Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

U.S. alarm preceded Alberta beef recall

Americans found E. coli weeks before CFIA acted

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The Alberta plant involved in a sweeping recall of ground-beef products because of E. coli contamination concerns is not allowed to ship meat to the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says XL Foods Inc.'s Lakeside plant was decertified from exporting meat on Sept. 13 -- three days before the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued the first of seven product recall notices in Canada.

"Delisted in this case means Canadian Est. 38 (XL Foods) is not eligible to export any meat, poultry or egg products to the U.S.," a spokesman for the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) wrote Tuesday in an email from Washington, D.C. "When a plant is delisted by the U.S. or the foreign government, they are not eligible to export FSIS-regulated products to the U.S."

Canada imposed the export ban at the request of the U.S. government, a CFIA official later confirmed. The U.S. is the main buyer of Canadian beef exports.

The USDA is also recalling XL Foods ground-beef products from six grocery retail chains in eight states as part of a public-health alert. The products were shipped to the U.S. before the ban on the XL Foods plant was imposed.

A Canadian Food Inspection Agency review of the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., found deviations in the way the company documented its E. coli control measures, but didn't find one single factor that would lead to contamination.

The agency said so far more than 250 beef products have been recalled from stores across Canada. Health officials have not linked the recall to anyone getting sick.

XL Foods officials in Edmonton were not available to answer questions about the agency's review of its E. coli policies or the U.S. export ban.

The company said in a release it was taking steps to improve the way it operates, but also said its E. coli control programs work well.

"The review conducted by CFIA verified the effectiveness of XL's E. coli 0157:H7 control program," the company said. "XL has developed and initiated a response plan that exceeds industry standards and has been accepted by CFIA."

U.S. food safety inspectors first notified Canada about E. coli found in Canadian beef on Sept. 3 -- 10 days before the U.S. asked for an export ban on the Lakeside plant and nearly two weeks before the CFIA began issuing product recalls in Canada.

Dr. Richard Arsenault, director of meat programs for the CFIA, said a Canadian team needed time to inspect the plant and review production records to figure out the extent of the possible contamination and which batches of beef should be recalled.

The agency said it will monitor the changes XL Foods' Lakeside plant is to make to its E. coli policies to ensure they are effective, but it also warned more products from the plant could be recalled.

Arsenault said despite the recall, Canada's food-safety system is working well.

"The overall controls are stronger than they have ever been, the overall prevalence (of E. coli) in product is lower than it has ever been, the rate of illness is lower than it has ever been," he said from Ottawa.

-- The Canadian Press

Pork supply dropping

CHICAGO -- Hog farmers in the United States are slaughtering animals at the fastest pace since 2009 as a surge in feed costs spurs the biggest losses in 14 years, signalling smaller herds next year and a rebound in pork prices.

The 73.3 million hogs processed in eight months through August were the most in three years, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. Next year, pork supply will drop to the lowest per capita since 1975, the USDA estimates. Hog futures that fell more than any other commodity since June 30 may surge 39 per cent in 12 months to as high as US$1.055 a pound, based on analyst forecasts compiled by Bloomberg.

Crop damage from the worst U.S. drought since 1956 sent corn-feed prices surging to a record last month and may mean losses of about US$44 a head for hog farmers in the fourth quarter, the most since 1998, Purdue University estimates. Two producers in Canada, including Manitoba's Puratone Corp., filed bankruptcy petitions this month. While the acceleration in slaughtering is boosting supply now, buyers expect higher prices in 2013 as herds shrink and U.S. exports rise.

Futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange fell 20 per cent since June 30.

-- Bloomberg News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2012 B8

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