XL Foods plant managers name new president

A new president has been appointed to head up the XL Foods beef processing plant in Brooks, Alta. — which was at the centre of Canada's largest beef recall.

William Van Solkema appointed as president of JBS Canada

The operating licence for the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., was suspended on Sept. 27 because of concerns about E. coli contamination. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

A new president has been appointed to head up the XL Foods beef processing plant in Brooks, Alta. — which was at the centre of Canada's largest beef recall.

JBS USA, which is currently managing the plant for XL Foods, named William Van Solkema as president of the Canadian division of the company.

Solkema was the former president of sales and operation for XL Foods Inc. from 2004 to 2009.

He was recently a consultant for XL Fine Foods, a Calgary-based meat supplier, and worked at Cargill and Canada Packers.

"Willie brings more than 30 years of experience and direct knowledge of the Canadian beef business to JBS Canada," stated Bill Rupp, president and COO of the JBS USA beef business unit.

"I personally worked alongside Willie at the High River plant and have complete confidence in his ability to manage our operations at the Brooks facility in Alberta. He will prove to be an invaluable asset as we normalize operations at Brooks for both domestic and international markets and continue to explore our exclusive option to purchase additional XL properties in Canada and the U.S."

The XL Foods plant’s licence was suspended on Sept. 27 after numerous deficiencies were identified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency following an E. coli outbreak.

More than 2,000 products from the plant were recalled, making it the largest beef recall in Canadian history.

The recall prompted the United States to stop accepting XL Foods beef into the country.

JBS USA, a subsidiary of a Brazilian-based company, announced in October that it would take over operation of the beleaguered plant following the aftermath of the E. coli crisis.

Doug Sawyer, the chair of Alberta Beef Producers, says the reputation of JBS will help open the U.S. market again.

He says the XL Foods plant is ready to go into full production as soon as the U.S. accepts beef from the plant.

"Products that we offer Canadians are rigorously tested and we have a very safe food system. JBS fills into that very well with their food safety system, so I think it will work very well," Sawyer said.

Sawyer also says Alberta producers could use more packing plants.

"As a producer I'm very interested in more competition. So we'd love to see some mid-sized, large-sized [or] small-sized plants. The more plants we have the more options we have available as producers."