E. Coli affects auction mart

The beef industry is in a state of worry as one of Alberta’s largest slaughterhouses has been closed due to reports of E. Coli

The closure of the XL Foods Inc. plant in Brooks has made the cattle market unstable. VJV auction had approximately 700 cattle rather than the 2

The beef industry is in a state of worry as one of Alberta’s largest slaughterhouses has been closed due to reports of E. Coli contaminated beef south of the border.

XL Foods Inc. in Brooks closed Sept. 28 and is reported to process more than 4,500 cattle per day. While Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspectors ensure safety protocols are being followed, buyers and sellers are anxious to see the doors reopen.

Nansen Vold, co-owner of VJV Auction Co., said their normal Wednesday sale Oct. 3 was smaller than usual. “We were expecting a sale of about 2,500 today and only received just over 900.”

He feels a situation such as this can have a negative impact on the cattle industry. “I think it’s going to be a little bit of a long run.”

Yearlings are down and cattle usually selling for 70 to 75 cents per pound are now going for 50 to 60 cents per pound. A nine-weight (900 pounds) prior to the announcement sold for $1.30 per pound and is now selling for $1.24 to $1.25 per pound.

The negative effects of the temporary closure will be felt by the farmers and the producers, Vold explained.

There did appear to be some optimism in the market. He feels the calf trade was going fairly steady in comparison to previous weeks. Six-weight calves were being purchased at approximately $1.50 to $1.55 per pound. “That’s pretty close to the same level as last week.

Seller Roger Hermary of Northern Stables in Lacombe brought 82 cattle to the auction.

“I’ve got my fingers crossed right now,” stated Hermary.

He expected to make less from the sale because of the uncertainty now in the marketplace but as someone who buys and sells cattle, he feels he is in a better position than others.

The risk is for the producers who have to feed cows that will eventually produce more calves; the expense can be fairly high, explained Hermary.

Buyer Danny Eberhart from Holden feels the media is the main reason for market problems. “Uncertainty caused by the media. They are putting things on the air that are absolutely backwards!”

Now if he buys cattle he will have to sit on his product until he has have somewhere to take it.

A processing plant in High River owned by Cargill is also reported to process 4,500 cattle per day but with a backlog of cattle waiting to be slaughtered, it could take some time before beef production returns to normal.

As of Oct. 12, more than 1,500 items have been recalled from stores and store owners have worked to ensure they have separated their beef.

As soon as Hamilton’s IGA knew about the recall there was action, explained owner Jim Hamilton. “We’ve all got it on hold in the freezer right now.”

Unsure whether to dispose of it, IGA has all its beef in a special section until they are notified by the government. Hamilton buys beef from XL Foods and Cargill Foods in High River.

“The problem was when you were cutting the beef…you don’t clean your saw when cutting a T-bone steak from XL and a rib steak from Cargill. There was no way of knowing which beef may or may not have been contaminated,” he explained. “Friday afternoon to Saturday morning we had no beef.”

He estimates it took four or five hours to clean and sanitize the area, before they started cutting Cargill beef the next day. “We use a sanitizing detergent. You foam down the walls and you foam down the roof.”

Any beef purchased from Aug. 29 to Sept. 28 at IGA will be refunded if customers wish to return their purchase. Cooking beef at 160 degrees Fahrenheit will kill E. Coli but most people do not cook their beef to that temperature, explained Hamilton.

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