Do Canadians get tired of repetition? Walkerton, Maple Leaf, and now XL; or will they go back to sleep after Thanksgiving turkey

“I’ve been doing this stuff for 20 years, and I’m getting sort of bored about reading the same thing over and over. They don’t learn. They all say the same thing about how food safety is the No. 1 priority. But, against economics, it doesn’t stand a chance.”

That’s what I told the Globe and Mail yesterday. Amy says I’m grumpy; I say experienced.

There’s nothing boring about people getting sick, and it has now spread to Newfoundland with a lab-confirmed case of E. coli O157:H7 linked to XL Foods in Alberta; what’s boring is the political nonsense, just like in Walkerton and Maple Leaf.

Canadians do like to hold really tight to their myths.

“Doug Powell, however, says it’s XL that should be in the spotlight, not the CFIA. The Canadian-born Kansas State University professor of food safety co-authored a study this year titled “Audits And Inspections Are Never Enough,” and says food safety is up to plants. “It’s not a function whether it’s big or small, whether it’s local or global. It’s that you know about microorganisms and take steps to reduce them, or you don’t.”

Meanwhile, questioning the beef sector is tantamout to treason in Alberta. Premier Alison Redford has unequivocally backed the sector, saying last weekend that beef was “safe” despite some “regulatory challenges.” Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason called it the “most foolish and irresponsible comment on food safety since ‘shoot, shovel and shut up,’” referring to former premier Ralph Klein’s infamous message to farmers during the mad-cow crisis.

“It’s time that the government stopped playing PR for the beef industry,” Mr. Mason says.

 Powell worries the plant will reopen, and production will continue to increase, with the same attitude authorities have taken for a century – trust us, it’s safe – and no data to back it up.

As Sarah Schmidt of Post Media reported, when the opposition asked Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz about the sweeping beef recall last week, the veteran minister stood up in the House of Commons to declare that no illnesses had been linked to the virulent strain of E. coli found in meat from XL Foods Inc.

“We have actually done a tremendous job,” Ritz told the NDP’s deputy agriculture critic Ruth Ellen Brosseau at the time, saying he was in daily communication with officials at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency about the “status of this recall and on the work forward to get back into that lucrative American market.”

The answer was bad timing. Ritz, who was worried about trade after the Americans shut the border to the company, turned out to be wrong about the growing food-safety issue that soon ballooned into Canada’s largest-ever beef recall, spanning all provinces and 41 states. Government scientists confirmed that very day a genetic match between tainted steak from the XL plant, and four cases of human illness in Alberta. Public health authorities are now testing whether a spike in E. coli cases in Saskatchewan is also linked to tainted XL Foods beef.

Oh, and CFIA admitted Friday its 40 inspectors and six vets failed to notice during routine inspections that the plant at the centre of Canada’s largest-ever beef recall had not properly implemented its own plan to control food safety risks.

  • Gordon

    I agree with Amy. 🙂 although I also agree we need to see better standards in plant. CFIA and auditors can only do a small part. The plants need to actually manage their “Food Safety MANAGEMENT System – the clue is in the title. Gordon