The XL Foods situation has left beef producers and consumers wading in unknowns and unanswered questions. The question is, who will buy this beef? Many of us are wondering what really happened at the XL Foods plant, who is more to blame between XL Foods and CFIA and when the plant will re-open.
There are more questions that are even more critical to the long term survival of XL Foods and the overall health of the Canadian meat industry. Those questions revolve around restoring long term food safety and confidence in our system. From day one of this issue, many of the very intelligent people that I lean on for insight and perspective have been saying that this is all about alleviating the food safety concerns of consumers in the future. The short term issues are about the battle between XL Foods and CFIA but the real fundamental challenge once you get past the TMZ-nature of the finger pointing going on is about food safety.
When the plant re-opens cattle will be killed and packaged again but the bigger question is will retailers support the XL Foods program? With reports of some retailers posting signs at the meat counter reading, “No XL Foods Beef Here,” the XL Foods brand has been significantly tarnished. Before this outbreak, most consumers wouldn’t have been able to tell you if XL Foods was Canadian, American or Chinese-based.
Whatever happened at the XL Foods plant has created a major hurdle for the industry — restoring consumer confidence is necessary. Areas like Picture Butte or Swift Current are not issues in terms of long term consumer confidence, but consumer sentiment in cities like Vancouver and Toronto are the real concern for the industry going forward. I am sure that CCA and other groups will be putting significant resources into fighting this battle in the major urban areas.
As I read blogs and websites, consumers are reacting strongly (rightly and wrongly) to how XL Foods, CFIA and the Canadian government has reacted to this issue. Getting our consumers back to trusting our meat system is our real challenge as an industry, not whether or not the plant re-opens today, tomorrow or a week from now.