U.S. officials halt ground beef exports from Alberta plant

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has banned imports of beef from the XL Foods in Alberta after E. coli was found in shipments from the plant.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirms American inspectors have intercepted a number of shipments of contaminated ground beef since the beginning of the month.

The CFIA has now issued seven alerts related to the recall.

On Sept. 16, the CFIA ordered the voluntarily recall from the Brooks, Alta., plant, after being alerted to a problem by officials in the U.S.

Since then, XL Foods has pulled more than 250 products from grocery store chains and small shops across the country.

Related link: CFIA's list of recalled products

Today XL Foods released a statement about the CFIA’s report findings that included several deficiencies that could have led to E. coli contamination.

The company implemented a response plan that has been accepted by the CFIA.

“XL Foods is committed to producing high quality beef products, and the safety of our consumers is our number 1 priority," the statement reads. "We will continue to act in their best interests throughout the completion of the recall and implementation of enhanced systems to ensure something like this never happens again."

Bob Jackson, a longtime meat inspector and regional vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says the recall should have been initiated a lot sooner.

“It’s very disturbing that the product was still on shelves and still being sold in stores for that length of time before the recall was made public,” he said.

"It’s not the first time and it is quite alarming, the fact that it was found by the United States.”

A Calgary-based beef expert says the ripple effect from the ban is also concerning for Canada's beef industry.

“For an industry, it means a reduction of demand and that can back up beef product and increase inventories in Canada, reduce prices and in time, which appears to be happening, it reduces that company's ability to purchase cattle on the local market reducing the value of those cattle and the hardship just spreads to the rest of the industry,” said Ted Haney, who has a long history with the Canada Beef Export Federation.

Currently, there are eight confirmed E. coli cases in Alberta, three in Calgary, four in Edmonton and one in central Alberta.

Alberta Health Services has not linked the illnesses to the contamination at XL Foods.

An infectious disease expert at the University of Calgary says it's too early to call the contamination an outbreak.

“You could say that it could be connected. But it's too soon to say whether it is connected or not because we have this sort of underlying sporadic number of cases of E. coli infection that occur in Alberta every year, typically that's in the 25 to 30 patient range. So, we're still not at that level yet,” said Glen Armstrong.

“We can't say whether these are just sporadic infections from some other sources or whether they are connected to the XL meat."

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