BROOKS — The company taking over management of a troubled Alberta meat packer says it wants to work with the union to make the XL Foods plant a success.
Spokesman Cameron Bruett says JBS USA plans to have a team at the plant in Brooks, Alta., as soon as possible that will reach out to the union and the community. He said JBS must still work out the details of the management transition with XL Foods.
“Right now the deal consists of our managing the XL operation. How that will be structured, how that will work, all of those details need to be worked out,” Bruett said Thursday from Colorado.
“We will do so as expeditiously as possible. I suspect in the coming week or so we will have a clearly defined path forward. Our goal is to make the transition as seamless as possible with our No. 1 goal being food safety.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is reviewing how the plant is managing its E. coli procedures to determine when it can reopen.
It was closed Sept. 27 due to tainted meat that has been linked to 15 people getting sick in Canada and which caused an extensive meat recall. The plant has not been allowed to ship meat to the U.S. since Sept. 13.
The agency said the JBS USA deal will not affect its review of the plant.
“A recommendation on next steps will be based solely on these observations and test results,” the CFIA said in a release. “Any change in management or ownership at XL will not affect our assessment.”
JBS USA operates eight beef plants in the United States with 25,000 employees — all represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
Doug O’Halloran, president of the union local in Brooks, said he is cautiously optimistic about JBS. He suggested the company has food safety expertise that will help XL Foods regain access to the U.S. market.
More than 2,000 union members who work at the Brooks plant have been laid off.
“JBS seems to have a good track record,” O’Halloran said. “We hope that JBS will listen to their workers and make use of the expertise they have to ensure greater food safety at this point.”
JBS USA has had its own E. coli problems.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says JBS recalled 172,000 kilograms of beef products in the U.S. in 2009 because of E. coli 0157:H7.
The CDC says 17 people became ill in 10 states. Twelve patients were hospitalized and two developed kidney failure.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the recall prompted JBS USA to re-examine its approach to food safety.
The XL Foods recall in the United States involves more than 1.1 million kilograms of beef. Canadian officials have not released the volume of meat recalled in this country, but say more than 1,800 products have been included.
JBS USA is a subsidiary of Brazilian-based JBS S.A. It calls itself the world’s largest animal protein processor.
The management deal announced Wednesday includes an option for JBS USA to buy XL Foods properties, including the Brooks plant, for US$50 million in cash and US$50 million in JBS S.A. shares. The company says any deal would not include JBS USA assuming any XL Foods debt or liabilities.
Alberta Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson said he is encouraged by the JBS USA deal.
— With files from Medicine Hat News