Oh Canada: Finding source of BSE ‘a needle in a haystack’

Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry-what-Listeria-Ritz says figuring out how an Alberta cow was infected with BSE is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

ITALY-G8-G5-AGRICULTURE-FARMThe beef breeding cow was discovered last month on a farm near Edmonton and was born on a nearby farm.

Another cow born on the same farm in 2004 tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy in 2010.

He says the feed system is also being checked to see if there’s any kind of “smoking gun.”

Ritz says a number of countries that have temporarily suspended imports of Canadian beef are being kept in the loop, but he points out they only account for about five per cent of Canada’s worldwide market.

Because trade is more important than safety.

So Ger, how effective is that ban on mammalian protein in ruminant feed? Got any proof?

Don’t worry, exports won’t be harmed: Another mad cow case in Canada

Gotta wonder just how effective Canada’s ban on mammalian protein in ruminant feed is, given the number of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) cases there have been over the past decade.

ITALY-G8-G5-AGRICULTURE-FARMWhen there’s a BSE case, or a foodborne illness outbreak like Listeria in the $5.5 billion a year Maple Leaf Foods, government agencies fall over themselves to assure the public – and trading partners – that everything is fine.

Would the Canadian economy sink were it not for the agricultural behemoths? Probably.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says little more than a week passed from the time the most recent case of mad cow disease was first suspected to when it was confirmed and national trading partners were notified.

A timeline of the case at an Alberta farm has been released on the agency’s website.

The website says a private veterinarian took samples on February 4 at the undisclosed farm and submitted them to a provincial lab.

It says they were tested on February 6 and the lab recorded a “non-negative” test result.

The lab repeated the test the following day with the same finding and reported the case to the CFIA, where the agency conducted its own test in Lethbridge, Alta, to confirm the result.

The CFIA says it started gathering information on the animal’s herd on Tuesday, officially confirmed the case on Wednesday and posted the case to its website and notified Canada’s trading partners on Thursday.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Friday that the infected animal was not born on the farm where it was discovered.

Ritz also said the discovery won’t affect Canada’s international beef trade because it won’t change the county’s controlled BSE risk status from the World Organization for Animal Health. He said Canada has stayed below international protocols that allow for up to a dozen BSE cases a year.

Mediocrity rises in Canada; despite E. coli scandal, it’s business as usual for XL Foods

André Picard, the long-time health reporter for Toronto’s Globe and Mail, writes this morning that XL Foods, whose unsanitary, licence-violating practices over five days resulted in at least 15 people being poisoned with E. coli and sparked the largest red-meat recall in Canadian history, plans to be back in the slaughtering business by week’s end and shipping meat to stores again within 10 days.

By all appearances, there will be no fines, no sanctions, no extra scrutiny, no public inquiry.

Don’t we teach our children that, when you screw up, there are consequences?

Apparently that is not the case in Canadian agribusiness.

Instead, we are supposed to feel sorry for XL Foods because its infamous Establishment 58 was shut down for three weeks while it cleaned out the crap – literally, not just figuratively – and mopping-up operations were carried out across the country.

More than 2,000 food products were recalled in every province and territory. It is dumb luck, more than anything else, that so few people became seriously ill.

Gerry Ritz, the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, whose job – presumably – is to ensure the safety of the Canadian food supply, seems to think that we should prostrate ourselves before the cattle and beef industry.

On the weekend, when XL Foods laid off 2,000 workers – a gesture that was arguably aimed at putting political pressure on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to speed up its work so production could resume – Mr. Ritz took the bait whole hog.

“My thoughts are with the workers and the community affected,” he said.

The comments were eerily similar to those of the company’s co-CEO Brian Nilsson: “XL Foods is committed to the cattle industry, our employees, the city of Brooks and all affected by the idling of the Brooks facility.”

Clearly, the two protagonists in the sad affair can’t bring themselves to utter the c-word – consumer.

Shouldn’t consumer safety, not restarting the production line, be the paramount concern?

There have also been attempts to pass the buck to consumers. Repeatedly we have been told that E. coli is not a threat if you cook your meat properly.

That is not entirely true. In 1994, the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service reclassified E. coli as an “adulterant” that is not allowed in food. This change occurred after four children died and 600 other people were sickened by E. coli after eating Jack in the Box burgers. The beef was cooked but not enough to kill the pathogen.

“Just cook it doesn’t cut it,” says Doug Powell, a professor at Kansas State University who tracks food safety problems on his blog, barfblog.com.

