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XL Foods too slow to alert food inspectors to contaminated meat, agency says

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, left, and Canadian Food Inspection Agency president George Da Pont update the beef recall situation at a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, October 4, 2012.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The head of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says XL Foods failed to quickly alert government inspectors about contaminated meat, even though the company is required to under federal regulations.

The explanation from George Da Pont confirms a point he appeared to be making a day earlier in Alberta alongside Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz before that news conference was cut short.

Mr. Ritz and Mr. Da Pont hosted another news conference Thursday afternoon and this time answered questions for about 30 minutes. Still, Mr. Da Pont said CFIA had prepared a detailed timeline of the the events that led to the recalls but that information will only be released on the agency's website later Thursday.

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Mr. Da Pont said the XL Plant was not doing the "trend analysis" that it was required to conduct and provide to CFIA inspectors.

"A good number of the issues that were identified by the in-depth review team that we sent in were, number one, that the plant was not doing the trend analysis that it's required to do in situations on a day when, for example, you get a spike in the number of positive findings," he said. "They were not doing the proper trend analysis. They were not taking then, the corrective measures that you normally would expect once that trend analysis is done, and we also found some issues [with] one of the specific corrective actions – a bracketing system."

A bracketing system means that if E. coli is found on a carcass, not only is that carcass removed from the system but so to are the carcasses that were before and after in the processing plant.

"All of this did not become evident until we got all of the documentation from the plant," he said.

Mr. Da Pont said there were six CFIA veterinarians and 40 CFIA inspectors working in the XL Plant.

"We intend, before the end of the day, to post information on the specific details of the Corrective Action Request," he said. "The plant will only reopen once the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is satisfied that all of the corrective actions that are required have been put in place."

The response from XL Foods has been largely limited to a few written statements and a question and answer sheet on its website. The company's co-CEOs have not spoken publicly on the recall.

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The minister has been criticized for not being in the House of Commons this week to answer questions on the E. coli outbreak, which has triggered a massive recall that was expanded again Thursday.

Mr. Ritz insisted that the CFIA is properly funded and that the agency acted properly on the information it received.

"We acted as quickly and as responsibly as we possibly could," he said.

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Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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