XL beef recall points to need for changes to Alberta food-processing system
Posted on by Richard Einarson
The recent cases of E. coli-related illness and subsequent shutdown of the XL Foods processing plant in Brooks, Alta., clearly show the need to address issues of food safety, and food processing and distribution.
In ongoing Alberta Party conversations through our Big Listen “kitchen table” conversations over the past three years, Albertans have consistently shared concerns regarding food safety. Based on these conversations, we recognize the importance of supporting consumers and the agricultural community by rebuilding and supporting local food production and processing.
Any problem at a large processor has huge consequences for consumers and producers. Local solutions can put a greater focus on health, food security, traceability and accountability. It is easier to trace sources of contamination with smaller processors and contain the problem. If one company has supply or contamination issues, this does not shut down an entire food chain as we have seen with XL Foods, which processes more than 4,000 cattle a day – one-third of Canada’s beef. Consumers would be better protected and allowed more choice in where their food comes from.
This also serves to protect the rural Albertans who raise the cattle, whose livelihoods have now been jeopardized by the inadequate food-safety practices of one large company - not to mention the XL workers who are losing wages due to the plant shutdown and the impact on the town of Brooks.
Responsibility for food inspection falls on the federal government, but the Alberta government can play a role by creating a system that allows local producers and processors an opportunity to provide healthy, secure food to local consumers. We don't suggest smaller processors replace the large ones, but that local options once again find a presence in our food production and distribution system.
Tell us what you think about this issue in the comments section below. Do you think we need more diversity in our food processing system? How could it be made safer and more economically responsible?