Saturday, May 15, 2010
Government goes full circle on meat regulation fiasco
“Most of our farms are quite small and the Island’s total production has not, in the past, been sufficient to warrant the establishment of a local slaughter facility. This means that our livestock must be transported by truck and ferry to mainland destinations, adding to its carbon footprint and adding so substantially to its cost that local producers cannot compete even in the higher-end, organic market. When small farms can no longer count on livestock for a portion of their income, it can become quickly uneconomic to continue fruit and vegetable production as well. Thus, we lose capacity in all aspects of agriculture.”
submitted to BC government, Karen Wristen, Bowen Island
Won't they ever get it right? Recently the provincial government announced that, yet again, they were going to amend the Meat Regulations Act to allow for local slaughter in designated rural areas only – what I call the “full circle” clause. The press release states that the Class C transitional licence will be discontinued (it wasn't working) and in its place will be two new classes of licence. The new Class D licence will allow for the slaughter of up to 25 animal units (AU) per year (AU=1000 lb live). The meat can be sold to restaurants and retail outlets in the regional district where the meat was produced, as well as directly to local consumers at the farm gate. A Class E licence will allow for the slaughter of up to 10 AU per year, and the meat can be sold directly to local customers at the farm gate. The three regions involved in the consultations, Haida Gwaii, Bella Coola and Powell River, will be first in line for the new licences. Other rural areas will need to make their case to the government and wait in line, and will only be allowed to apply for a Class E.
The best part is that slaughtering of livestock can be done outside under a tree or in a barn - just like we used to. All you need is a plan.
Why the revision? The B.C. Government had heard from farmers in rural and remote areas that they were unable to access licensed facilities for the slaughter of their livestock. Yes, they had indeed heard from farmers. From the time the meat regulations were proposed in 2003, there were several farm groups and individuals who suggested regulations similar to the ones announced. Past Islands Trust Chairs David Essig and Kim Benson both wrote to the provincial government on behalf of farmers in the Gulf Islands. In 2008, Shuswap Green Party candidate Hugette Allen's online petition asking the government to review the new meat inspection regulations resulted in 8,000 signatures. In 2008 the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen sponsored a resolution endorsed by the Union of BC Municipalities to pressure the Province of BC to review the Meat Inspection Regulations in order to enable small rural abattoirs the ability to provide meat processing services in the rural areas in an economically viable way Just this winter, Powell River NDP MLA Nicholas Simon introduced a private members bill that would amend the Food Safety Act in order to allow farmers to sell meat directly from the farm to local customers. Individual farm organizations and farmers wrote letters to regional districts, MLAs, the Premier, Ministers of Agriculture, and countless newspapers over the years.
Farm organizations and regional districts also conducted surveys to measure the impact of the regulations on rural communities. The provincial government proudly announced increased numbers of licenced plants, but nobody even knew how many local unlicenced facilities, now made illegal, were shut down.
With this new amendment the government has essentially gone full circle for a few rural communities. The southern gulf islands, who tried unsuccessfully to be granted an exemption from the regulations, then tried to work within government restrictions, are not one of the designated rural communities. Following the rules doesn't always work. After a 2005 Feasibility study revealed that it would be cost prohibitive to follow the imposed government regulations and build on-island facilities, producers tried to comply by shipping livestock off island. Saturna Island was able to upgrade an existing facility but most other southern Gulf Islands did not have facilities to upgrade. Increased costs, stress to livestock, backlogs of 4 months or more, and increased frustration resulted in a marked decline in livestock in the southern gulf islands. Since 2003, ferry costs have doubled. Now a government spokesman has stated that if other rural regions want to follow suit, they will need to voice their need, convince the powers that be, and they may be allowed a Class E.
The criteria used by government in determining which communities to accommodate– remoteness, population density, and availability of transportation, was applied selectively in determining which communities would benefit. It is interesting that Powell River is one of the lucky ones. Travelling to the nearest inspected plant for Powell River takes just as long as the trip to the Metchosin plant for the Gulf Islands. We have islands with rural and remote makeup, and as evidenced by recent livestock surveys, have been significantly impacted by the meat regulations as they stand.
Based on the recent livestock survey and not knowing that the province was going to loosen restrictions in other rural areas, Salt Spring Island farmers recently decided to bite the bullet and move ahead with a multi-purpose mobile abattoir. The province announced the new amendment days after Salt Spring's announcement, and at this time the Salt Spring initiative has decided to move ahead. As for the outer gulf islands without on-island facilities, with concerns for impacts of travel on costs, greenhouse gas emissions, animal welfare, food security for our islands, and the viability of small farms it is worth looking into the new licence possibly available to us. It would also be important to support Salt Spring Island in their efforts to provide a solution that could expand processing capacity for surrounding islands as well. For more information, please contact the Health and Seniors Information Line:Toll-free across Canada: 1 800 465 4911