Province considers partnering with industry on inspections

    Critics have beef with slaughterhouse plan
    Province considers partnering with industry on inspections

    By Randy Shore, Vancouver Sun October 24, 2012 2:04 AM

    The province is considering changes to the provincial meat inspection system that would off-load much of the responsibility for scrutiny of the killing floor from government inspectors to trained abattoir staff.
    The proposal contained in the Report on the B.C. Abattoir Inspection Review recommends that staff be trained to examine livestock and carcasses to determine if they are fit for human consumption. Government inspectors would make periodic visits, depending on the level of risk at the facility.
    Meat producers and processors are wary of the idea, especially after several million kilograms of beef products were recalled from stores last month after E. coli was detected at the XL Foods packing plant in Brooks, Alta. Sixteen people in four provinces were sickened by products from the plant.
    "When you pull inspectors off the kill floor, you'll get what happened at XL," said Dave Fernie of Rodear Meats and past president of the B.C. Association of Abattoirs.
    "We need a credible system that the public is confident in so we can get access to local markets," he said. "The requirements from retailers for food safety are getting more stringent, not less."
    Association members were scheduled to hold a conference call at press time to form a response to the government's proposal.
    Meat producers are adamant that the government must control and fund inspection services to maintain public confidence in the food safety system.
    "There is no argument about that," said Kevin Boon, general manager of the BC Cattlemen's Association. "No one with a financial interest in the product should be responsible for testing and inspection."
    The province is overhauling its food safety regulations and systems in order to assume responsibility for the safety of meat slaughtered for consumption within B.C.
    With the spectre of the XL Foods beef recall fresh in his mind, new Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick says he is determined to maintain a high standard for safety.
    The province is pondering how to cover the federal government's share of the $5-million program, said Letnick.
    "Ottawa contributes more than $3 million a year to the provincial inspection program, so we still need to figure out if government is going to cover all of that or find a way to share it with the industry," said Letnick.
    The report suggests that the government could reap operational savings under the Preventative Partnership system as inspectors could cover more than one plant in a region and facilities that would have required several inspectors under the current system could be covered by a single inspector.
    At the end of next year, the provincial government will take over inspection and testing at 56 provincially licensed slaughterhouses from 45 Canadian Food Inspection Agency workers contracted by the BC Centre for Disease Control.
    Ten federally regulated slaughter operations licensed for inter-provincial and international trade will remain under the scrutiny of the CFIA.
    A two-year government review of B.C.'s meat inspection will conclude with a final round of consultation with producers and processors to take place over the next few weeks to help determine the details of the new inspection regime, who the new inspectors will be and on what terms they will work, said Letnick.
    Government inspectors under the new regime could be dedicated provincial employees, BC CDC staff or even staff from local health authorities, all of whom provide inspection services to various parts of the food industry.
    "Those decisions will be made early in 2013," Letnick said. The CFIA will withdraw its services from provincially regulated slaughterhouses December 31, 2013.
    Recommendations contained in the province's review describe three scenarios, a program that approximates current levels of scrutiny with an inspector present for all slaughter, an "enhanced" program that requires an on-site inspector and extends inspection services to weekends and a "Preventative Partnership Program" in which some facilities would be allowed to slaughter without an inspector on site, subject to frequent unannounced visits from inspectors.
    Most provincially regulated slaughterhouses and packing plants are small, rural operations that currently require on-site inspectors only a few days a week, during slaughter. Many operate their own storefronts, sell to local butchers or process specialty meats, such as pastured or grass-fed products.
    B.C.'s Class A (slaughter, cut and wrap) and B (slaughter only) plants process 190,000 cattle, hogs, sheep, lambs and bison a year and 3.6 million chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks, according to the ministry of agriculture. An inspector must be present during slaughter to ensure the animal is healthy, humanely killed and free of disease.
    Changes to B.C. meat inspection regulations in 2004 spurred more than 40 slaughterhouses to upgrade to Class A and B licenses with standards roughly equivalent to CFIA regulations.
    Small operators say they would benefit from a provincial program with more flexible part-time inspectors, allowing more one-time custom slaughter and processing jobs, said Sue Haley of Kelowna Free Graze Lamb.
    The roll out of the provincial inspection program will also expand opportunities for on-farm slaughter without inspectors in remote areas to provide ranchers and farmers opportunities to expand production, Let-nick said.
    "Producers are telling me that there is a lack of slaughter capacity in the Cariboo and the Interior and that has diminished the number of animals they are growing on those farms," he said.
    Fernie said that the government's decision to expand Class D and E licenses for on-farm slaughter leaves the public exposed to unnecessary risk. Blog:
    Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


    sections Sections