Meat rules hurting communities

Agriculture minister must support licenses for farm-gate sales

I understand that Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick is re-evaluating the issuance of class E meat processing licenses.

It has been more than two years since the provincial government added the categories of D and E licenses, with the intent of allowing E licenses throughout the province.

Since the meat inspection regulation came into force Sept. 30, 2007, our regional district has gone from five custom poultry processors providing service to almost 900 poultry producers to one developed as a partnership between four farming families to meet their own processing needs, with some capacity for custom processing.

During the same period, the red meat sector has gone from six custom processors to one.

Eighty per cent of Armstrong/Spallumcheen’s butchers have gone out of business.

The remaining butcher has gone from two to three employees to a part-time business for one person.

Essentially, the provincial government has created and continues to protect a meat processing monopoly within our regional district.

Producers have responded to the lack of meat processing options by exiting the industry.

As a result, agriculture has gone from the No. 1 economic driver in our regional district to a distant second.

Pastures and hay lands which were productive five years ago, are now not managed, many with noxious weed infestations.

Customers who want to support Buy Local initiatives have limited access.

These points have been made in hundreds of consultations, letters, surveys, teleconferences, and meetings with every level of bureaucrat and politician responsible since 2004 when the draft legislation was first circulated.  All to no avail.

Current food safety events have raised the question, “Is our meat processing system safe?”

The point has been made that as line speed increases, food quality decreases.

On the humane animal welfare side, multiple studies show the deleterious effects on meat quality from transportation stress.

Livestock producers and their customers in the North Okanagan (as well as the South Cariboo and throughout the Kootenays) wish to have processing options which address both food safety and humane animal welfare, which includes on-farm slaughter.

Will the minister please respond by supporting D and E licenses in the North Okanagan Regional District for farm-gate sales together with reasonable access to the  slaughter safe course?

Andrea Gunner