Business as usual shouldn’t cut it either.

Or as Pat Atkinson of the Star Phoenix wrote this morning, Ministerial mediocrity seems to have risen to a new level in Canada.

Same as it ever was: 3 years after listeria in Maple Leaf cold cuts killed 23 Canada still asleep

The Canadian government has fixed food safety.

They said so in a press release.

The person who is inexplicably still – still — Minister of Agriculture in Canada, Gerry-death-by-a-1,000-cold-cuts-Ritz, said tonight, "Food safety is a priority for this Government. We continue to work with consumers, producers, industry and our provincial and territorial partners to ensure that our food safety system remains one of the best in the world."

At least he didn’t say best in the world.

The self-adoration comes as the Government of Canada released its final report to Canadians on the action it has taken to respond to all recommendations by Ms. Sheila Weatherill outlined in the Report of the Independent Investigator into the 2008 Listeriosis Outbreak.

The Maple Leaf listeria-in-cold cuts outbreak that killed 23 people and sickened 55 in 2008. Self-adoration by government and health-types was rampant during the outbreak even though it was a disaster.

The bureaucrats talk about increased surveillance, more money for inspectors, better testing, more information, but provide little in the way of evidence to support the claim they have addressed all of Weatherill’s 57 recommendations.

Weatherill, who zeroed in on a "vacuum in senior leadership" among government officials, directed almost half of her recommendations on preventing another outbreak toward CFIA.

She also focused on the lack of food safety culture amongst health types and Maple Leaf.

"One of the tangible results of the recommendations is that they collectively impress on all stakeholders involved in food safety the need to adopt a culture of continuous improvement," Brian Evans, the government’s chief food safety officer, says in the report.

Not quite.

Culture encompasses the shared values, mores, customary practices, inherited traditions, and prevailing habits of communities. The culture of today’s food system (including its farms, food processing facilities, domestic and international distribution channels, retail outlets, restaurants, and domestic kitchens) is saturated with information but short on behavioral-change insights. Creating a culture of food safety requires application of the best science with the best management and communication systems, including compelling, rapid, relevant, reliable and repeated, multi-linguistic and culturally-sensitive messages.

And where is the compassionate concerned communicator, Michael McCain of Maple Leaf?

Government is fairly hopeless about these food safety things; and it’s not their job. Maple Leaf makes the profit, Maple Leaf product killed and sickened all those people, Maple Leaf should be leaders. Throwing around phrases like food safety culture because it is fashionable doesn’t count. Actions count.

The best food producers, processors, retailers and restaurants will go above and beyond minimal government and auditor standards and sell food safety solutions directly to the public. The best organizations will use their own people to demand ingredients from the best suppliers; use a mixture of encouragement and enforcement to foster a food safety culture; and use technology to be transparent — whether it’s live webcams in the facility or real-time test results on the website — to help restore the shattered trust with the buying public.

And the best cold-cut companies may stop dancing around and tell pregnant women, old people and other immunocompromised folks, don’t eat this food unless it’s heated (watch the cross-contamination though).

23 sick from salmonella in headcheese and massive recall because of undercooking; Canadian agriculture minister states obvious, there’s problems in meat inspection

Canadian Agriculture Minister and would-be comedian Gerry Ritz on Thursday told Postmedia News that last week’s massive recall of all Brandt ready-to-eat deli meats exposes gaps in Canada’s meat inspection system, stating,

"I’m concerned that the paperwork that Brandt had was less than strenuous, I’ll call it. We are in there looking through some of that. We’re looking at different protocols, at having them reporting in different ways. At the end of the day, we’ll have a better plant."

Sarah Schmidt, following up on her Postmedia story yesterday about the delay in detecting problems at the Brandt Meats Toronto-area plant, said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – which reports to the Canadian Parliament through the Minister of Agriculture – only checked out the Brandt plant after pressure from public health types.

As in, we got a bunch of sick people, it came from this plant, maybe you should look harder, do we have to do your job as well?

Ritz was further quoted as saying,

"It takes a combination of work between CFIA, public health and the industry of record. I think everyone learns from every one of things. We always do that ‘lessons-learned’ aspect of it. Having said that, we always strive to do better and I think in this case, certainly it could always be worse and we try to make a better system as we move forward."

Minister, by worse, do you mean when 23 people die from listeria in Canada in 2008?

Ritz also said, "we hiring people as fast we can."

Inspectors? Scientists? PR hacks? How’s the quality control on those fast hires?