Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit watchdog organization, is criticizing the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service actions on the Canadian firm XL Food’s ground beef recall. That product was recalled for possible E. coli 0157:H7 contamination. The recall has been expanded six times, and Canadian inspectors found several problems at the XL Foods plant. While the recalls state that no illnesses are linked to these products, Canadian authorities are investigating an outbreak of five cases of E. coli 0157:H7 in Canada.
Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of that group, said in a statement, “after knowing for 17 days that they had a potential public health crisis on their hands, the management of USDA’s FSIS finally issued a “Public Health Alert” at 9:00 pm on Septmeber 20, 2012 regarding tainted beef that had crossed the border from Canada. Stunningly, they have yet to issue a recall on that meat despite the fact that the Canadian authorities have issued a recall, and that meat is presently in at least eight U.S. states.” Albertsons and Safeway have issued recalls for the beef in the United States.
Food & Water Watch is also criticizing the “Beyond the Border” initiative that is being developed between the United States and Canada that would deregulate some requirements to facilitate trade between the two countries. Ms. Hauter said that Canada’s food safety track record is at an all time low, but the USDA wants to reduce inspection of imported Canadian products.
A coalition of food safety and consumer groups sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack last week, asking him to halt the Beyond the Border Initiative. They state several reasons for this request, including the fact that Canada has a higher incidence of foodborne illness than the United States; that Canada experienced a deadly Listeria outbreak in 2008 and increased their inspections, but those inspections were eliminated by the Harper Government; and that Canada has problems abiding by its equivalency agreement with the USDA. In addition, the letter contains photographs of damaged Canadian meat shipment containers at the Niagara Falls Border. They showed visible fecal contamination and toxic chemicals comingled with meat products. The current border inspection system halted those products.