10/23/2012 01:06 EDT | Updated 12/23/2012 05:12 EST

XL Foods to reopen under CFIA's watch

Beef processor XL Foods will be allowed to resume operations immediately under enhanced Canadian Food Inspection Agency oversight.

The agency announced in Ottawa on Tuesday that following a review of the scientific evidence, it has reinstated the licence of XL Foods, which has been at the centre of a massive recall of meat. The plant will operate under enhanced surveillance and increased testing protocols, with more than 46 CFIA inspectors assigned to monitor slaughter procedures.

“We have a competent and professional group of inspection staff and veterinarians in the plant. Our focus is on the consistency of the application of the food safety controls on the part of the company,” said vice-president of programs Paul Mayers.

CFIA has called for increased testing for E. coli, which sees all "trim lots" held until they are sampled, tested, and the results have come back.

"While we are confident that all food safety controls are being implemented appropriately, we will take the added precaution of maintaining enhanced inspection at the XL Foods Incorporated plant for the foreseeable future," he said.

"For example, we will increase the frequency of certain inspection tasks at key stages of production. We will increase CFIA E. coli testing above and beyond the testing the company already does, and all products will be held until all E. coli test results have been assessed. If concerns are identified at any point, CFIA inspectors will immediately halt operations."

Alberta cattle ranchers pleased

Alberta's Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson welcomed news of the gradual resumption of the slaughtering and processing operations. "Our producers are very resilient people, Albertans are resilient people, but it has obviously done some damage to us in the short term," he said.

From his ranch in Camrose, Alta., Dave Solverson, vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, called the reopening of the plant "a great step forward."

"No business likes uncertainly and it's really caused a lot of uncertainty," he said. "There are still about 12,000 head per week in Western Canada, that were market-ready cattle, that were unable to be slaughtered so they had to be moved to the U.S. and there was just logistical problems, not enough truck to move them."

Consumers can continue to feel confident that beef will be safe to eat, he said.

"The system worked, there were problems of course, but the tainted beef was recalled. I think that most Canadians are pretty good at putting risk in perspective and they understand …it is a perishable food."

Union expects worker training this week

Doug O'Halloran, of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), said earlier Tuesday morning: “We think there’s light at the end of the tunnel now."

The UFCW represents the more than 2,000 workers who were laid off at the plant in Brooks, Alta.

On Sept. 27, the agency suspended XL Foods’ licence to operate at the plant because of E. coli concerns. More than 1,800 products have been recalled and 16 people have gotten sick from the tainted meat.

O'Halloran said the union has a meeting with XL Foods and JBS — the Brazilian-based company that will take over management at the plant — at 10 a.m. MT.

O'Halloran said he has heard there are training sessions for workers on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. He expects meat processing will resume by Monday.