggested that those staff do not directly
inspect cattle and meat, but that's not the case, said Dr.
Richard Arsenault, the CFIA's director of meat programs
"CFIA inspectors are looking at the animals in the barn,
CFIA inspectors are looking at the carcasses on the evisceration
floor, the dressing floor," he said in an interview. "And there
are additional checks above and beyond what we do that are done
by company employees, and we stand behind them with a clipboard
monitoring how well they're doing it," he said.
Jim Robb, director of the Colorado-based Livestock Marketing
Information Center, said there's little evidence that U.S.
consumers are worried about Canadian beef because they generally
trust the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which halted imports
from the plant.
Mexico took a similar cautious approach last week, and
halted beef imports from the XL plant, Arsenault said.