The Brooks, southern Alberta, plant received a new operating licence from Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) last week. This allowed the plant to gradually resume slaughter and processing operations, but it will remain under enhanced surveillance by authorities.
“Certainly for us the fact that the plant is starting operations again is good news,” said Rich Smith, executive director of Alberta Beef Producers. “For the industry, the closure of the plant was causing some cattle to back up into our system. It wasn’t a good time of year obviously because now is the time when a lot of producers are beginning to send calves and cattle to market.”
Its licence suspension followed the Public Health Agency of Canada reporting 16 cases of human E.coli that were linked to the plant and upwards of 2,000 meat products were recalled.
Following the CIFA’s decision to now reinstate XL Foods operating licence, Canadian agriculture minister Gerry Ritz said: “Canadian consumers are our first priority when it comes to food safety. Our government will continue to provide the Canadian Food Inspection Agency with the resources it needs to help safeguard the health and safety of Canadians and their families.” The issue is politically sensitive in Canada, because the government announced a reduction in budget for the agency this April during a cost-cutting budget.
Meanwhile, US-based JBS USA will henceforth be managing all operations at Lakeside. As part of the agreement to manage the Brooks facility, the wholly owned subsidiary of Brazil’s JBS SA, also has an option to purchase XL Foods properties in both Canada and the United States.
According to Smith, the new management system is a positive step forward for the beef producers in the region.
“We like the idea of having a Canadian company run the plant but it did not look like that was going to be an option moving forward, so as an alternative having a large company, a well-known, internationally respected company such as JBS there, it is heartening for our producers has an interest in participating in our industry here.”