OTTAWA — The fallout from a massive tainted-beef recall was still being felt Tuesday as the Harper government passed legislation aimed at making the food system safer.
Canadian beef sales, both domestic and international, have not declined in the wake of the XL Foods scare, said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.
“Not at all,” Ritz said when asked whether sales had dropped off.
The minister pointed out, however, that another case of illness tied to meat from a troubled XL plant in Brooks, Alta., was uncovered only days ago.
“There was another case linked back … some days ago as public health does their due diligence,” said Ritz.
“That’s the total that we’ve seen to this point is 18.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada said Nov. 14 that a new case of E. coli linked to the XL plant was confirmed in Alberta.
The agency said the person became ill in October and is still recovering.
The United States and Taiwan imposed restrictions on beef imports from the XL Foods plant immediately following the E. coli scare.
American inspectors have conducted an assessment of the plant since, and Ritz said he was hoping to hear soon whether the U.S. would begin accepting exports again.
Last month, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency gave the plant permission to resume slaughtering cattle after being shut down for more than a month.
It is not clear when the plant will be allowed to resume shipping beef to retailers in Canada or to export products to the United States.
Ritz made his comments on Tuesday afternoon after trumpeting the expected passage of Bill S-11, the Safe Food for Canadians Act, in the House of Commons. The Bill passed a third reading in the Senate on Tuesday evening and only requires royal assent to become law.
While it’s not a direct response to September’s XL Foods shutdown, the bill will, among other things, make it easier to track food shipped from processing plants so inspectors can more quickly deal with any problems, the minister said.
The inspection agency was criticized last month for the time it took to announce a recall so potentially tainted beef could be taken off store shelves.
Once it becomes law, S-11 would “help find products faster in recall situations so they can be removed from the shelves quicker,” Ritz said in a statement.
Introduced in the Senate last June, the bill is intended to provide better oversight of food by making inspections more consistent, giving food inspectors more power to demand information from producers and increasing penalties for companies that put consumer health and safety at risk.
Maximum fines for health and safety-related offences would increase to $5 million — or higher at a court’s discretion in the case of more serious offences — up from the current maximum of $250,000.
It would also give the inspection agency the authority to require food producers and processors to set up systems to better track their products.
It’s not clear when regulations that accompany the legislation are to be completed.