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Wednesday, 24 October 2012 15:59

Many people feeling the fallout of poor execution of gov’t regulations

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You could hear it in Gwen Cameron’s voice. You know, when someone asks you a question and you answer as if you can’t believe they’re not being sarcastic.


All there was was tired laughing on the other end of the phone line last week. As if someone would ask the manager of the Brooks Food Bank: “has there been a marked increase in the numbers of people coming to the (Brooks) Food Bank?”
Of course there was, but the numbers weren’t really known. All that was known was that about 2,200 workers were out of work at the XL Foods meat plant in Brooks because the plant’s licence was suspended because of discovery of E. coli O157:H7. Many of these workers are not from Canada.
Agencies are helping, but these residents are not familiar with Canadian laws, customs or even the language. There was a lot of uncertainty.
The plant had been shut down for a month, but the plant was given the green light to re-open Oct. 29. However, there’s no word (as of press time) exactly how many of these workers will be called back.
The Brooks Food Bank which has four paid staff members — two of which are part-time — plus volunteers are trying to keep up with endless line-ups with people who speak up to 100 different languages. Cameron and her staff are trying to sift through a lot of food sent by well-meaning agencies, businesses and people, but they still have to go through the semi-trailers full of food, throw away what isn’t usable, unload it, put it in hampers and get it out to people. If you think that sounds like a daunting task, it’s undoubtedly 100 times more difficult than can be imagined.
There were errors made along the way which caused this mess. This E. coli-initiated recall did not happen overnight and this isn’t just on XL Foods. If the company is making mistakes or aren’t following proper protocol, the CFIA inspectors have to call them on it. Not that company officials are purposely trying to cut corners on food safety — they in fact highly emphasize it on their website and need to due to regulations — but big business is trying to maximize profit.
End of story.
The United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 which represents the workers have made several claims of problems and issues they have brought up, but failed to be addressed (See: www.gounion.ca/portal.cfm) 
Examples of these grievances include a high demand for a large amount of  product going through for the staff they have, no protection for “whistleblowers” who see problems and  major staff turnover and thus no consistency in workflow or job performance.
That’s where a government agency needs to come through. The question of “what happened?” is so appropriate on different levels. Why did this happen from a slaughterhouse protocol standpoint and why did CFIA inspectors miss it until the product was sent out? Could inspectors have done anything differently to make sure it could’ve been prevented? And why did it take so long for CFIA to alert the public?
In an Oct. 3  iPolitics website story written by Elizabeth Thompson, she quoted Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union, as saying an independent inquiry should be held. (See story here: http://www.ipolitics.ca/ 2012/10/03/food-inspectors-union-calls-for-inquiry-into-e-coli-contamination-and-beef-recall/). He called for an independent inquiry of not only the plant, but CFIA’s role in all of this.
In his opinion, Kingston indicated they are grossly understaffed at the Brooks’ plant.
CFIA indicated earlier this week they will increase their inspectors numbers by two to 48, but the damage has been done.  It’s been a major cluster of problems.
It’s unacceptable for Canadians to have to hear from
the Americans that our beef is bad due to their inspectors catching it.
The U.S. de-listed XL meat four days before it was recalled in Canada. Then it took time for CFIA agents to get to Brooks to inspect the situation. (See CFIA website: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/consumer-centre/
food-safety-investigations/xl-foods/timeline/eng/ 1349149063487/1349149874246).
It’s been a sad and scary lack of communication and organization in every facet. This is the same government which was in power when the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis outbreak happened which killed 23 Canadians. They added inspectors after that and you would think the government would make food inspection be a top priority.
Kingston indicated in the Ipolitics story, all of those meat inspectors added didn’t go to slaughterhouse plants such as XL in Brooks.
There is a certain level of control government should have. First and foremost, a government should be worried about public safety.
With the biggest beef recall in Canadian history (more than 2,000 different products and counting across the world), the federal government earns a failing grade, which is made worse by the fact, the feds arrogantly didn’t learn from prior mistakes.
Now, for the workers and people such as Gwen Cameron and her food bank staff — they are unfairly feeling the fallout. The cattle industry waits its turn.
Ryan Dahlman is managing editor of the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor