XL Foods should not taint Alberta beef

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  |  Posted: Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012 10:48 am

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The mettle of Alberta’s ranchers is being tested once again this time due an outbreak of E. coli at one of the province’s two federally inspected processing plants.

Last week the massive processing XL Foods facility in Brooks was shut down due to an outbreak of E. coli traced back to the plant.

This latest incident has brought to light issues facing Alberta’s cattle industry: the competence of the inspection process and the fact all of Alberta’s cattle are in two baskets.

According to Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors XL Foods was not following its stringent procedures in terms of cleaning and inspecting equipment at the plant which processes about 3,000 head of cattle per day.

Although this is clearly an issue with XL Foods and its apparently lacking inspection processes the closure is tainting all of Alberta’s beef.

Alberta ranchers are just now pulling themselves out of the hole resulting from the BSE (mad cow) crisis. This had the potential to be an exceptional year for Foothills producers as cattle and grain prices were high.

However, the E.coli outbreak has not only forced XL Foods to close its facility for the time being, but the United States has also closed its borders to beef from XL Foods.

As a result, prices for cull cattle has dropped almost in half and ranchers are either hanging on to their cull cattle or, if they do not have feed to maintain their herd, selling at a bargain price.

Most concerning is what the E. coli outbreak will do the consumer confidence in Alberta beef.

Thankfully, thus far it appears Albertans are not detered realizing this is not an issue with our beef, but an issue with one business not doing its due diligence.

However, this incident should force the provincial and federal governments to revisit Alberta’s cattle industry.

Alberta has just two federally inspected processing facilities in XL Foods and Cargill in High River. When one of these plants is shut down other facilities like Foothills Meat Processors in High River cannot pick up the slack due to federal regulations. What would happen if Cargill and XL were both closed? Alberta is relying too much on just two plants and regulations should be addressed to ensure smaller processing facilities can step in if needed.

One way that could be achieved is to allow provincially inspected plants like Foothills to export beef across Canada not just within Alberta.

Alberta needs to diversify to ensure its cattle industry does not have all its cows in one corral.


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