No money for Quebec cheese retailers after listeriosis recall

Quebec is refusing to compensate cheese retailers hit by a listeriosis scare in the province.

Quebec is refusing to compensate cheese retailers hit by a listeriosis scare in the province.  

"The province is not there to compensate. We aren't an insurance company," said Quebec Agriculture Minister Laurent Lessard in an interview with CBC's French-language service on Tuesday.

Retailers have a responsibility to market safe products, and if there's a risk associated to what they're selling they have to absorb the losses, he said.

"There have been many recalls in the past, and I don't remember the ministry paying," Lessard told Montreal newspaper La Presse.

"We have to be fair to those who have experienced recalls in the past."

About 300 retailers were forced to destroy thousands of kilograms of cheese worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in a massive recall earlier this month triggered by a listeria outbreak.  

Lessard didn't rule out possible compensation for cheese producers.  

Provincial food inspectors found traces of the potentially deadly listeria bacteria in 16 different establishments, either on cheese or processing equipment.

Twenty-two cases of listeriosis have been reported in Quebec since an outbreak was reported in early August.  

An elderly woman died and the majority of reported cases required hospitalization.

Seven pregnant women were infected with the bacteria and six babies were born prematurely to women believed to be infected.  

It's not clear if those infections were directly related to the consumption of cheese. The province's public health agency warned certain people to avoid eating soft cheeses, including the elderly and very young, pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems.  

The Quebec association that represents food retailers was surprised by the minister's reaction.  

"We won't accept that there is [no compensation]," said spokesman Pierre-Alexandre Blouin. "We won't abandon our demands."

Retailers warn the recall will trigger a crisis in Quebec's cheese industry and many smaller operations risk bankruptcy.

Some Montreal cheese retailers said they are prepared to sue the province for compensation if their businesses suffer undue damage from the recall.