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Canadian Food Safety Becomes Uncertain

imageTwo weeks after American food inspectors stopped the import of Canadian beef products infected with E. Coli,  the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has finally started rolling out recalls for meats and has finally pulled the plug on its source: XL Foods based in Alberta. After 2 weeks, Canadians are weary and uncertain of the meats in their freezers. Most of our stores are still uncertain as to whether they carried the contaminated meats.

The CFIA has called this outbreak a crisis and all eye’s now turn to the Harper government’s handling of the affair. Why did it take two weeks for the CFIA to do what the American food inspectors promptly did? This recall and E. Coli contamination will cost the Canadian economy with lost sales, and trust in Canadian foods.

The entire ordeal started September 3 when a random inspection at the US border found tainted meat coming from XL Foods and put the rest of the order on hold while requiring the next 15 shipments to be tested. Of them, 2 tested positive for E. Coli.

On September 4, Canadians made their first test and found that it tested positive for E. Coli. On this same day, the CFIA was notified by the US agency.

About a week later, two more shipments of meat headed for the US border tested positive for E. Coli. Instead of sending an investigation team on September 4, the CFIA sent a team on September 13 to a plant in Brooks, Alberta.

On September 16, the CFIA issued its first recall in the 12 days that E. Coli tainted meat was in circulation.

A full 9 days later, the US bans beef imports from XL Foods and suspends the license 2 days afterward – on September 27.

In the House of Commons, the Conservatives got grilled for the slow response time of the CFIA following cuts in the last budget which fired 600 people including 100 inspectors. The full scope of the cuts to the CFIA is unknown as the Conservatives are still reluctant to release a detailed breakdown of their cuts.

Cuts prior to these have proven to be responsible for the Maple Leaf crisis of 2008 which caused 22 deaths where meat was contaminated with listeriosis. Going back to Mike Harris's Conservative Ontario government in 2000, we see that cuts to inspection and safety led to the Walkerton Crisis which is one of the most notable crisis of water contamination in Canada’s history. E. Coli in the water supply led to 7 deaths and led to over 100 people getting seriously ill.

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