THE Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) reported Dec. 7 that Alberta beef processor XL Foods Inc. has been cleared by U.S. authorities to resume exporting beef to the U.S.
The company's plant in Brooks, Alb., known as Establishment 38, was blocked Sept. 13 from exporting beef to the U.S. market after U.S. border inspectors found Escherichia coli in beef products originating from the facility.
CFIA noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) informed it on Dec. 7 that the XL plant "has been relisted, allowing the company to resume exports to the U.S., effective immediately."
CFIA said it will keep up its close watch at XL's Lakeside facility to guarantee that the company continues to tighten compliance with food safety requirements.
"CFIA's enhanced oversight activities continue at the plant to ensure that the company's long-term and preventive measures continue effective implementation. The safety of consumers is CFIA's top priority, and the agency continues to work diligently to protect consumers," CFIA concluded.
XL was at the center of one of the largest food recalls in Canadian history. The company's Brooks facility normally produces and markets fresh boxed beef items. The massive recall of E. coli-tainted beef started Sept. 4 with trimmings and later expanded to a wide variety of products. The U.S. recalled around 2.5 million lb. of beef connected to the XL plant.
Around 16 Canadians became ill after consuming beef produced at the plant.
U.S. authorities delisted the Lakeside facility Sept. 13. CFIA pulled the plant's operating license later in September but reinstated the license to operate on Oct. 23. Since mid-October, the plant has been operated by JBS USA. JBS has an option to buy the plant.
The Alberta government welcomed USDA's decision to relist the XL plant.
The announcement was "good news for Alberta and Canadian beef producers, the employees of the plant, the owners and operators of XL Foods Inc. and for the community of Brooks. It has been a long and difficult process. However, we all will agree that ensuring safe food products remains of the utmost importance," Alberta Agriculture & Rural Development Minister Verlyn Olson said.
The Lakeside plant normally employs more than 2,000 workers, making it one of largest employers in southern Alberta. It is also one of Canada's largest beef processors.
"Once again, Alberta's reputation for high-quality, safe food products has been maintained, and the reopening of our largest trading partner is very good news for everyone involved," Olson said.
The Canadian Cattlemen's Assn. (CCA) also welcomed the relisting, saying it was "extremely pleased" with the decision and looked forward to the plant's return to full operation. XL officials have said the plant is now operating at only 75% of capacity.
CCA president Martin Unrau said the relisting of the plant should help cattle producers by increasing competition for cattle. XL has been a major buyer of western Canadian cattle.
"The resumption of full operations at Establishment 38, along with JBS's recent appointment of Willie Van Solkema to head their Canadian operations, are positive signals for the industry," Unrau said. "The return of safe, high-quality Canadian beef products from Establishment 38 into the U.S. market is, of course, great news and a key piece to helping to restoring normalcy to the Canadian industry."
Officials with JBS said the U.S. decision was "tremendous news for the company."
Cameron Bruett, a spokesman for JBS, told local reporters that the Lakeside plant would try to return to full capacity as soon as possible and that the company would be talking to its U.S. customers.
CFIA and federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz have been criticized for how they handled XL's E. coli problems. The farm minister and CFIA, which reports to Parliament through Ritz, have mounted a spirited defense of their actions.