Union for XL Foods workers weighs in on new managers

Reaction continues to pour in regarding the announcement that a Brazilian-based company will take over management at the XL Foods meat processing plant in Brooks, Alta.
Reaction on the announcement JBS USA will take over management at XL Foods in Brooks, Alta. 3:17

Reaction continues to pour in regarding the announcement that a Brazilian-based company will take over management at the XL Foods meat processing plant in Brooks, Alta.

The news comes just days after the plant expanded its meat recall for fear of E. coli contamination.

JBS USA, whose Brazilian parent company claims it is the world's largest animal protein processor, will run the XL plant for 60 days and has an exclusive option to buy the Canadian and U.S. operations of XL Foods.

XL will continue to manage its other Canadian and U.S. operations during the option period.

Both the union and politicians say the deal is positive.

"We endorse it with caution I guess, because like anything the proof is in the pudding," said Doug O'Halloran, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401.

"JBS is going to have to come in here and prove they can run the plant and in order to do that, they're going to have to reach out to the workers — who know best." O'Halloran said.

Assessment timeline won't change, says CFIA

JBS says this is a chance to break into the Canadian beef market, but the massive beef recall still has the XL Foods plant under the thumb of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

On Tuesday, the CFIA finished monitoring workers who were processing carcasses left at the plant when its licence was suspended on Sept. 27.

The union representing XL Foods workers says it endorses the JBS agreement with caution. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The agency said that over the coming days it will thoroughly review its observations and expects to complete its assessment and make a recommendation on the next steps for the plant before the beginning of next week.

"Any change in management or ownership at XL will not affect our assessment," said the CFIA in a release.

But while CFIA finishes it assessment, roughly 2,000 laid-off workers are still wondering when they might be able to return to work.

JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett says the plan is to get the plant producing beef again as soon as possible.

"We'll work with the competent authorities and do what needs to be done to make sure that the plant can not only be operational, but can once again produce some quality beef that consumers can enjoy," he said.

JBS in the news for E. coli in the past

But JBS USA has had E.coli issues of its own.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, JBS recalled more than 18,000 kilograms of beef across 13 states in 2009.

Calgary beef expert Ted Haney said contamination is bound to happen occasionally when you produce a lot of beef for a long time, but what matters is how a company reacts.

"What we'll see with JBS is much more responsiveness to the public, to the industry and to the media," he said. "And I think with information like that comes a certain level of confidence and comfort."

Many experts say the only way to ensure the safety of eating meat is to cook it to the proper temperatures, which is 71 C for ground beef.

Haney said JBS has been a very profitable meat company for a long time and the beef industry in Alberta will benefit from having them around.

"This is a company that's learned to operate in multiple jurisdictions worldwide," he said. "They're efficient, they're competitive, they have a world perspective. This is a very aggressive meat company."

Haney said JBS will boost competition in the area, which will make the beef industry safer and more profitable.