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Meat inspection changes fail to impress critics

Agricultural minister Norm Letnick speaks with Armstrong farmer Bev Torrens (left) before making the new meat inspection announcement Friday afternoon at the Schubert Centre.  - Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star
Agricultural minister Norm Letnick speaks with Armstrong farmer Bev Torrens (left) before making the new meat inspection announcement Friday afternoon at the Schubert Centre.
— image credit: Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star

Some meat producers and politicians are convinced the industry will continue to struggle despite changes to government policy.

Norm Letnick, agriculture minister, was in Vernon Friday to announce that up to five class E slaughtering licences will be allowed in the North Okanagan as part of a two-year pilot program.

“In a region the size of ours, how will five have an impact?” said Christine Fraser, a Spallumcheen councillor, who has been lobbying for a return to farm-gate meat sales.

“If they are going to do a pilot, why not 20 or 25?”

Presently, class E licence holders are small farms located in areas where there is no provincially licensed abattoir to fill the consumer demand for locally produced meat. They have not been issued in the North Okanagan because abattoirs exist.

However, access to abattoirs has been challenging and many farmers were not willing to transport their animals long distances.

The number of local producers has gone from 1,200 to 300 since meat processing regulations came into force in 2007.

While she is trying to remain optimistic, Spallumcheen farmer Andrea Gunner isn’t sure Letnick’s plan will help.

“It’s little and awfully late,” she said.

“Most of the industry has packed up and retired.”

Each of the five farms granted a license will be allowed to slaughter a total of 10,000 pounds a year when an animal is weighed alive.

Gunner isn’t sure if that will be enough to convince them to resume operations.

The author of a local food systems plan is disappointed with the terms of the announcement.

“It fails to show there’s been a fundamental shift in government,” said Buffy Baumbrough, a former Regional District of North Okanagan director.

“Five licences are token.”

Baumbrough believes any farmer that wants to slaughter meat should be able to do so, and  government concerns about public health are unfounded.

“There’s no valid evidence that community scale agriculture has ever been an issue. The meat regulations undermined a system that worked,” she said.

But not everyone is pessimistic about the new guidelines.

“We believe it is a start,” said Patrick Nicol, RDNO chairperson.

“Eventually it will open the door for smaller producers wronged by the current policy.”

Demands for regulation amendments largely stagnated until Letnick was named agriculture minister late last year.

“I heard clearly there is a desire to do more farm gate,” he said.

Letnick says the goal is to permit small-scale slaughtering on farms while not compromising the financial viability of larger abattoirs.

Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA, is confident a sufficient balance has been found.

“Farm-gate sales won’t hurt A and B guys (abattoirs) and the pilot program will give us the opportunity to prove what we’ve been saying all along,” he said of the safety of farm-butchered meat.

Foster expects the number of class E licenses will expand.

“Five licenses is not a whole lot but it’s more than what we had,” he said.

While in Vernon, Letnick revealed plans for B.C.’s new meat inspection system.

“Consumer safety is paramount,” said Letnick.

As of Jan. 1, 2014, the new $5.6 million system will replace federal meat inspectors who are leaving B.C.

A government inspector will inspect each animal slaughtered at an abattoir.

Richard Yntema, who runs a Grindrod abattoir, supports the inspection system and he isn’t concerned farm-gate operations will undermine his bottom line.

“You won’t see class E’s popping up like dandelions in the summer because they have requirements to follow,” he said, adding that the rules may be too onerous for some farmers.

 

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