As Alberta’s beef reputation takes a clipping on the international stage — with grocery stores as far away as Hong Kong removing XL Foods product from their shelves — Canadian regulators must take steps to “ensure a state of calm” remains in place in global markets that import Alberta beef, an expert says.
The massive beef recall of products from the XL Foods plant expanded over the weekend, as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued further notices adding dozens of meat cuts and stores in B.C. to its long list.
U.S. authorities also issued a recent notice clarifying that the Food Safety and Inspection Service has received roughly 1.1 million kilograms of beef, steaks, roasts and other cuts from XL Foods on recall dates in question and warning consumers the products are considered “adulterated.”
The list of halted international imports of affected XL Foods beef product is also widening.
A notice from the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety (CFS) advised the department is suspending the import of affected XL products “with immediate effect as a precaution.”
An initial investigation showed some of the products had already made their way to Hong Kong store shelves, according to a Friday statement posted on the agency’s website.
“The CFS has alerted the trade and instructed the importer and distributors concerned to stop selling and start recalling the products of the affected batches,” according to the statement.
The Japan health minister also issued a warning last week to importers that shipments containing XL beef on the CFIA recall list will be seized, while Puerto Rico has also been subject to the recall.
An international beef trade expert who helped the industry navigate the mad cow crisis praised the international response to the E. coli scare as measured, and noted it’s focused only on one product — XL Food’s recalled beef — not the sector as a whole.
Ted Haney, former president of Canada Beef Export Federation said the E. coli situation is fundamentally different from the mad cow crisis, which saw borders shut to beef exports for years and stripped billions from the agriculture sector but had no effect on humans. But Canada will have work to do in the days ahead, Haney said.
“It does provide a test of the relationship between foreign regulators and the CFIA, and measure whether the Canadian agency has rebuilt trust since the BSE crisis,” Haney said.
“The fact there’s a very measured recall internationally is a positive sign of the trust.”
The CFIA must now “ensure a state of calm is maintained and confidence is in place with the anticipated resumption of operations in the plant, and paving the way for a successful return to markets,” Haney said.
In the medium term, Canada will have to blitz important international markets, including Mexico, South Korea, Russia and Japan, to reassure importers and distributors about Alberta beef as a whole, he added.
On Sept. 27, the CFIA indefinitely suspended the operating licence of the XL Foods Brooks beef processing plant at the centre of the E. coli scare because the company hadn’t fully corrected problems identified by the agency.
Meanwhile, the number of E. coli poisonings linked to beef products from the Brooks plant doubled over the weekend, as five more E. coli cases — three in Alberta and two in Quebec — were reported, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Health officials said the new E. coli cases involved individuals who became ill more than two weeks ago and are recovering from the dangerous bacteria.
Cattle ranchers are growing anxious as the closure drags on.
Ranchers with cows ready to go to market are losing significant amounts of money each day the XL Food processing plant in Brooks remains shuttered, said Wayne Hanson, who ranches west of Airdrie.
“It creates a backlog,” Hanson said.
“The most serious, immediate emergency is for the people that have a bunch of fat cattle on feed. It costs those guys somewhere between four and five dollars a day to keep those cattle.”
For ranchers who have thousands of fat cattle — defined as cows that weigh enough to go to market — the dollars spent to continue to feed them are adding up quickly.
Cattle prices have already dropped since the E. coli scare began. Some ranchers could choose to send their animals to market at a reduced rate rather than continue to feed them, said Hanson, but the slaughter capacity in Canada is limited because of the XL closure.
“They have no options. There’s no killing capacity in Canada,” Hanson said.
Close to a third of Canada’s beef supply is processed at XL Foods in Brooks. Cargill Inc. added two extra shifts Saturday at its High River facility to allow it to slaughter up to an additional 4,500 head, almost one-quarter of the capacity lost when the XL plant was shuttered.
The bottleneck created by the plant’s closure and the lack of capacity across Canada to slaughter cows is forcing ranchers to make tough decisions.
“Some are waiting it out, others are deciding whether they might move cattle to the States, others will look to smaller processors and perhaps start slaughtering their cattle into some of the smaller value chains,” said David Chalack, chairman of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency.
Bryan Danard, the general manager at Calgary Stockyards, said the closure of XL’s Brooks facility is having a huge impact on the cattle industry.
“Every day it goes on, it’s costing the industry millions of dollars and it’s costing 2,200 people their jobs everyday,” he said.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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