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Provincial changes to meat regulations send producers into a spin

Kurtis Staven of Wild Thing Organics and some of his animals; Photo, Mona Mattei

After years of farmers protesting regulations developed in 2006 by the B.C. government that prevented farm gate sales of meat without use of a licenced abattoir, the province has sent the industry into confusion with the introduction of two new licences. Local producers are left feeling that they have been chasing their own tails for the last four years, spending time and money trying to build facilities that would provide local meat inspection. Now, it seems that the province is opening up the regulations to allow livestock producers to slaughter their animals again.

The announcement of two new licencing categories from the province came out last week, and already farmers are trying to find ways to go back to their old slaughter practices. Unfortunately, the new regulations have just been put in place and it is unclear how they will be implemented.

The amendments to the Meat Inspection Regulations created two new licences – licence categories D and E. A D licence permits direct producer sales to local consumers and to retail / restaurant establishments with geographic restrictions. Production is limited to between one and 25 animal units (1000 kg = one animal unit.) The province identified only nine regional areas where this licence will be permitted. Theses areas are defined by the regulations and are all remote areas along the coast.

“These new licences will support local producers and processors around the province and will allow us to continue protecting the health and food safety of all British Columbians,” said Minister of Healthy Living and Sport Ida Chong in the Ministry’s press release. “These licences will initially be made available to livestock producers in Bella Coola, the Powell River Regional District and Haida Gwaii – the communities that participated in the consultation and actually helped develop this concept.”

Doug Zorn, director of the Grand Forks and Boundary Agricultural Society and a local meat producer who was involved in advocating for change and then developing a local abattoir, said that the E licence will be most likely to impact the development in the Boundary area. The mobile abattoir being designed by the society is almost cleared through licencing authorities and they are raising funds to pay for the construction.

“Depending on how many (licences) they are prepared to issue for a particular area that could affect our abattoir since the regulation allows for 10 animal units. That’s 10 cows or a certain amount of pigs, sheep or chicken. As a meat producer if I was to apply and get an E licence then I would be able to process and sell at farm gate sales without an abattoir. That would indeed affect the viability of an abattoir in our area,” said Zorn.

An E licence allows direct sales to local consumers for what is known as farm gate sales. These sales will be limited to between one and 10 animal units. These licences will be available to rural and remote areas of the province based on a case-by-case analysis that will include discussions with any fully licenced facilities within the producer’s area. Unlicenced slaughter for personal consumption has always existed and will continue.

Zorn is unsure about the overall impact of the changes since the Ministry has not made a decision about the number of the new licences they are prepared to give out. After spending years working with local producers to design a mobile abattoir, developing a business plan, and applying for funding to build the facility, Zorn said that the new regulations are confusing.

“They bring in these rules and regulations, and there’s no clear understanding about what a farmer is going to have to attain to be able to process on his farm,” said Zorn. “Under the new regulations there’s some sort of food safety plan and processing protocol to get the licence. How much does that entail? Is it going to be easy enough to do for a small producer, or is it going to be onerous to the point it’s not going to be attainable?”

Zorn says many questions still need to be answered. The society is planning to organize a producers meeting in the next month with ministry representatives and the B.C. Food Producers Association (responsible for working with local groups on developing meat industry infrastructure) in order to get a better understanding of the new regulations. Zorn’s sense is that the new licences still limit farmers potential to be profitable by disallowing sales to local grocers.

“There’s a lot of speculation among the meat producers. There’s talk that they’re dropping regulations and so forth. But they’re not dropping the regulations; they are bringing in regulations that are still going to be limiting a farmer like myself to be able to process (animals.) With these new regulations there’s still no opportunity for marketing directly to restaurants or stores or our new co-op,” said Zorn.

Zorn said that the mobile abattoir has moved forward substantially in the last few months with the assistance of Community Futures Boundary, the B.C. Food Processors Association staff, and the abattoir committee of the society.

Other changes to the regulations announced last week include phasing out the existing temporary C licenced facilities, additional funding for licence holders to assist with construction costs, and an expansion of the ticketing authority of environmental health officers and meat inspectors to better deal with illegal meat sales and lack of compliance with practice requirements.

“You have to remember that in the end what we want is to have a safe product that is recognized throughout our area, and that is attaining a standard of processing that is above reproach,” said Zorn.