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Thread: Letter to Min. Hansen and Stewart Regarding Weekend Inspection for Small Abattoirs

  1. #1

    Letter to Min. Hansen and Stewart Regarding Weekend Inspection for Small Abattoirs

    January 20, 2011

    Minister Colin Hansen Minister Ben Stewart
    Ministry of Health Services Minister of Agriculture
    1515 Blanshard Street PO Box 9043 Stn. Prov. Govt.
    Victoria, BC V8W 3C8 Victoria, BC V8W 9E2
    FAX: 250-356-9587 FAX: 250-387-1522

    Dear Ministers:

    For at least two years we have written letters to your predecessors, stating why we, the owners of Walk’in Acres poultry processing abattoir, needed weekend inspection services. For over two years, your respective Ministry staff had known that flexibility, as well as, cost and delivery of inspection services were a key issue in the successful implementation of Province-wide meat inspection. We feel that we are being blackmailed into accepting a Class B license with no provision of needed inspection services which is going to force us out of business. Please tell us why our business is being sacrificed in the current Class C Transitioning Process?

    When the change to the meat inspection system in BC was proposed in 2004, had those in the meat industry who would be coming under inspection been adequately consulted, you would have learned the following:

    • Profit margins for abattoirs are notoriously slim and have been for more than a century;
    • The client base and the markets for the products of small-scale abattoirs are very small and constantly under threat from the few, very large businesses that slaughter most of North America’s meat animals.
    • There is a real scarcity of people with the knowledge base to process an animal from live through to cooler in a safe and humane manner. The expertise necessary for those working in a small plant is much higher than for those working at one station in a large plant.
    Had the livestock producers been adequately consulted, you would have also learned the following:

    • Net farm income for most farmers in BC is notoriously low and necessitates off-farm labour for the majority of farms.
    • The off-farm labour tends to happen Monday to Friday, leaving evenings and weekends to tend to the needs of the farm through the seasons.
    When the changes to the meat inspection regulation were brought in the impacts on the meat industry in the previously un-inspected areas of the province was pretty immediate and devastating. In recognition of this reality, the provincial government brought in a couple of measures to try to mitigate the negative impacts and help the industry transition to this new regime. The transitional Class C license was among those measures.

    From the beginning they were called transitional licenses, with the express intent of ending the transition at some point. Presumably that end point has criteria guiding it, other than simply that it must end? Also, presumably, that criteria would include some success in addressing the issues that have made it so difficult for the industry to survive under full licensing and inspection?

    While the number of licensed plants in BC has certainly increased since 2007, it in no way reflects the multiple hundreds of small-plants and slaughter services that existed across the province prior to September 2007. This is because the costs to upgrade remain prohibitive, even with the assistance of MTAP – the notoriously low profit margins noted above make it challenging if not impossible to carry a debt load of any size in this industry. As well, because farmers are still having a really rough time of it too, many can only bring their animals to a slaughterhouse on weekends, when they are off-duty from their off-farm jobs.

    We can understand and appreciate the fact that the BC Centre for Disease Control and the Ministry of Health Services are anxious to see an eventual end to the programs set up to help the industry transition to inspection. However, a transition assumes we have shifted from one reality to another, and that it ends when we have achieved something significant.

    Our plant and farm can only operate by being subsidized with the off-farm labour provided by me, Wilma. As a schoolteacher, here in the Canadian system, I work half-days Monday to Friday, September to July. This job and its benefits are key to the survival of our micro-abattoir, our farm and our family. In addition, our slaughter services to the farming communities in the Central Interior are an important component of their business plans.

    We appreciate the constraints facing the government in addressing the inspection needs of the industry. However, when the changes to the Meat Inspection Regulation were brought in, one of the ways in which the industry was assured it would be worth it and could work was the promise that if we got licensed, inspection would be provided. We were not told, however, that it would only be provided if we could somehow shift the reality of the small scale meat and agriculture industries to match a Monday to Friday world.

    We have communicated our plant scheduling needs to the BC Centre for Disease Control, to the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport staff – now Health Services, and to the Meat Industry Enhancement Strategy Help Desk for more than two years now. We have provided a strong rationale for why this is absolutely essential for our operations. We find it hard to understand how and why this rationale fails against what seems to be a completely arbitrary decision specific to our plant.

    • Your staff is demanding an end to our transition period by the end of April 2011.
    • If we do not submit revised Transition Plan milestone dates by February 1st (per Jan18th email from Brian Radke at BCCDC) our Class C license will permanently expire.
    • There is a review of the inspection model underway, with a report due in the summer of 2011, which will hopefully result in an inspection regime that better suits the industry across BC.
    • Why can our plant’s transition not be extended, especially when the eventual BC-based inspection regime may accommodate weekend inspection?
    • As soon as we shift to a Class B our options for operating on weekends are over. It is not feasible to operate only two months, July and August, of our season and make our payments on the capital we have invested to upgrade this plant.
    • Do you really believe that setting a date (prior to the beginning of our season) that does not accommodate our plant’s very real needs and constraints is so critical that you are willing to compromise the infrastructure and client base of our plant?
    • It is simply impossible to replace myself (Wilma) with paid help. Like it or not, I am the cornerstone of the business. I handle all the booking, receiving, planning, and food safety in addition to the evisceration and shipping on kill days.
    • Please remember that the slaughter capacity in BC is nowhere near where it was before 2007 and where it needs to be in 2011 – the loss of any viable abattoir is not acceptable to all those who want to eat local meat, to the farmers whose income streams rely on their livestock, and to the abattoir operators who have invested so much of their time, resources and expertise to this industry.

    As you know, our plant’s upgrades are all but completely finished. We have worked hard to comply with the requirements under the Meat Inspection Regulation. But as you must understand by now, if we get fully licensed, we may as well close the business. We have submitted a slaughter schedule to the CFIA and BCCDC committing to no weekend slaughter days during July and August but we continue to get stone-walled on the weekend inspection services we require the other five months of the school year (spring & fall), which covers a significant portion of our slaughter season. Without a full slaughter season we cannot possibly run the abattoir in any way that makes economic sense. Our business, our farm and our clients farms are at stake, please understand why we will not quietly “go away”.

    We can safely and legally operate on weekends and as our clients require under our transitional Class C license. Therefore, we continue to request an extension of our Class C License for the 2011 and 2012 poultry processing seasons or until such time that weekend inspection services will be made available and we can transition to a Class B license.


    Wilma & Keith Watkin

  2. #2

    As I've been going through this whole process myself, I've never understood why the gov't feels it has the right to dictate my business schedule.

    We're either a private business or we're gov't owned someone needs to make up their mind.

    Also, once our plants are compliant with the food safety regulations, who exactly is breaking the law?

    The law says "all meat sold for human consumption must be gov't inspected".

    So I ask this question again who is breaking the law?

    The abattoir who refuses to be forced into a schedule that doesn't suit their private business or the gov't who refuses to inspect it?
    Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.

    Mahatma Gandhi

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