EDMONTON - Alberta's Opposition leader says she was wrong to suggest on Twitter that beef recalled over E. coli concerns could be cooked properly and fed to the poor.
The Wildrose party's Danielle Smith drew scorn when she agreed with a Twitter user who asked if there was a way the beef, which has since been dumped in a southern Alberta landfill, could be saved and prepared safely for the hungry.
"We all know thorough cooking kills E. coli. What a waste," Smith tweeted in the weekend.
On Monday, she changed her tune. She said she still believes throwing away any meat cleared by inspectors was a waste, but she understands that there is so much public concern over safety there was no choice but to get rid of it.
"It was a mistake," Smith said at the legislature when asked about her tweet. "I guess I would have to say that, if you can't explain something in 140 characters, you probably shouldn't try to talk about it on Twitter, so I have learned a lesson there."
Her retreat didn't stop her critics.
NDP Leader Brian Mason suggested Smith has so little regard for poor Albertans that she's OK with feeding them tainted meat.
“I kind of share the view that it’s a terrible waste of food, but the idea it’s OK to give it to poor people and it's not OK to give it to the rest of the population reveals an attitude that I find quite distasteful,” said Mason.
“I think people who are poor who maybe go to food banks deserve the best quality food as the rest of us.
“It represents an attitude toward poor people that is at best condescending.”
Tonnes of recalled meat from the shuttered XL Foods Lakeside packing plant at Brooks, Alta., has been dumped in a nearby landfill. There has been no definitive quantity given, but the recall involved 1,800 different products in stores right across the country.
A further 5.5 million kilograms of beef stored at the plant's warehouses will either be rendered or cooked at a high temperature to kill any E. coli. The meat was not part of the recall as it never left the plant.
Some food-safety experts have suggested that the recall was overkill.
Dr. Jean Kamanzi, a former director at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, has called it "collective hysteria" on the part of a rich country that can afford not to take risks with its food.
Kamanzi, who now is responsible for food hygiene in Africa for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Program, pointed out that any E. coli in beef could be killed by cooking the meat to an internal temperature of 71 C.
"The meat we're now throwing into the garbage, which contains this so-called E. coli, if you take it and cook it like you're supposed to, there's no problem,'' Kamanzi said in an interview with The Canadian Press earlier this month.
"It's edible. These are good proteins."
But the food inspection agency noted that recent research suggests most Canadians don't use digital thermometers when they cook.
Sylvain Quessy, professor of meat hygiene at the University of Montreal, said XL was left with little option but to throw all the recalled meat out to make sure people still have confidence in their food.
"There are a lot of consumers that would be concerned that some of the product might be contaminated," Quessy said. Those who help feed low-income people say that while they can appreciate the thought behind Smith's tweet, food safety must still be the priority for them."
No one at the Brooks food bank wanted to talk about the recalled beef. But Jessi Evanoff with the Alberta Food Bank Network Association said food banks work with the CFIA and have guidelines on what is safe for people to eat.
"Although her heart is in the right place ... in this particular case, in my opinion, just as an overall safety issue, it doesn't make sense to bring it into the food bank," Evanoff said.
"It is a shame in some regards, but I think just from a consumer perspective or a client perspective, there's some concern over XL beef products now, even taking them in and bringing them into their homes, regardless of whether they are cooked properly or not."
— With files from Dean Bennett.