OTTAWA, Ontario – Gerry Ritz, Canada’s Agriculture Minister, defended the federal government’s response to a massive recall of beef products from Edmonton, Alberta-based XL Foods Inc.
On Oct. 3, Ritz visited the plant in Brooks, Alberta that is at the center of the recall on along with George Da Pont, president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The agency temporarily halted production at the plant to allow investigators and XL Foods to correct deficiencies in the facility's food safety processes.
When reporters questioned Da Pont about the amount of time it took to get information about possible contamination in beef processed at the plant, Da Pont said the information was delayed because CFIA did not have the authority to compel XL Foods to respond immediately to the agency’s requests for information. The press conference was promptly ended, according to news reports.
Ritz defended the government and the agency in a statement released after the plant visit. He said the government had provided funding to hire more than 700 additional inspectors, including 170 meat inspectors.
"I want to personally ensure that everyone — from the executive in Ottawa to the in-depth review team in Brooks — understand that the health and safety of Canadians is our first priority," Ritz said. "I saw first-hand that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has a full contingent of inspectors and staff — sampling, testing and examining all product and procedures in the plant."
Ritz added that the CFIA deployed additional resources to investigate the plant. XL Foods could re-open the plant in a matter of days, however CFIA officials vowed the plant will remain closed until agency officials are sure it's safe to process beef. Ritz echoed this sentiment.
"While we understand that ranchers, farmers and industry need a strong processing sector, we all agree that the success of the industry must be founded on food safety," Ritz said. "That is why the XL Foods plant will only resume operation when the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed in writing to me that the health of Canadians is not at risk."
Meanwhile, a man who ate steak contaminated with E. coli announced plans to sue XL Foods. Matthew Harrison, of Edmonton, Alberta, said he plans to file a lawsuit against XL Foods and will ask to have the lawsuit certified as a class action to allow others to join, according to news reports. At least five cases of E. coli appear to be linked to meat processed at the XL Foods plant in Brooks.
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