Just as the US is rolling out a pilot program to fast-track inspections on meat from Canadian producers, XL Foods of Edmonton, Alberta announces a massive recall and then expands it three times over the course of three days. Fluke or foreshadowing? US consumer groups say the latter and they want the program ended immediately.
“Canada’s food safety track record is at an all-time low with more than a third of all Canadians getting sick from food-related causes every year,” said Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch’s executive director. “Yesterday, the Canadian government announced an expansion of a recall involving ground beef products sold across Canada at Loblaws, Costco, Walmart, Safeway and Calahoo Meats stores, produced by XL Foods, one of Canada’s biggest exporters. But USDA thinks less inspection is a good idea?”
Food & Water Watch is a member of the Safe Food Coalition, a group of consumer advocacy organizations, that is urging U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to immediately stop a pilot program. The group delivered the request in a letter to Vilsack at a “stakeholder” briefing on the program earlier this week.
The pilot program is part of the Beyond the Border Action Plan. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are testing new rules for Canadian suppliers that “export fresh meat (beef and pork) products directly to FSIS-inspected establishments for further processing.” To be eligible for the program producers must: conduct regular business in the US, be able to demonstrate a consistent food safety compliance system and have no public health violations.
On September 16, XL Foods announced a recall of ground beef products distributed to stores throughout Canada for possible contamination with E.coli 0157:H7. The recall was then expanded three times in three days. It is unclear if XL Foods was a participant in the program.
“When it comes to food safety, every precaution should be taken to reduce risk, but by going along with this rash proposal, the USDA seems to be inviting risk,” said Hauter. “The current border inspection system works. It’s unconscionable to consider removing the current level of protection for U.S. consumers from tainted imported Canadian meat at any time, but especially now.”