OTTAWA, Ontario – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) challenged allegations that the agency told beef inspectors at the XL Foods Brooks, Alberta plant to ignore contamination on carcasses being processed for sale in Canada.
A 2008 memo that was obtained by CTV News appears to instruct inspectors to give extra scrutiny to beef carcasses shipped to Japan. The memo, which is posted on the news stations’ website, states in part:
“For clarification purposes: The Japan Dura Mater position is specific to 100% verification of spinal cord/dura-mater removal of Japan eligible carcasses only. Our number 1 priority is to ensure this standard is met with Japan eligible carcasses. When stationed at this position, ensure that non-Japan eligible carcasses are not inspected for spinal cord/dura-mater, OCD defects and minor ingesta (Ignore them).”
CFIA said the allegations were “categorically false”.
The agency responded in a statement posted on the CFIA website:
"The CFIA ensures that the same stringent food safety standards are applied to domestic and exported products. This was the case four years ago and it remains true today. Within meat plants, there are specific inspection tasks conducted at various stations and production points in production. The memo referenced simply emphasized this division of labour.
"This information was clarified with the union and front line inspection staff over three weeks ago when the union first brought their allegations to the CFIA's attention. It was also explained in detail on two occasions to CTV.
"What the union and CTV fail to mention is that every carcass processed in Canada must meet Canada's high food safety standards. This is required by law. There is zero tolerance for any form of contamination, and critical control points to detect problems are in place at multiple points throughout the inspection process. If at any time during inspection a potential risk to food safety is detected - regardless of the product’s destination - the line is stopped and product is held until the concern is resolved and product is in compliance."
The XL Foods facility was at the center of the largest beef recall in Canadian history. The Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed at least 17 illnesses were linked to the specific strain of E. coli O157:H7 found during the XL Foods outbreak investigation.