What is E coli and where does it come from?

Understanding what E coli is and where it comes from is the first step in understanding XL Foods widespread beef recall, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's slow reaction to the initial warning from the US border inspectors and the full court spin campaign being undertaken by Canadian governments and mainstream media outlets.

E coli bacteria is a common inhabitant of the intestinal tract of man and other animals. When animals are slaughtered and processed several dangerous elements come into play. The first is the presence of fecal matter from slaughtered animals, which can contaminate meat with high levels of bacteria such as E. coli. The muscle of the animal, which is eaten as meat, is sterile. It is only after this meat comes in contact with the contents of the intestines or the feces that it becomes contaminated. Unfortunately almost all cattle are 'finished' in industrial feedlots where they are so tightly packed together that these cattle defecate and urinate onto each other as well as being forced to stand knee deep in their own manure for days on end. So, E coli is present in all slaughterhouses not just in the manure in the slaughtered animals' intestines but also all over their hides.

In order to assure the safety of the meat supply, processors must make efforts to keep feces from spreading from the animals' intestines or hides onto the tables and tools for butchering, along with the meat itself. But because the production lines are forced to move so quickly, it is exceedingly difficult to butcher the carcasses with the care necessary to prevent this kind of contamination. The result is meat contaminated with bacteria. Manufacturers then combine potentially contaminated meat from many different animals when creating products like ground beef thus increasing the risk of outbreaks.

Slaughterhouses, like Alberta's XL Foods, try to maximize profits by running production lines at breakneck speeds, making it easier for meat to be contaminated by pathogens from manure. Meanwhile, government regulations are lax and cuts by the Harper government, as well as misleading Canadians about the changes it’s making to Canada’s food safety measures, that show it's actually bowing to industry pressure in its $56 million annual cut to the food inspection agency’s budget, said the union that represents food inspectors back in the spring. In a statement to the press at that time, the union said, "CFIA’s food inspectors will be converted to 'systems inspectors', effectively creating an industry 'self-policing' system reminiscent of the one in place prior to the 2008 listeriosis outbreak, in which 22 people died from eating processed meats linked to a Maple Leaf plant in Toronto."

So, E coli is everywhere, the Harper government is cutting food inspection budgets annually, the inspectors morale is at an all time low and they are in fear of losing their jobs. Now Alberta's cattle industry is reeling, the price of their cattle are dropping everyday, thousands of low-paid, often foreign worker program sponsored workers, are laid off and the US has issued a ban of all imports from XL foods. Is it any wonder that like during the mad-cow disease hysteria some years back the MSM are parroting the official government line "don't worry, be happy and cook the shit outta your beef".

This another example of how the Harper government's stupid short term thinking costs far more in the long run. Harper's cuts to the safety of fishery habitat protection, to the Coast Guard by shutting down the Vancouver base, his doubly stupid raising of allowable duty free goods for US shoppers along with the cutting of border inspectors jobs, his destruction of the Wheat Board, his gutting of Canada's Scientific Research Budget...list is long...each will end-up crippling an important part of Canada's economy. This time it's the cattle ranchers, who probably voted overwhelmingly for Harpo in the election, who are being hurt. Next time it might be a boat full of folks or one of those ugly tankers full of bitumen going down in Vancouver's harbor. Or maybe it'll be the destruction of the west coast's salmon habitat, or...?

Why all these stupid cuts? Because Harpo wants to buy $25 billion in jet planes to look tough to his right-wing base, and he, like all his neo-liberal ilk, refuse to raise taxes on his rich benefactors and their corporations. E coli comes from a pile of shit, so does Harper's politics.