Canada's Bad Beef Plant Shut Down, Products Recalled

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Marco Werman: If you've been following the news in Canada recently, you've heard about the bad meat scandal up there. A beef processing plant in Alberta has been shut down and nearly 2000 beef products have been recalled. The reason? Beef from the plant was linked to consumers getting sick from E. Coli bacteria. E. Coli infection can lead to illness, permanent kidney damage, and some cases, death. Oh, and there is an American connection to some of the beef from the tainted XL Foods processing plant in Alberta was destined for export to the United States. The CBC's Erin Collins is in Brooks, Alberta and he's been following the story. Tell us what happened to this meat headed for the US from the XL plant in Alberta Erin.

Erin Collins: This story sort of got rolling early last month, and what we hear from officials up here from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is that two simultaneous tests happened, one from the USDA, one from the CFIA and both found E. coli in meat from the XL plant. There was some subsequent positive tests. The USDA asked that no further shipments from XL meats will be allowed to cross into the United States and the plants and the CFIA complied with that.

Werman: So the beef has been recalled. We're talking 2000 beef products. What are we talking about here? I think of beef as a steak. I mean we're talking beef products. What is that?

Collins: The number keeps inching higher. I think we're closer to 3000 products right now. What you have to understand about what XL Foods does is they're not a brand name product of anything. What they are is one of the major processing plants you know, you might call it a slaughterhouse. They process about a third of the beef in Canada so meat from the XL Foods processing plant here in Brooks turns up on all sorts of shelves under all sorts of names. So that's why you see that number being so high.

Werman: Right but a third of the beef sold in Canada and nearly two weeks left on the shelves, how many people then are believed to be sick from E. Coli?

Collins: We have only and this is gonna sound like an incredibly small number, we have only four confirmed cases that were directly tied to meat from XL Foods and that all involves sort of one batch of steaks that were consumed I believe in Edmonton, Alberta. So it's not so much that the amount of sickness is huge. It's that the questions surrounding this are why did it take so long for this recall to be put into effect and why is this sort of lag time there?

Werman: Now if a third of all the beef in Canada is coming out of this XL Plant in Alberta, how much Canadian beef overall ends up in American supermarkets, do you know?

Collins: It's hard to get exact numbers, but basically you know around 80% of Canadian beef exports head to the US. So you can extrapolate from the number if a third of Canadian beef comes from this plant, well probably a third of those exports generally go south. Now what that means to American consumers is about 3% of the beef consumed in the US comes from Canada. So about I would say about 1% of the beef consumed in the US probably comes from this plant. So if you eat a hundred hamburgers in a year, chances are one of them came from this plant.

Werman: So Erin what happens now? I mean I presume this plant is closed but for how long and are there gonna be any lawsuits against the XL company?

Collins: There is a lawsuit, a class action suit that's been launched. As far as when the actual plant is going to open, difficult to say and that's an important question for the folks here in Brooks Alberta because it is an interesting community where most of the folks that have been brought into work in this food processing plant are they're new Canadians. They're from the Sudan, they're from Somalia, they're from outside of Canada and many of them are sort of you know a little bit unclear about what their future holds, when are they gonna get back to work. It's certainly a difficult place for them to be in.

Werman: The CBC's Erin Collins in Brooks, Alberta speaking with us about the recent scandal tainted meat there. Erin thank you very much.

Collins: You bet.