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List of beef products at E. coli risk grows

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OTTAWA -- The Canadian Food Inspection Agency made dozens of additions on Sunday to its list of beef products at risk of possible E. coli contamination.

It has made the list of stores and products affected by the recall so long that consumers are now advised to inquire at the point of purchase whether the beef they're buying came from XL Foods.

E.coli was first detected at the XL plant in Brooks, Alta., on Sept. 4, but it wasn't until three weeks later that the CFIA suspended the plant's operating licence until measures are implemented to ensure its products are safe.

At a family ranch near Airdrie, just north of Calgary on Sunday, Premier Alison Redford and the province's agriculture minister, Verlyn Olson, held meetings with local producers to discuss the potential effects of the plant closure.

"Our priority right now is to make sure people know Alberta beef is a safe product and a high-quality product, and to ensure that we get this plant open as soon as possible in compliance with CFIA regulations," Redford told reporters.

Liberal MP Ralph Goodale has blamed the E. coli scare on changes to the meat inspection system introduced by the Harper Conservatives.

But Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz insists food safety hasn't been compromised and says the government has more inspectors on the job than in previous years.

Redford acknowledged people will want to know who did what, and when. But she said the most important thing is to restore confidence and reopen the XL plant.

Brooks Mayor Martin Shields has said the plant is one of the area's largest employers, noting there are over 2,000 people who work with the company.

The Canadian-owned XL Foods plant has a slaughter capacity of about 5,000 cattle a day.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association said last week that while the closure will reduce the industry's ability to slaughter and process live cattle, it shouldn't have a significant effect on Canada's beef industry beyond a brief price increase.

Olson told reporters at a news conference with Redford that he had been speaking with federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. While Olson said no one has been able to supply a timeline for the reopening of the plant, he said Ritz told him he believed outstanding issues could be resolved quickly.

He also said some of the province's labs are being used for testing, an offer Olson said the province made in order to speed up the process of reopening the plant.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 1, 2012 B6

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