CATTLE FARMERS PAYING FOR GOVERNMENT AND XL FOODS SAFETY FAILURES
NFU – October 3, 2012
(Sexsmith, AB) – The National Farmers Union (NFU) asserts that federal agriculture and trade policy created the conditions that led to Canada’s largest recall of beef from stores, homes and restaurants all across Canada due to E. coli 0157 contamination which has now temporarily shut down the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alberta. The massive concentration in the meat packing industry and increased self-regulation of these few high-volume, high-speed processing plants are due to policy that helps the biggest companies increase both profit and market share in pursuit of global competitiveness by allowing them to reduce costs for meat inspection.
“Cattle farmers are already feeling the effect of the closure, as prices for fat steers and cull cows have already dropped by 20% and 30% respectively,” said Glenn Tait, NFU Board member from Meota, Saskatchewan. “This sudden and unpredictable loss of income may well wipe out our 2012 profits. As farmers, we have done nothing wrong, but we are paying the price for XL’s inability to run a clean plant and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s inability to enforce food safety standards.”
The XL Foods plant in Brooks, AB processes approximately 30,000 animals per week, with Cargill, the largest packer, processing slightly more. About 80% of Canada’s beef is processed in Alberta. With the province’s capacity virtually cut in half, a backlog is developing at cattle auctions, driving prices down. If the plant is not re-opened soon, many cow-calf producers, who are the foundation of Canada’s beef sector, will suffer serious losses that may compromise their capacity to continue raising cattle.
Neil Peacock, National Farmers Union Board member and cattle producer from Sexsmith, Alberta, remembers the 23 deaths and 57 illnesses from the 2008 listeriosis crisis at Maple Leaf Foods, and asks “Isn’t this XL Foods situation just more evidence that Canada’s food safety, security and sovereignty is in danger?”
While farmers wait for the CFIA and XL Foods to re-establish clean and safe processing, they must feed their cattle longer and incur extra costs, or they must sell now at reduced prices. The food safety risk was taken by XL Foods. The costs of that risk are being borne by consumers who have gotten ill from the tainted meat and farmers who cannot sell their cattle for the price they had expected and planned for.