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Ag minister Olson, still buying beef

Vince Burke/ Camrose Canadian

Alberta Agriculture Minister and Wetaskiwin - Camrose MLA Verlyn Olson shops for steak and ground beef at the Camrose Co-op Saturday Sept. 29, 2012, in Camrose ALberta, despite an E. coli scare and shutdown of the XL Foods processing plant in Brooks.

Alberta Agriculture Minister and Wetaskiwin - Camrose MLA Verlyn Olson shops for steak and ground beef at the Camrose Co-op Saturday Sept. 29, 2012, in Camrose ALberta, despite an E. coli scare and shutdown of the XL Foods processing plant in Brooks.

With consumers wary about whether beef should be among their purchases at the supermarket, Alberta Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson is trying to strengthen consumer confidence.

Olson, who is the MLA for Wetaskiwin – Camrose, made a stop, along with some Camrose-area beef producers at the Camrose Co-op Sept. 29, to buy some hamburger and steaks, in the wake of the recent E. coli scare and the followed shutdown of the XL Foods meat processing plant in Brooks.

“I want to make the point, because unfortunately there can be overreaction to an issue like this and people can get an impression that there isn’t safe food in our stores,” he said.

“It absolutely is safe and we deal aggressively with issues when they come up and that should not mean that people should quit buying beef. So I was going to do my part and I came in today to buy beef here, it’s a great store.”

Olson said food safety is a top priority for anyone in the food industry.

“Alberta and Canada are very proud of our reputation of producing very high quality and very safe food,” said Olson.

“It is also very important for our producers that they have a place to deliver their product; their animals. As you know this (XL) is a federally regulated plant and we are working very closely with the federal government and the CFIA and we are in constant contact with them, offering our assistance, but respecting the federal jurisdiction.”

Olson knows producers are anxious about the plant closure and what it means as a place to send their product, and Dave Solverson, a cattle producer west of Camrose and vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said it has an impact.

“XL Foods is a very important player in the Canadian beef industry. It is a great Canadian-owned company that handles about 40 per cent of all the beef in Canada, so it is a major loss to have them shutdown,” he said.

“It’s a matter of timing, if it a few days it’s not a crisis, but if it extends beyond that it does become important.”

Camrose beef producer Cliff Drever said there are a few options while the XL Foods plant is shut down.

“There are other beef plants in Alberta and Canada that are producing safe beef; you know the beef on the shelf is safe there today. They have had a recall, that beef has been removed and the existing beef is safe to eat,” said Drever.

Solverson said they also have options of sending live cattle for processing in plants in the United States, adding the E. coli scare differs from the BSE crisis 10 years ago, as with BSE Canada lost its foreign markets but this time that hasn’t happened.

Olson said he would be speaking with beef producers to hear how this impacts their business.

“I suppose it’s an opportunity to talk about what the future looks like. This is the type of thing that gets everyone’s attention and gets us all thinking about how things can be done better,” he said.

“I know there is a lot of talk about what went wrong and who is at fault and obviously we have to go to great lengths to figure all that out and to analysis what did happen.

“My immediate concern is to get the plant open; to do whatever needs to be done to get the plant open, so that our producers can start delivering their product.”

Olson couldn’t speak to any compensation for producers or the plant in the wake of the E.coli scare, but said there are existing programs they can turn to.

 


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