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Pitt Meadows Meats expected to plead guilty in E. coli case

April 13, 2015 CBC News

Pitt Meadows Meats is expected to plead guilty on Monday to at least one count of selling E. coli-tainted meat in 2010, CBC News has learned. 

One of British Columbia's largest meat processing plants, which now calls itself Meadow Valley Meats, was charged with 11 counts under the Food and Drugs Act for selling meat unfit for human consumption after a former employee contacted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The coverup came to light when Daniel Land, who oversaw the plant's quality assurance, later contacted CBC News, saying officials at Pitt Meadows Meats told him to keep quiet about the positive test result obtained on Sept. 9. 2010.

Land said a manager failed to report lab results that showed a sample of its product was contaminated with the deadly E. coli O157 strain. Regulations require federally licensed plants to report such findings.

"They told me that this would be looked after — they would pull it off the shelf," Land said from his home in Edmonton. "Shame on them. There was tainted meat in the marketplace and they did nothing."

Land was fired and decided to report the incident to the CFIA, a month after the test came back positive for E. coli. Federal inspectors shut down the plant for a month and issued a recall, warning consumers that Pitt Meadows beef and lamb products may be contaminated with E. coli and should not be consumed. All the products were halal, meaning the animals were slaughtered in accordance with Islamic tradition, and distributed in the Metro Vancouver area.

The company was charged with 11 counts of selling tainted meat to 10 different markets and restaurants, according to the indictment. It has apologized to customers and businesses harmed by the recall for not alerting federal officials sooner. Following the E. coli tests, plant officials said they internally recalled the products and destroyed 61 cases.

Pitt Meadows Meats repeatedly described Land as a disgruntled employee who may have tainted the beef himself. "That's a lie. We had a positive E. coli O157," Land said. "The meat was out there in the industry. When CFIA got involved and pulled it off shelves the meat was already in stores and people had already consumed it." There were no reports of illness and later tests were negative for E. coli.

Land said he is relieved the case is finally coming to an end, though he was more than willing to testify if there was a trial. "It's taken a long time, five years it's taken. I just hope they realize how serious this situation was and I'm glad justice has been done."

The directors of the numbered company doing business as Pitt Meadows Meats, Ken and Jeff Kooyman, also own Chilliwack Cattle Sales, a dairy plant that was targeted in a hidden camera investigation by Mercy for Animals Canada, a non-profit group.

Video shot by a former employee showed employees beating and kicking cows. Some processors cancelled their milk orders. At the time the Kooymans said the behaviour was inappropriate and followed up by firing the employees they said were responsible.

Through a spokesperson, the Kooymans declined CBC's request for an interview. Their company is expected to issue a statement after Monday's court appearance. The case will be heard at B.C. Supreme court in New Westminster.

Comment: Industrial animal agriculture, along with bureaucrats and politicians, put the economy and corporate profits ahead of animal welfare, public health and safety, the environment, and citizens’ rights. Exposing the truth should be easy but instead there are too many in power with vested interests who want to keep us muzzled. Thankfully, former employee, Daniel Land, was heard and now after five years there will be consequences to the company coverup.

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“A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.” Leo Tolstoy