Ranchers wait for XL Foods to catch up

The XL Foods Brooks, Alta., plant.(JIM WELLS/QMI AGENCY)

The XL Foods Brooks, Alta., plant.(JIM WELLS/QMI AGENCY)

Jenna McMurray, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

CALGARY -- Work to process 2,500 remaining cow carcasses will resume in Brooks, Alta., Tuesday while Alberta ranchers bide their time and the volume of cattle shipped to the U.S. for slaughter climbs.

Anne Dunford, an industry market analyst with Gateway Livestock, said all summer long, exports of cattle for slaughter from Canada to the U.S. were steady at approximately 5,000 head per week, about 85% of which were from Western Canada.

The most recent data, which goes up to Sept. 29, the week the XL Foods plant in Brooks was shuttered, shows an increase to 8,600 head.

Though the 5,000-head-per-week average was on the low end of what Canada has been known to export, Dunford said the sharp jump can mainly be attributed to the XL plant closure.

"It's fair to expect that number to increase more," she said.

On Thursday, the XL Foods Lakeside Packers plant was given a green light by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to resume limited operations after 5,100 carcasses were tested for E. coli and 99% turned up negative.

The CFIA inspected the plant last week after suspending its licence Sept. 27 in the midst of the country's largest beef recall, which now includes between 1,800 and 2,000 products.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says 15 cases of E. coli have been linked to XL Foods.

After saying the issues in question had been fixed, at least on paper, the CFIA granted the plant permission to process the carcasses that had tested negative for E. coli as a means of evaluating operations in action.

"We need to make sure all areas of the plant, including equipment, are clean and in good working order," CFIA spokeswoman Lisa Gauthier said.

No meat can leave the plant without CFIA approval.

XL on the weekend temporarily laid off 2,000 workers but recalled 800 of them to help process the remaining carcasses for the continued CFIA inspection.

Meanwhile, the plant not being able to accept cattle is putting the pressure on local producers, said Dr. David Chalack, chairman of the board with the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency Ltd.

"There's a great deal of anxiety," he said Monday. "Fat cattle are lined up with nowhere to go.

"Every day you keep these cattle, their profitability goes down."


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