By John Boivin
Local Initiative Journalism
A Slocan Valley meat processor says further changes to the rules governing how rural and small-scale abattoirs can work are a good step, but don’t address all the issues needed to support them.
“The Ministry of Agriculture is showing some great initiative here,” says Kyle Wiebe, the president of BC Meatworks, a Slocan Park-based abattoir. “Unfortunately, as long as Area H is limited to Class E [processing 10 animal units a year], there will be little change to local production.”
Last week, the province announced rule and policy changes to increase livestock production and processing in rural areas to help improve rural food supply and food security. The changes are now going out to the industry for feedback.
The ‘intentions paper’ has suggested policy changes that “will also increase economic opportunities and strengthen B.C.’s provincial food system,” the agricultural department says.
The regulation changes address how much meat producers can process, and where it can be sold. The province is also contemplating changes for mobile abattoirs to improve service.
One thing Wiebe is happy with is the idea of ‘virtual inspections,’ a pilot program the province says it will begin.
“Providing virtual services was something I saw first in the U.K. several years ago,” he told the Valley Voice. “However, the stigma and privacy issues associated with surveillance (CCTV in the UK model) would make it a particularly hard sell to rural farmers. I think that an initial and annual-plus spot inspection system is the best next step.”
One model that could work is the Interior Health’s risk-based model for Licensed Food Premises, Wiebe thinks.
The ministry is also asking for input on a number of topics to support public health and a safe meat supply, such as increasing the frequency of inspections to an annual basis, revising the code of practices for abattoir operators with standardized procedures “to bring consistent practices … and updating licensee training on slaughter practice, animal welfare and food safety.”
While he sees the changes as generally good, Wiebe also thinks there are plenty of other areas that need to be addressed to truly change the game for abattoir operators in rural areas.
“A parallel issue that needs to be addressed is land use,” he says. “Significant review is happening at the Agriculture Land Commission regarding permitted land use.
“The Ministry of Agriculture and ALC need to liaison to ensure that the frameworks they are creating have synergy, and that local governments cannot easily overwrite their ‘provisions’ for small scale operators.”
– Valley Voice