* XL Foods took five days to provide all information
* Inspectors did "terrific job," ag minister says
* Five illnesses linked to tainted beef
By Rod Nickel
Oct 3 Canadian food inspectors could not
immediately get key information from packer XL Foods after
detecting E. coli bacteria in its beef, adding to a nearly
two-week delay in launching one of the country's largest-ever
Authorities learned about the presence of E. coli in beef
produced at the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alberta, from U.S.
authorities on Sept. 4, triggering a Canadian investigation.
Two days later, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
asked XL Foods for information on product testing and
distribution, but the request was not fulfilled until Sept. 11.
"There was a delay in getting it," George Da Pont, president
of the CFIA, said in a press conference at a CFIA laboratory in
Calgary, Alberta. "We have limited authority to compel immediate
Officials from XL Foods could not immediately be reached for
Five illnesses have been linked to the tainted beef.
One of the provisions in draft legislation to make foods
safer for Canadians would give the CFIA more authority, Da Pont
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who oversees the CFIA, said
the agency had done "a terrific job" dealing with the tainted
Meat from the XL Foods plant was not recalled until Sept.
16, almost two weeks after the CFIA knew of the contamination.
CFIA did not recall meat earlier because the products originally
flagged had not made it onto store shelves, Da Pont said.
Since then, the recall has expanded several times and now
involves more than 1,500 products, including ground beef, roasts
and steaks. The plant was closed last Thursday.
E. coli, a strain of which can cause sickness or even death,
is widely present in meat-processing plants, and regulators
require packers to control the bacteria within certain levels.
E.coli can be killed by thoroughly cooking meat.
The lag between detecting the bacteria and recalling tainted
beef is not unusual and does not point to poor performance by
CFIA, said Rick Holley, a food microbiologist at University of
But the sweeping recall points to a shortcoming in the
Canadian food-safety system - not enough understanding of
organisms that cause food-borne illnesses and a lack of
preventative action, he said.
"We're really walking around in the dark. Food safety in
Canada is more by accident than by design."
A CFIA official said Tuesday that the XL Foods plant may
reopen later this week, once the company complies with six
requests for corrective action.
Eleven people have recently become sick in Alberta due to E.
coli bacteria, and five of those were confirmed to be connected
to beef from XL Foods. Neighboring Saskatchewan reported 13
cases of E. coli infection in September, far more than usual,
and the province's health officials are testing for a link to
the XL recall.
The meat recall is the biggest in Canada since at least
2008, when 22 people died after eating deli meat from a Maple
Leaf Foods plant.
The latest recall affected food stores across Canada and
most U.S. states and include Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Costco
Wholesale Corp, Safeway and Loblaw Companies Ltd
The plant's temporary closure has left ranchers with fewer
options to sell their cattle, and prompted rival Cargill Ltd
to boost production at its High River, Alberta,
Prices of cattle for slaughter have dropped sharply since
the plant closed, said Saskatchewan farmer Glenn Tait of the
National Farmers Union.
"This sudden and unpredictable loss of income may well wipe
out our 2012 profits," he said.
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.
Canada is the world's sixth-largest exporter of beef and