Anger, relief at new B.C. meat-slaughter regulations  


Producers in three remote regions can conduct 'farm-gate' sales to consumers

By Glenda Luymes, The Province May 6, 2010 7:31 AM

The provincial government is making it easier for farmers in remote communities to sell meat at the farm gate, while those in the Fraser Valley must continue to find innovative ways to sell direct to consumers.

Recent changes to B.C.'s meat-inspection regulations now allow farmers in three remote regions — Bella Coola, Haida Gwaii and the Powell River Regional District — to obtain a licence to kill a limited number of livestock on site and then sell them to consumers in their region.

Elsewhere in the province, animals must be sent to a government-inspected slaughterhouse.

The new rules have met with both relief and criticism in an industry still struggling to deal with changes brought on by the mad-cow crisis.

"It's a ridiculous piece of nonsense," mobile-abattoir owner Lars Jongerdon said Tuesday.

The former executive chef left Vancouver to homestead near Fort St. John several years ago. When the mad-cow crisis led the province to require all meat for human consumption to go through a licensed slaughterhouse, he responded with B.C.'s first mobile abattoir.

The $400,000 machine is designed to travel to remote regions, giving farmers a butchering option that doesn't involve driving hours to the nearest facility. An on-site inspector ensures food safety.

"We've spent the money to build this, to respond to what the government said farmers needed, and now we're going to be left with egg on our faces," said Jongerdon. "You can't have one set of rules for one person and another set of rules for another."

Farmers in northern B.C. also continue to feel the effects of the changing regulations. Some have formed co-operatives, sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into abattoirs and meat-processing plants that only operate a few times a year and continue to accumulate debt. A clause in the new regulations says farmers within 100 kilometres of a licensed slaughterhouse or mobile abattoir can't receive a licence to do their own butchering.

NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham said the government's "mishandling" of the regulations has led to turmoil in the industry, pitting producers against processors.

"The regulations have failed in all aspects," she said Wednesday. "The government says this ensures food safety, but we don't see people getting sick from farm-gate sales."

Popham urged the government to take advantage of a consumer demand for local products.

"That's what's going to make or break agriculture in this province and we should be embracing it."

Ida Chong, Minister of Healthy Living and Sport, said the licences will protect food safety while adding stability for licensed facilities, with ticketing by local health authorities to ensure farmers' compliance.

"The province is recognizing the importance of existing provincially licensed facilities and the investment they have made to comply with the regulation," she said in a statement.

Queen Charlotte Islands veterinarian and rancher Don Richardson called the new regulations "a breath of fresh air." Since the government began requiring animals to be killed at licensed facilities, he's had to make a 20-hour trip, including a ferry crossing, to bring his cows to the nearest slaughterhouse.

"It's a ridiculous amount of cost and time," he said.

In the Fraser Valley, farmers don't have to make a long trip to have their animals killed.

Chilliwack organic farmer Mary Forstbauer sells her meat at farmers' markets after it's returned from a nearby slaughterhouse. While she supports the new regulations for farmers in remote regions, she's content to bring her animals to a government-inspected facility.

"It's close by, so it's not a real hardship," she said.

"I don't know that we should relax the rules all over. Some of the people we meet at the farmers' markets want to know that their meat has gone through a facility."

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