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Bill passed to raise safety of food supply in wake of XL crisis

OTTAWA -- Canada's food supply will be safer due to new food-safety legislation passed Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says.

Bill S-11 will raise penalties for violating safety standards from $250,000 to as much as $5 million, improve the ability to trace food through the supply system when a recall is necessary, improve record-keeping from food-production facilities and give food inspectors more power to ensure companies provide the documents in readable formats.

"Food safety continues to be our top priority," Ritz said.

The passage of the legislation, introduced last spring, comes just after the largest food recall in Canadian history. In September and October, nearly 2,000 beef products linked to the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., were recalled due to E. coli contamination. Eighteen illnesses have been traced to the tainted beef. The plant was closed for more than a month while it addressed food-safety concerns.

The federal government was criticized for not acting fast enough, as it took more than 10 days to issue a recall after the first positive E. coli test. Opposition parties questioned why it took so long to figure out the contaminated beef had ended up in the food supply.

A reason for the delay was the difficulty for food inspectors to get timely and readable reports on food safety. Ritz said this bill will make sure inspectors can get the reports they need and in a format they can easily read "without taking days to analyze."

More than a dozen recalls were issued over several weeks, partly because of the difficulty in tracing food products once they left the southern Alberta plant. Bill S-11 will establish a better map to trace every step a food product takes between producer and consumer.

Ritz said the majority of food recalls in Canada involve imported foods. The bill will require food importers to register with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to help trace products once they arrive in Canada.

He said the bill was not tailored to the XL Foods situation, as it was tabled last spring, but it did deal with gaps that were identified before the XL Foods incident, which became apparent once the recall was ordered.

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