Ministry of Agriculture Intentions Paper Response

Click here to read the Rural Slaughter Modernization Intentions Paper.

These intentions outlined in the paper do not appropriately reflect the urgency of the current situation with regards to slaughter/cut & wrap capacity in British Columbia. We are facing a serious crisis that will continue to evolve and be exacerbated in the coming months. Abattoirs, stretched beyond capacity, are already cancelling bookings that were made months ago with their next available dates being well into 2021. Producers are being left with literally nowhere to process their animals legally. The Government has an opportunity here to provide relief and oversight during a global pandemic that could be a catalyst for long-lasting, progressive change in the future.

The time to “undertake a risk assessment project to support development options for rural meat production” was years ago. It is too late for that now. Many operations simply cannot survive another round of consultations.

Exploring opportunities for alternative inspection methods is a step in the right direction. If we have learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that a lot of what we previously thought could only be accomplished in face-to-face settings can actually be accomplished virtually. 

It is our expectation that this could be implemented fairly quickly. Virtual technology could also potentially optimize the limited time inspectors have as they would be able to inspect more carcasses in a shorter period of time if travel is no longer an issue.

If slaughter capacity is expanded, cut and wrap capacity will need to grow proportionally. Rural abattoirs without cut and wrap facilities will need somewhere to send their carcasses for further processing. Many small, rural butcher shops are already operating at capacity and will need support/incentives to accommodate increasing demand for custom cutting services. Encouraging these businesses to scale will ultimately pave the way to greater regional food security and economic growth. Programs such as the Off-Farm Food Safety Program are well positioned to provide this kind of support but may need some adjustments and more funding to meet demand. 

Alberta has recognized the crisis and addressed it with their new On-Farm Slaughter Operation License. British Columbia was already far ahead of Alberta in terms of consultations, research and experience with on-farm slaughter. Surely we are in a position to implement meaningful change to address this crisis in a more timely manner.

The intentions paper indicates that “Consumer demand has increased for local meat due to national meat supply chain disruptions” but this doesn’t really capture the true picture. Consumer demand for local meat was already increasing long before the national meat supply chain disruptions. We were already struggling to meet the growing demand before COVID-19 became a global issue. This isn’t a new or unexpected problem. It has been on the table for a long time and there have been multiple/ongoing consultations with regards to these issues. With all the information already gathered, we should be able to act more quickly than this.

Saying “Developing a resilient and diverse food supply chain for British Columbia can help to mitigate large scale production disruption” does not fairly acknowledge the significant contribution this type of production can make towards local food security and the local economy. A resilient and diverse local food supply chain isn’t something we should have just in case the “real” food supply chain breaks down. It should be the norm and we need appropriate infrastructure and regulations that reflect this.

“Late fall 2020” is too late to “begin regulatory and policy change.” We need it now. September was not the appropriate time of year to initiate meaningful consultation with the farmers and ranchers. We need to implement some emergency measures now to get us through this crisis. The Ministry could continue to consult through the winter when producers have more time to devote to this important process and new regulations and policies could be introduced in the spring. With an election taking place in the middle of the public consultation period, we fear further delays.

We need to act now to increase access to rural slaughter and butcher services. There is tremendous opportunity for the development and growth of a thriving local meat industry in British Columbia but too many regulatory barriers to realize this potential. The Union of BC Municipalities has passed numerous resolutions in support of expanding access to slaughter and processing for small-scale livestock operations since 2010, including 2018-B35 asking government to “give farmers the ability to slaughter their livestock on farm premises” and 2018-B75, which asks the government to “facilitate expansion of safe, local, slaughter and meat processing”.   The BC Chamber of Commerce took a position on this in 2015, recommending “that the Provincial Government expand D and E licenses throughout the province to include the 18 non-designated areas”.

It has been frustrating for small-scale meat producers to see so many government resources going into programs such as Grow BC, Feed BC and Buy BC when it is impossible for these producers to scale their businesses to even meet the current demand. Local meat production could be a cornerstone of our province’s agricultural economy. Instead, it is more often than not a financial drain on the families who continue to operate these farms and ranches, often subsidizing the cost with off-farm income and great personal sacrifice in order to provide some level of food security to their communities. These producers need real, meaningful support and regulatory change now.

MEDIA RELEASE: Meat Processing Crisis Worsens Amid Government Consultations and Provincial Election

[Merritt, BC, September 23, 2020] The Ministry of Agriculture released a rural slaughter modernization intentions paper on September 14th. The Small-Scale Meat Producers Association has been working closely with the Ministry and other industry organizations to improve opportunities for our members since 2018 and are optimistic that we are moving closer to regulatory changes that will allow our members to grow their businesses and meaningfully contribute to their local economies and food security.

