Costly false alarm

Costs of a false alarm are being tallied while hogs and workers return to Olymel’s processing plant in Red Deer.

Costs of a false alarm are being tallied while hogs and workers return to Olymel’s processing plant in Red Deer.

Tests performed at labs in Edmonton and Winnipeg have all proven negative for foot and mouth disease, Olymel spokesman Richard Vigneault said from his office in Saint Hyacinthe, Que., on Wednesday.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency shut down the Red Deer plant and the adjoining Western Hog Exchange loading facility early Monday when an inspector discovered suspicious lesions on at least one carcass that had come from a farm in Saskatchewan.

Operations have resumed but the plant, producers who had shipped hogs and the exchange, which brokers their animals, are all on the hook for the costs of the shutdown, said Mack Rennie, executive director of the exchange.

The plant’s 1,300 workers were sent home and 2,700 hogs were diverted to the hog exchange assembly yards in Lethbridge, Balzac and Morinville, Rennie said from his office in Edmonton on Wednesday.

While he appreciates the need for strict controls any time a health issue is discovered, Rennie said the CFIA could have done more to recognize the urgency of the situation from a commercial standpoint. The lab tests needed to be done as quickly as possible to minimize the cost of shutting down the lines, he said.

Shipping and caring for the hogs while the plant was closed, along with the additional labour costs involved, have taken a significant toll at a time when the industry is struggling to recover from a prolonged period of economic stress, said Rennie.

People from the hog exchange and the other industry players involved with the Red Deer plant, including producers, are now adding up the figures to determine the exact cost involved.

The various groups involved will hold a debriefing in the near future to analyze the events and determine whether anything should have been done differently, said Alberta Pork chairman Jim Haggins, whose organization represents the province’s hog producers.

“The efforts of the WHE, Olymel, producers and industry in general were exceptional in protecting the welfare of the animals while not being sure exactly how long this would drag on,” said Haggins.

“It is important that producers continue to co-operate fully through this next week or more to assist in allowing them to get back to normal operations as soon as possible,” he said.

Vigneault said it will probably take two days to catch up with the backlog that developed while the plant was closed.

There has been no discussion on whether CFIA will offer any compensation for the shutdown, he said.

“We are not at that time now. Now, we concentrate on the resuming of the activity and that’s the main point. We have to get back to work, of course, and there are some procedures we have to follow. I think we’re going to plan it on a period of two or three days to recuperate the work that we weren’t able to do,” he said.

CFIA has not said what caused the lesions or how many animals were affected.

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