According to several news reports, XL Foods processes roughly 40 per cent of all domestically consumed beef in Canada. I couldn’t confirm the number, as the Canadian Meat Council “does not publish the individual production capacities of its member companies,” according to spokesman Ron Davidson.
Yet Davidson would say that “the two largest companies in Canada (Cargill and XL) do indeed account collectively for the significant majority of Canada’s beef production.”
Herein lies the problem: if you, like the vast majority Canadians, consume supermarket-sourced cow parts, you have repeatedly (and probably unknowingly) given your business to one of just three processing plants in the country: XL Foods in Brooks, Alta; and Cargill in High River, Alta and Guelph, Ont. And by their sheer size alone, those plants are an ideal way to spread disease.
We are in the midst of seeing what this means in practical terms. In Canada alone, the recall includes hundreds upon hundreds of products from 89 brands and distributors from across the country. There are 37 products at Buy-Low Foods alone. The recall has touched the U.S. and Hong Kong and will likely spread, given that XL exports to 20 different countries.
Forget for a second the other unsavoury aspects of the industry—like, say, the fact that feedlots are an ideal way to ensure that your product is covered in feces just prior to being transformed into steak and such. If that cow were slaughtered at a small abattoir, and it happened that the blade of one grinder was tainted with E. Coli bacteria, it would be an isolated problem at worst.
But because XL Foods processes upwards of 4,000 head of cattle a day, that one blade (or, ahem, the lack of hot water) suddenly becomes an international concern. It’s a similar problem that befell Maple Leaf in 2008: two slicing machines at one plant led to a recall of 220 products and 22 deaths.