However, we feel that these intentions do not appropriately reflect the urgency of the current situation with regards to slaughter/cut & wrap capacity in British Columbia. We are facing a serious crisis that will continue to evolve and be exacerbated in the coming months. Abattoirs, stretched beyond capacity, are already cancelling bookings that were made months ago with their next available dates being well into 2021. Producers are being left with literally nowhere to process their animals legally. The Government has an opportunity here to provide relief and oversight during a global pandemic that could be a catalyst for long-lasting, progressive change in the future.

The time to “undertake a risk assessment project to support development options for rural meat production” was years ago. It is too late for that now. Many operations simply cannot survive another round of consultations.

Exploring opportunities for alternative inspection methods is a step in the right direction. If we have learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that a lot of what we previously thought could only be accomplished in face-to-face settings can actually be accomplished virtually. 

It is our expectation that something that should be able to be implemented fairly quickly. Virtual technology could also potentially optimize the limited time inspectors have as they would be able to inspect more carcasses in a shorter period of time if travel is no longer an issue.

Alberta has recognized the crisis and addressed it with their new On-Farm Slaughter Operation License. British Columbia was already far ahead of Alberta in terms of consultations, research and experience with on-farm slaughter. Surely we are in a position to implement meaningful change address this crisis in a more timely manner.

The intentions paper indicates that “Consumer demand has increased for local meat due to national meat supply chain disruptions” but this doesn’t really capture the true picture. Consumer demand for local meat was already increasing long before the national meat supply chain disruptions. We were already struggling to meet the growing demand before COVID-19 became a global issue. This isn’t a new or unexpected problem. It has been on the table for a long time and there have been multiple/ongoing consultations with regards to it. We should be able to act more quickly than this.

Saying “Developing a resilient and diverse food supply chain for British Columbia can help to mitigate large scale production disruption” does not fairly acknowledge the significant contribution this type of production can make towards local food security and the local economy. A resilient and diverse local food supply chain isn’t something we should have just in case the “real” food supply chain breaks down. It should be the norm and we need appropriate infrastructure and regulations that reflect this.

“Late fall 2020” is too late to “begin regulatory and policy change.” We need it now. September is not the appropriate time of year to initiate meaningful consultation with the farmers and ranchers. We need to implement some emergency measures now to get us through this crisis. The Ministry could continue to consult through the winter when producers have more time to devote to this important process and new regulations and policies could be introduced in the spring. With an election taking place in the middle of the public consultation period, we fear further delays.

We need to act now to increase access to rural slaughter and butcher services. There is tremendous opportunity for the development and growth of a thriving local meat industry in British Columbia but too many regulatory barriers to realize this potential. The Union of BC Municipalities has passed numerous resolutions in support of expanding access to slaughter and processing for small-scale livestock operations since 2010, including 2018-B35 asking government to “give farmers the ability to slaughter their livestock on farm premises” and 2018-B75, which asks the government to “facilitate expansion of safe, local, slaughter and meat processing”.   The BC Chamber of Commerce took a position on this in 2015, recommending “that the Provincial Government expand D and E licenses throughout the province to include the 18 non-designated areas”.

We strongly encourage our members, supporters and allied industries to provide feedback by the November 16th deadline.

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If you would like more information on this topic, please contact Julia Smith at info@smallscalemeat.ca

MEDIA RELEASE: New On-Farm Slaughter Regulations Offer Opportunities for Small-Scale Meat Producers

[Merritt, BC, June, 2020] The Ministry of Agriculture announced yesterday that Class D on-farm slaughter licenses will now be available in all or a portion of three additional Regional Districts:

  • Fraser-Fort George (electoral area H)
  • Central Kootenay (electoral area D) 
  • Alberni-Clayoquot (entire regional district)

Previously, Class D licenses were only available in ten designated regional districts: Central Coast, Kitimat-Stikine, Mount Waddington, Northern Rockies, Powell River, Skeena-Queen-Charlotte, Squamish-Lillooet, Stikine, Strathcona (Mainland and Discovery Islands portion only) and Sunshine Coast.

To obtain a Class D slaughter licence, an operator must complete training, develop food safety plans, and meet food safety and product labelling requirements. The licence allows on-farm slaughter of 1-25 animal units (one animal unit is 1000 lbs live weight) for direct sale to consumers or retail sales through other establishments, including restaurants and meat shops, within the boundaries of the region where the meat was produced. Class D licensees may slaughter livestock from their own farm and from other farms.  These licences are for slaughter only and do not allow further cutting, processing or packaging of meat.

Producers in Alberni-Clayoquot have been advocating strongly for Class D designation since 2017. The Alberni Farmers’ Institute welcomed the changes saying “this announcement is a positive move towards local food sustainability for agricultural producers and their communities. We look forward to working further on this issue and ensuring the viability of farm ventures into the foreseeable future.”

