MPs debate widening beef recall
OTTAWA—Members of Parliament lingered into the evening yesterday for an emergency debate about what’s being billed as one of the largest food recalls in Canadian history.
Speaker Andrew Scheer agreed to a call by NDP and Liberal MPs for a special debate on the massive recall of tainted beef from an Alberta packing plant operated by XL Foods.
Liberal MP Frank Valeriote said it’s too little, too late.
“Hiding behind the imaginary facade of new enhanced powers should not let anyone off the hook for this blatant failure to act,” Valeriote stressed.
Valeriote called on the government to order a third-party audit of the resources the Canadian Food Inspection Agency needs to do its job.
“We have some of the finest inspectors in the world, but they are hamstrung by a lack of resources, leaving them incapable of performing necessary functions of their jobs,” Valeriote said.
“Clearly we have seen that the industry, while it can work in partnership, can no longer be left to police itself.”
E. coli first was detected at the XL plant in Brooks, Alta. on Sept. 4, but it wasn’t until 12 days later that the CFIA began recalling some of its beef products.
Since then, several more alerts have been issued, recalling more than 1,500 XL products across Canada and in the United States.
The agency temporarily shut down the plant last Friday.
Opposition MPs have been hammering away at the government all week over its handling of the situation—billed as the largest food recall in Canadian history.
They claim government funding cuts to the CFIA have made the problem worse.
The government, meanwhile, insists it actually has increased the number of food inspectors and strengthened protections.
Pierre Lemieux, the parliamentary secretary to Agriculture minister Gerry Ritz, defended the government by listing what he called the facts of the government’s response to the outbreak.
“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency acted to contain contaminated products beginning on Sept. 4, and they’ve been acting ever since,” Lemieux noted.
“The XL plant will not be allowed to reopen until the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has certified that it is safe.”
Lemieux also repeated the government’s line that it has hired some 700 “additional, net new” inspectors since 2006, including 170 meat inspectors, and that it has increased the agency’s budget by $156 million, a 20 percent increase.
House of Commons rules limit emergency debates to important matters requiring urgent consideration, making them relatively uncommon.