August 6, 2009 / 5:37 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. FDA refuses salmonella-tainted Canada canola

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration refused shipments on July 13 of Canadian canola meal from Associated Proteins, owned by Viterra Inc, and bulk canola from Cargill Ltd because they were tainted with salmonella, FDA records show.

Cargill’s canola shipments into the United States faced more scrutiny since the FDA refused a shipment of its salmonella-tainted canola meal March 11. Both that shipment and the canola shipment stopped last month originated at its recently expanded plant in Clavet, Saskatchewan.

Viterra bought Associated Proteins, based in Ste. Agathe, Manitoba, in late June and said at the time that its acquisition had never had a positive salmonella test in its canola meal.

Viterra said on Thursday that the meal left its Associated Proteins plant without contamination.

The company sold the meal to a customer who was allowed to take it into the United States after samples were taken at the border, a Viterra spokesperson said. When the customer was later notified the shipment may be contaminated, Viterra sent its own samples taken earlier at the plant to an independent lab.

Lab results show no sign of contamination, Viterra said.

Part of Cargill’s Clavet plant was shut down for routine maintenance at the time the FDA stopped the shipment, said spokesman Robert Meijer.

“We’re still operating, we’re still supplying our domestic customers,” Meijer said. He said Cargill is working with the FDA on steps to ensure salmonella “is appropriately controlled” at the Saskatchewan plant.

Two shipments of canola meal from Bunge Ltd’s Canadian crushing plants tested positive in May for salmonella.

People who eat food contaminated with salmonella can become ill with salmonellosis, a food-borne illness with flu-like symptoms. Canola meal, however, is animal feed.

The Canadian Oilseed Processors Association is urging the FDA to ease its zero tolerance of salmonella, a group of bacteria it says is found virtually everywhere.

“Zero tolerance is not a practical measure, not a practical standard, because of the nature of salmonella,” Bob Broeska, president of the association, said in an interview late Wednesday, before the most recent refusals came to light.

Broeska said he questions why the U.S. government has a zero-tolerance approach to primary animal feed ingredients like canola but not for the poultry processing industry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the FDA, regulates poultry imports, FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said.

“It’s a concern from everyone (in the industry) because everybody now knows they’re subject to monitoring and testing,” Broeska said. “It’s made our industry much more vigilant.”

Canola crushing plants are not sterile environments. Moving in that direction would be costly, but the industry is looking at those options, he said.

Cargill could continue shipping since its first shipment was halted but had to provide third-party testing to prove shipments were salmonella-free, Kwisnek said.

ICE November Canadian canola fell nearly 1.5 percent on Thursday, influenced mainly by weaker U.S. commodities.

Viterra shares were down on the Toronto Stock Exchange in midday trading, but recovered to close 2 Canadian cents higher at C$9.25.

Reporting by Rod Nickel

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