The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says the same safety standards apply to meat for domestic consumption and for overseas exports and reports to the contrary are "categorically false."
The embattled federal food safety agency was reacting to a media report that inspectors at the XL Foods processing plant in Brooks, Alta., were told to ignore contamination on cattle carcasses unless they were destined for Japan.
A memo to inspectors, dated September 2008, does indeed instruct them to ensure all "Japan-eligible" beef has been 100 per cent verified for removal of fecal, intestinal and spinal cord materials.
The same memo tells inspectors at the "Japan Dura Mater" station on the production line to ignore such contamination for meat that is not destined for Japan.
But a spokeswoman for the agency says the memo was about division of labour and that the Japan inspection station was not the end of the line.
The CFIA's Lisa Gauthier says in a release that there is "zero tolerance for any form of contamination" and that there are multiple points of detection along the processing line.
CFIA spokesman Paul Mayer echoed Gauthier's statement, during a CFIA teleconference on Thursday.
"For products destined elsewhere, whether it is for the domestic market, or to other markets, that station is not responsible for inspections with respect to that, and that's why that station would ignore carcasses not destined for Japan," Mayer said.
Mayer insists all meat within the Brooks plant is held to high Canadian standards and food safety is addressed throughout the system.
Largest beef recall in Canada
XL Foods was involved in the largest beef recall in Canadian history this fall after meat contaminated with E. coli was stopped at the Canadian-American border in September.
People in at least four provinces were found to have been made ill by the E. coli strain and the XL plant only reopened at the end of October.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz issued a release in an effort to assure consumers there is not a two-tier inspection system for domestic and export purposes.
"CFIA continues to ensure the meat sold in Canada is just as safe as meat being exported to other markets — including Japan," Ritz said.
"CFIA continues to ensure that meat processed in Canada meets our high food safety standards. This is required by law and acknowledged by our global customers as a superior food safety system."