Brooks, Alta. – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) had to halt its assessment of XL Foods Inc.’s plant when the company announced the sudden temporary layoff of approximately 2,000 of its employees on Oct. 13.
The CFIA says that on Friday and Saturday its inspectors had been overseeing the cutting of more than 5,000 carcasses from cattle slaughtered in the days before the CFIA suspended the plant’s operating licence.
XL Foods employees were back on the line last Thursday on Oct. 11 to process the carcasses, which had tested negative for E. coli.
The CFIA had inspectors in the plant to observe the processing and assess the plant’s food safety controls. The processed meat was not going to be allowed to leave the plant.
As the CFIA explains, it needed to see the plant’s operations in action before it could consider reinstating the company’s licence. But without employees, the inspectors could not complete the assessment.
“Unfortunately the company decided to stop operations after only cutting about half the carcasses,” says the CFIA.
XL Foods in a statement blamed the layoffs on the fact that the CFIA had not given the company “a definitive timeline for relicensing…It is this uncertainty that has forced the temporary layoffs.”
The TorontoStar.com reports that the decision to lay off the workers caused an immediate backlash. The CFIA said it was completely up to XL Foods as to when the plant would be reopened, and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz had given no hint of softening on the inspection plan.
On Sunday, XL Foods issued recall notices to approximately 800 employees “to move forward with the ongoing CFIA review.”
In the TorontoStar.com story, Doug O’Halloran, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401, which represents the employees at the plant, said management had bungled the situation.
“Again, it’s just chaos, and I guess it begs the question, is there something further wrong with the XL Plant that they’re not sharing? Because why would you lay these people off who may go get other jobs if you need these workers when the plant fully reopens?” O’Halloran told the TorontoStar.com. “It doesn’t make any business sense.”
In its statement, the CFIA says it appreciates the company wanting to get back to normal operations, but it has “a responsibility to assure consumers that the plant can produce safe food.”