Safety and quality are top-of-mind for small-scale producers who market their products direct-to-consumer. Through required training and ongoing educational opportunities, we anticipate that these newly designated regions will continue the unblemished track record of food safety that has been the case for the ten previously designated regions since Class D licenses were introduced under the graduated licensing system in 2010.

Expansion of the Class D license program is an excellent complement to the quality work being done at our provincially-inspected Class A and B licensed abattoirs, allowing producers to process animals they may not have otherwise been able to book in at an inspected facility due to seasonal capacity issues or simply a lack of abattoirs offering custom slaughter services in their area. Increasing slaughter capacity in these regions will create more demand for cut and wrap services, which will result in new business opportunities for local butcher shops.

There are other areas of the province where farmers, agricultural organizations and local governments are requesting more flexibility for on-farm slaughter.  Several other regional districts requested designation for Class D licences during Ministry of Agriculture consultations in 2019, but these designations have not been granted.  The Union of BC Municipalities has passed numerous resolutions in support of expanding access to slaughter and processing for small-scale livestock operations since 2010, including 2018-B35 asking government to “give farmers the ability to slaughter their livestock on farm premises” and 2018-B75, which asks the government to “facilitate expansion of safe, local, slaughter and meat processing”.   The BC Chamber of Commerce took a position on this in 2015, recommending “that the Provincial Government expand D and E licenses throughout the province to include the 18 non-designated areas”.

SSMPA Vice President Tristan Banwell, a farmer and operator of a Class D slaughter facility in Lillooet, has been active in consultations and discussions about improving our system, and he is vocal about the need to expand access to safe, legal on-farm slaughter to all areas of British Columbia.  “I am grateful for the work that regional districts and the Ministry of Agriculture have accomplished to move this forward,” he said of the recent designations,  “but we have more work to do.  We need improvements to the Meat Inspection Regulation that support farmers throughout the province in their efforts to supply local markets with locally-raised meat.”

SSMPA is continuing to work closely with the Ministry of Agriculture to improve access to slaughter and processing services which will allow our members to grow their businesses.  While this is a good first step, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for decentralized, local meat production and we look forward to continuing to work with all levels of government towards more opportunities for producers and greater food security for British Columbians.

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If you would like more information on this topic, please contact Julia Smith at info@smallscalemeat.ca

Covid-19 Lessons & Opportunities for Small-Scale Meat

The challenges facing small-scale meat producers didn’t start with Covid-19. All Covid did was shine a spotlight on issues producers have been speaking out about for years. But with Covid has come an unprecedented wave of public support for local farmers and ranchers and for the products they produce. It has also come with funding opportunities and the combination of these two things could just be the springboard the industry needed.

Currently, we only process 11% of the beef and 16% of the pork British Columbians consume. Most of the beef you see grazing rangeland and ranches across BC is shipped to Alberta for finishing and processing. The pork industry is even smaller. But there are producers who would like nothing better than to finish more beef and pork here in BC. Demand for local meat from smaller-scale producers using regenerative agricultural practices was already growing pre-Covid. Unfortunately, as has been the case for many years, these producers are not able to scale their businesses to meet this ever growing market due to a discrepancy between demand and processing capacity in this province.

This type of agriculture and indeed processing has the potential to not only increase local food security, but to revitalize local economies and increase agricultural land productivity. In stark contrast to intensive, conventional production and processing methods which rely on large numbers of animals being raised and processed in small spaces by relatively few people, regenerative, small-scale agriculture is extensive. It requires large areas of land and many hands. Grazing animals can make use of marginal agricultural land and build soil while converting grass and sunshine into high quality protein. More labour is required to manage animals over larger areas creating employment opportunities on farms & ranches. Small, regional abattoirs and butcher shops practice traditional whole-animal butchery requiring skilled labour and offering many more employment opportunities by volume than large plants. In turn, these producers and processors and the people they employ, spend their money in the local economy. Under the current system, producers are paid as little as possible for their animals and most of the post-processing profit flows right out of the country.

Now, more than ever, we see evidence of the fragility of large-scale, centralized processing systems. The overwhelming majority of the meat Canadians consume is being processed in a handful of large plants owned largely by foreign conglomerates. Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to take a serious look at these systems and re-evaluate the many benefits of decentralizing our meat processing. With federal funding being made available to support producers and processors to enable them to pivot, recover and prepare for the future, there has never been a better time to develop a truly robust and resilient local food system. But it will take some serious regulatory changes and support from local and regional governments to make it happen. The Small-Scale Meat Producers Association is calling for more reasonable regulations that would enable small-scale producers and processors to come together to set up more regional meat processing facilities. No one is more motivated to produce a high-quality, safe product than a producer who sells direct-to-consumer so you won’t get any argument from them for cutting corners where these values are concerned, but the oversight has to match the risk.

