Canadians need trust restored in the safety of the country's food system
The federal government's review into last fall's E. coli-tainted beef from an Alberta packing plant looks like it won't come cheap, based on figures from the Canadian Press on Monday. But this is a review that needs to be undertaken.
The contaminated meat sickened 18 people and prompted the largest beef recall in Canadian history, involving millions of tonnes of beef packaged in more than 2,000 products across the country and into the United States.
The recall spooked countless Canadians away from beef products and was the latest kick in the shins to a beef industry that didn't need any more trouble. The mad-cow scare of 2003 closed a number of international borders to Canadian beef and hurt livestock producers for years. Producers don't need any more bad news to discourage consumers from buying their products.
That's why this review is so important. The government needs to get to the bottom of the issue so measures can be put in place to prevent a recurrence of what happened at the XL Foods plant in Brooks.
In launching the review, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said, "We take the safety of Canada's food supply very seriously and we remain committed to the continuous improvement of Canada's strong food safety systems."
And well they should. Canadians take their food safety seriously, too, and expect that their government will take steps to ensure everything is being done to keep that food safe. After the listeriosis outbreak in 2008 killed 22 people and produced 57 cases of illness, Canadians' trust in the food supply was shaken. The XL Foods scandal was just another blow to their confidence in the food system.
The review panel is made up of people with solid credentials in the scientific and public health communities as well as the meat industry. It includes Ronald Lewis, former chief veterinary officer for B.C.; Dr. Andre Corriveau, chief public health officer for the Northwest Territories; and Ronald Usborne, a former executive with Caravelle Foods, an award-winning business which produces frozen beef patties for the Canadian quick service restaurant industry.
Plans call for the panel to examine the design, implementation and oversight of food safety controls at the Brooks plant, including inspection policies of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. They will review the effectiveness of E. coli prevention protocols, including how well the system identifies problems.
According to federal documents, XL Foods received six warnings from CFIA inspectors about conditions at the plant between January 2012 and when the plant was temporarily closed last September. So the review will need to determine what went wrong to allow the meat products to go out to consumers.
Two tainted meat episodes in Canada in less than five years suggests the country's food safety system could use some improvement. Let's hope this review can help make that happen.
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