NDP bill may overthrow meat regulations

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
December 3rd, 2009

A bill introduced into the legislature by New Democrats (NDP) hopes to change the regulations on the sale of fresh meat products at local farms. While this would have been well received in 2007, local meat producers may not be welcoming the proposed changes today.

The bill amends the Food Safety Act in order to allow farmers to sell meat directly from the farm to local customers. Under the current rules, all meat offered for sale must be processed at centralized facilities despite the fact that this is not an option for many small producers, particularly in rural communities.

NDP MLA Nicholas Simons from Powell River introduced the bill at Nov. 24 sitting of the house. It was carried for the first reading and will be heard at the next sitting in the spring for second reading.

“Even as increasing numbers of British Columbians are looking for local food choices, the centuries-old tradition of the family farm is at risk,” said New Democrat MLA Nicholas Simons, who introduced the bill. “I hope that MLAs from both sides of the house can come together to support local food and B.C. farmers by backing this bill.”

After the regulations were imposed in 2007, many communities have been working on solutions to the lack of available abattoirs for meat producers. In some places, entrepreneurs have spent thousands of dollars on developing or upgrading facilities in order to meet the regulations, said Doug Zorn, president of the Grand Forks and Boundary Regional Agricultural Society. A facility in Rock Creek was upgraded at personal cost, and in Grand Forks the society has spearheaded the development of a mobile abattoir which is in the final stages of design.

Most of the new facilities were planned with the demand estimated by the existing regulations. If those regulations revert back to allowing farm gate sales, many of the businesses could face financial ruin. Zorn doesn’t feel that the proposed bill will pass since the government could be faced with law suits as a result of the investments made across the province.

“All this will do is allow a farmer to sell to neighbours. If we want to sell to restaurants or at our proposed food co-op and to market our region’s produce, then we have to still be inspected,” said Zorn. “I don’t think this legislation is going to pass because of the ramifications of the profitability of the people who have spent a lot of money.”

Zorn was initially concerned about the bill, but until there is a decision by government the regulations stand for local producers. A survey of local meat producers completed by the society in 2008 indicated that producers had reduced or eliminated their meat production as a result of the newly imposed regulations. It was estimated that over $200,000 of production revenue has been lost in the Grand Forks area alone among the 40 producers surveyed. It is estimated that there are over 120 local meat producers in the Grand Forks area.

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