Independent inquiry needed | Internal review ‘not good enough’: ABP
FORT MACLEOD, Alta. — Southern Alberta cattle producers want a thorough independent inquiry into the XL Foods beef recall and plant shutdown.
Those at an Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) zone meeting in Fort Macleod last week supported a motion from producer Bill Newton calling for an inquiry that will go beyond the internal review so far promised by government.
“I appreciate that the beef value chain round table is going to review this, but that’s not good enough. This requires a prime minister’s office review. The CFIA has been basically out of control for quite some time now,” said Newton.
The motion will be considered at the ABP annual meeting later this year.
Those who spoke before and after the motion were critical of how the issue was handled, though all stopped short of direct criticism of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or XL Foods ownership and management.
“We have political involvement, we have bureaucratic involvement in what really should have been a science-based decision. So I think we need a thorough inquiry,” Newton added.
Dean Kennedy, a cattle producer from Pincher Creek, Alta., questioned the lack of an apparent spokesperson for the industry once the XL Foods beef recall began in early September and then escalated to temporary closure of the slaughter plant in Brooks, Alta.
“Who is representing this industry when it comes to a very tough spot,” Kennedy asked. “This XL thing has been hitting for six weeks and there seems to be no end in sight, so where do we go?”
ABP chair Doug Sawyer said cattle group officials and communications personnel gave interviews and put forward producers’ point of view but with little effect.
A recall of this magnitude that also affected muscle cuts proved a first for all those involved.
“Quite frankly, I think it caught everybody, certainly me, with my pants down,” said Sawyer.
“We just couldn’t get out in front. We became the secondary story about three or four days into this thing and we could never get back on top of it. It wasn’t from lack of trying, we just didn’t have a way to do it.”
During the BSE crisis in 2003, CFIA chief Brian Evans acted as point person. During the listeria outbreak at Maple Leaf in 2008, company president Michael McCain became the most visible spokesperson communicating with the public.
This time, with XL Foods owners silent and CFIA careful with details of its investigation, the situation was different.
“We have good staff that handle the media both at the CCA (Canadian Cattlemen’s Association) and ABP level. It wasn’t a lack of having people in front of the mikes with the speaking points,” said Sawyer.
“The problem was, we didn’t have very much speaking points because nobody was sharing with us.”
ABP and CCA have plans for an advertising campaign related to the food safety issue but it has been delayed by the entry of JBS into the Canadian industry.
JBS took over management of the Brooks slaughter plant last month and has an option to buy XL Foods assets. Sawyer said JBS personnel want to be part of the message that is provided to consumers through television advertising.
In a later interview, Sawyer said he is supportive of an independent review into the recall.
“I think it’s in line. We need to know what happened and we need to know how and when and why it happened, and then we need to evaluate from that what we need to do in the future.
“I don’t think this thing went industry’s way at all. I think we lost control of it.”
As for JBS, he said their export marketing expertise will be welcome.
“Our western Canadian situation I think fits their business model well. Again, I have to say I wish we had an Albertan or a Canadian company step up.
“That would be better for us … but there wasn’t any group or any investors there.”