I do not watch a lot of TV, with the exception of the U.S. presidential debates — being a Canadian we just do not get that kind of entertainment in Canada.

Along with debates I have followed a program which was based on a dog trainer who visits people after they contact him about their problem pet.  The dog trainer would visit the family at their home, and the first thing he would do on every episode was to observe the family interacting with their dog. After observing the family interacting with the disobedient animal, the dog trainer would sit the family down to inform them the problem was not the dog.

I, like the dog trainer had the opportunity to spend time in many North American slaughter sites observing the staff and their processes.

What I observed was something I have seen at all the slaughter plants I have visited in North America — a team of people that were also dealing with something they may have thought was not in their control: the model for harvesting in North America.

It differs from the Australian model, where the animals are fed on grass and are cleaned prior to slaughter. It is important to note the fact the Aussies have never had a positive O157:H7 result in product shipped to North America. They work on the principle that if you can safely slaughter 100 animals in eight hours you do not slaughter 101, where a microbiological intervention is unknown.

With the North America model, as many as 18,000 animals would be on the same feedlot with mud and fecal material covering their hide. Depending on the season, there could be up to 4000 animals brought through one room with up to 20 pounds of this “tag” on each hide.  The harvesting team would then have the challenge of removing these 4000 hides (8,000 pounds of tag manure and mud) without allowing one microscopic bacteria cell from pounds of fecal material from contaminating the underlying carcass.

When reading the news regarding the XL Foods recall, the information being broadcast describes the deficiencies and problems caused by the team responsible for food safety in the plant.  We might consider what has failed here is not the team of people but the Harvesting Model — a model which allows loads of mud and manure into the process of slaughter with the hopes that proper dehiding and modern technology, in the form of microbiological interventions, can clean up the potential hazards and deliver a safe carcass to the boning room.

 I believe North America should adopt the Australian model that results in dramatically fewer incidences of pathogenic bacteria. Perhaps the meat industry needs a visit from the dog trainer.