New beef plant management won't affect inspection: CFIA

Food inspectors say a management takeover at the plant at the centre of Canada's largest beef recall will not impact their decision about if and when the facility can reopen.

In a statement issued Thursday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said the fact management of the shuttered XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., will be handed over to a subsidiary of processing company JBS USA will not affect its review of the facility's procedures and products.

Wednesday's deal also gives JBS the option to buy the Brooks plant as well as other XL facilities and operations.

"The CFIA's decisions have been, and continue to be, based on scientific evidence and a precautionary approach to protect consumers," said the agency.

The meat-processing plant currently at the centre of Canada's largest beef recall, which includes about 2,000 products, had its licence suspended Sept. 27 following concerns about E. coli contamination.

The CFIA last week began an inspection of the plant after XL said it had made the required changes to get its licence back.

On the weekend, the company temporarily laid off 2,000 workers, then recalled 800 of them Tuesday so inspectors could continue their assessment. The employees were back out of work Wednesday.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford Thursday said reopening the plant continues to be a priority for the province, as does the promotion of Alberta beef as a safe and healthy product.

"We've been working very hard to get that plant open as soon as possible so that it doesn't adversely impact either beef producers or employees," she said.

Provincial Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson said he's taking the transfer of management to JBS as "a good sign that XL is serious about the continued operation of the plant," adding JBS is highly respected in the industry.

Olson, who is in continued talks with federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, wouldn't comment on whether the JBS deal suggests previous management problems at the Brooks facility.

"We are not looking to point the finger at anybody who's at fault here. We're not looking for a public flogging, we just want the plant open, producing safe food," he said.

Meanwhile, Doug O'Halloran, president of the union representing XL workers, said he and Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, sent Redford a letter asking her to reconsider a public inquiry into the situation surrounding XL.

He also wants food-safety inspections to be moved under the federal government's health division as opposed to the agriculture division.

SunNews, Thurs Oct 18 2012
Byline: Jenna McMurray

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