America is a great country, but we tend to be guilty – because of the size and power of our market – to fixate almost exclusively on what is happening within our own beef industry. Sure, most producers were at least aware of the widespread Canadian beef recall due to E. coli contamination last summer that essentially caused one of Canada's leading processors to liquidate. But U.S. producers were much more focused on the U.S. fallout, namely the pending purchase by JBS of XL Foods' processing plants in the U.S., casualties of the E. coli contamination episode.
Still, I was amazed when I saw a poll conducted by the Canadian Food Safety Alliance that was taken in early December, months after the food safety issue. The poll showed that concern over food safety – especially as it relates to E.coli – was actually on the same level as the budget deficit for Canadians. Not only had this issue caused concerns, consumers wanted more inspectors, vaccination of animals for E.coli, and in general a demonstration that the government considered food safety to be as significant an issue as they did.
A Closer Look: XL Foods At Center Of Cross-Border Contamination Issue
It could be argued that the reason food safety was considered more important than the deficit is that the Canadian deficit isn't nearly as large as the U.S. deficit. Nevertheless, it underscores just how important the food safety issue is in the minds of consumers, and the fragility of their belief in the system.
The study indicated that half of respondents believed that E.coli incidents had been increasing over the last five years. Even more concerning was that 42% of Canadians said they had decreased their consumption of beef as a result. Not good signs.