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.
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.
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Hey, the time is good now as any. Drop by at a store that sells local and/or organic meat. Many major retail chains now supply local produce. Or stop by a farmers market. Heck, if you live in Alberta, you could walk (drive) over to the farm and really get to know where your food is coming from.
Beef From Other Plants
There are other major beef producers that thankfully have been spared from the major recalls. Purchase meat from Cargill producers in Alberta perhaps?
Maybe you could treat yourself to some bison if you're missing your medium-rare steak during the recall. Who knows, you may just come back for more!
Dare we say it... producers from around the country (and world) have safe beef for consumption. Maybe its time to look for temporary alternatives to get your steak from. Alberta beef will be back on the market soon anyway.
Beefalo burgers anyone? This could be an opportunity to give these hybrid animals a taste if you've been contemplating trying beefalo for sometime.
Other Meats Like Chicken
You love your beef and it loves you right back, but maybe you can take this opportunity to try out different foods. Now we don't mean tofu, but some butter chicken may be a refreshing addition to your plate.
Fresh halibut? Yes, please.
While most strains of E. coli are harmless, the Public Health Agency Of Canada warns that some strains including E. coli O157: H7, can make people sick, and in serious complications can include kidney failure.
Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and fever that is generally less than 38.5˚C/101˚F and tend to last for five to seven days.
High risk individuals include the very young, elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can be fatal, can develop in around 5 to 10 per cent of those who get sick from E. coli O157:H7 overall and about 15 per cent of young children and the elderly. Symptoms of HUS vary. Some people have seizures or strokes and some need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Others live with side effects such as permanent kidney damage.
Proper hygiene including hand washing and safe food handling and preparation practices are recommended to prevent the illness.
While E. coli is generally associated with ground meat, Alberta Health Services warns that the bacteria can also be found in foods including poultry, pork, cheese, sprouts, lettuce, yogurt, and unpasteurized milk and fruit juices and advises Albertans to take precaution.