Meat from a processing plant in a Kingston-area prison that has been shut down while provincial officials investigate "questionable" inspection practices was likely sold to the public in Ontario and possibly in Quebec, a Corrections Canada spokesman said Wednesday.
In an interview from Ottawa, Guy Campeau also said that the plant, run by convicts at the federally run Pittsburgh Institution in Joyceville as part of a work program to reintegrate inmates back into the community, is owned by Wallace Beef, a meat company in Kingston.
A call to Wallace Beef on Wednesday morning wasn't returned. There also was no immediate word about whether meat produced at Pittsburgh would be recalled.
Mr. Campeau said the meat produced at the prison is used to feed the 190 male inmates at the minimum-security facility as well as inmates at other prisons, but it's also sold at a public meat counter at the institution and is distributed to other retail outlets.
"We buy some meat from the distributor [for inmates] but we also know it had outside distribution as well," in Ontario and maybe Quebec, Mr. Campeau said in an interview a day after the plant's licence was suspended by Ontario's Agriculture Ministry.
"There's even an open counter at the institution where people can come in as well. Mr. Public can go there."
Ontario Provincial Police were quick to rule out Wednesday morning any criminal wrongdoing in the meat probe. Corrections Canada had asked police on Tuesday to investigate the plant's meat-inspection practices, Sergeant Kristine Cholette said.
"After getting past the preliminary information that was available, there was no obvious criminal wrongdoing," said Ms. Cholette from OPP's east region headquarters in Smith Falls, just north of Kingston.
"At this point in time, it is a Ministry of Agriculture investigation," Ms. Cholette said, adding that police may investigate further depending on what's uncovered in the provincial probe.
The Agriculture Ministry suspended the plant's licence Tuesday after the prison warden called to report "allegations of questionable practices at the abattoir."
The Natural Resources Ministry was also directed to investigate the alleged violation of the Meat Inspection Act.
Mr. Campeau said Corrections Canada is also conducting an internal investigation.
The Agriculture Ministry said in a release that "although there is no known threat to public health, all meat products have been detained in the plant as a precautionary measure."
Mr. Campeau wouldn't elaborate on the reason for the shutdown, but he said that the investigation is focused on illegal meat-inspection and labelling practices.
Calls to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which would oversee any meat recall, weren't immediately returned Wednesday morning.
While health programs in the federal prison system are the responsibility of Health Canada, the Kingston Health Unit has been briefed on the situation.
"We have been assured that there's no health risk," said Dr. Ian Gemmill, Kingston's medical officer of health.
Pittsburgh Institution runs an agri-business which includes cattle, vegetable gardens and a greenhouse.
It opened in 1963 as the Joyceville Farm Annex and managed a herd of 300 beef cattle and an abattoir, producing meat for area prisons.
The province's meat-inspection system came under widespread scrutiny this summer at a meat-packing plant in Aylmer Meat Packers southeast of London, Ont., was closed and all its products recalled amid allegations the company sold tainted meat.
A criminal investigation was launched two months ago, but no charges have been laid.
The province is also conducting its own investigation, although Aylmer has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The Aylmer recall became an issue in the Ontario election campaign, with candidates questioning the safety of the province's meat-inspection system and whether Tory cutbacks were threatening public health and safety.