Another challenge that will need to be overcome will be meeting the demand for skilled, qualified butchers. It takes very little training to teach an employee to cut one single piece of meat out of a carcass on an assembly line. It takes real skills to properly break down a whole animal ensuring maximum quality and yield. But it is also infinitely more satisfying and comes with far fewer of the physical health issues so often caused by repetitive movements. Funding for this type of training would surely be an excellent investment in our workforce and local food security.

Reducing the number of links in the food supply chain offers other benefits too. Animal welfare is improved when they are raised in smaller numbers in larger spaces and don’t need to be transported long distances between farms to feedlot to abattoir. Traceability and food safety is much easier to manage when meat makes as few stops as possible from pasture to plate. Managing workplace health challenges like Covid-19 or product recalls is much more easily achieved when dealing with a large number of small-scale plants than with a small number of large-scale plants.

We have an opportunity here to develop a robust, resilient meat industry here in BC led by hard-working entrepreneurs and staffed by dedicated, skilled workers. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming months.

Small-Scale Meat Sector Challenged and Energized by COVID-19 Crisis

Small-scale meat producers are a notoriously resilient faction, but the global pandemic is testing the resolve of even the most resolute, prepared producers.

The Small-Scale Meat Producers Association (SSMPA) is fielding emails and calls from concerned members and working directly with the Ministry of Agriculture to share the needs of this sector as the government and industry pull together to ensure that our local food systems are protected. Some producers are seeing an unprecedented spike in sales, but all are steering their operations through a world constructed on shifting sands where both challenges and opportunities are amplified and the future is uncertain.

While sales have been brisk for direct-to-consumer marketers, producers who primarily supply the food service industry have seen a dramatic decline. Others sell at farmers’ markets and are facing delayed start dates and uncertainty over market attendance. Efforts to connect with customers through online platforms are paying off. Customers have been grateful for continued safe access to local meats, with producers adjusting payment and fulfilment protocols to maintain social distancing requirements. Steve Meggait of Fresh Valley Farms explains, “It was very simple to adapt our existing system by positioning a table between us and our customers. We place their order on the table, step back six feet, and then they move forward to pick it up.”

Despite the demand, it could be difficult for producers to maintain or increase production given supply chain challenges and existing structural barriers to growth. Ongoing abattoir access issues frustrate producers who would like to scale up their operations to meet the growing demand for locally produced meat. At a time of year when abattoirs are generally slower, many are seeing a surge in bookings. With slaughter & processing facilities already operating near capacity and experiencing labour shortages, any disruption to service caused by illness or shutdowns would be disastrous, leaving producers with no option for getting products to customers.

The Ministry of Agriculture has held a number of consultations about on-farm slaughter in the past two years. The SSMPA has been actively involved in these conversations and continues to work with the Ministry to represent members in this regard. The SSMPA recently received funding to design an affordable on-farm slaughter facility that would meet the needs of Class D operators with the potential to become a Class B facility. An expansion of the current on-farm slaughter license designations could alleviate some of the bottleneck at abattoirs, create resiliency in case of disruptions to service and allow producers to scale to meet consumer demand.

Small-scale poultry producers are finding that they are not able to procure chicks. Some hatcheries have stopped offering pickup as an option. Cancellations to air freight service and the recent announcement from Canada Post that they will no longer be shipping live chicks leaves very few options for small-lot poultry growers, most of whom grow seasonally on a tight timeframe.

Another top issue causing concern is uncertainty around the supply of livestock feeds. While this has been designated an essential service, the delivery of feed often depends on a complex supply chain. That said, producers of ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats), which can be fed entirely on forage, have greater security than those who rely on grain (poultry, pigs). Well-managed grasslands and pastures may prove to be more important than ever.

The unfortunate reality for many small-scale operations is a reliance on income from other jobs to pay the bills and keep the farm running. For farm businesses operating in the red, the loss of off-farm income could be devastating. New loans or deferrals for debt payments are a stopgap, but they do not solve the underlying problems facing producers. Subsidizing the farm with other income or debt is particularly frustrating for producers who might scale up their operations were it not for structural challenges and regulatory barriers to growth.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. This pandemic offers opportunities as demand and appreciation for local food continues to grow. With the right infrastructure, support and resources in place, the small-scale meat sector could come out of this stronger, growing regional food security and building livelihoods.

As is so often the case when faced with adversity, communities are coming together. Small-scale meat producers have close relationships with their customers and are working tirelessly to ensure an uninterrupted supply. There has been an outpouring of support for these producers, who are determined not to let the current crisis stand in the way of feeding the families who depend on them.