An old way of life is dying for farmers such as Lisa Daniels of Powell River.
Like farmers before them, Daniels and her husband processed their own poultry for sale to neighbours and other members of their community. For livestock, they’ve depended on local butchers to slaughter their animals.
Since September 30 last year, when new provincial meat-inspection regulations took effect, those activities are no longer allowed. The slaughter and processing of meats now have to be done only in provincially or federally licensed abattoirs.
“It’s made illegal what we’ve always done,” Daniels told the Georgia Straight. “The government has said they’re doing this for safety. I disagree with that. Nothing could be safer than the meat you yourself eat and feed your family and friends and your community.”
The nearest licensed abattoir to Powell River farmers is in Courtenay on Vancouver Island, one hour away by ferry from the Sunshine Coast, according to Daniels. “There’s less food produced locally,” said Daniels, who now makes some money selling eggs and garlic. “There’s no future at that point. How do you encourage new people into this business?”
Nelson-Creston MLA Corky Evans claims that hundreds of small farmers as well as local butchers across the province have gone out of business since the new meat-inspection regulations took effect.
“If farmers can’t make money, then farmers won’t support the Agricultural Land Reserve and then farmland is finished,” Evans, who is also the NDP critic for agriculture and lands, told the Straight.
In January this year, a study partly funded by the North Okanagan
Regional District indicated that farmers in the region have incurred at least $5 million in production losses. The authors wrote that 97 long-time livestock producers surveyed returned questionnaires detailing impacts of the regulations. These include higher slaughter costs, lower profit margins, lost revenues, loss of farm status, and reduced livestock production, according to the report prepared by the North Okanagan Food Action Coalition.
Meat-processing facilities that are not up to the new standards have closed, while upgrade costs range from $150,000 to $300,000. For small businesses, “this is a significant investment to meet regulatory requirements that do not offer productivity or revenue gains,” the report stated.
The report also noted an “extremely complicated process” in licensing involving a number of government agencies, such as the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the B.C. ministries of agriculture and lands, health, and environment.
On April 17 this year, the ministries of agriculture and lands and health announced that small-scale meat producers would be getting an additional $3.8 million to build slaughterhouses compliant with the new regulations. Two years ago, the Health Ministry provided $5 million to assist producers in upgrading their abattoirs through the agency’s meat transition assistance program.
Liberal Delta South MLA Valerie Roddick told the Straight the provincial government is trying to make sure that farmers in even the remotest rural areas have access to licensed slaughterhouses.
Roddick, the parliamentary secretary for agriculture planning, suggested that there is a “genuine grudging enthusiasm” among farmers for complying with the regulations, which she said will bring the province to a “new age of agriculture”.
“We’ve got to bring ourselves to a certain standard,” Roddick said.
Paul Bailey of the Health Ministry explained that the province is in a “transition period” to building licensed slaughter capacity to meet B.C.’s meat demand that isn’t filled by imports.
Talking to the Straight by phone, Bailey, who is the director of strategic policy with the health-protection branch, also noted that before the new regulations took effect, the province had only 12 provincially or federally licensed abattoirs. The number has more than tripled to 40, he said.
The Your Local Farmers Market Society has been organizing farmers markets in Vancouver since 1995. On May 17, the market at Trout Lake was the first of the four Vancouver spring-summer-fall markets to open. According to its executive director, Tara McDonald, farmers have slaughtered animals on their farms as a traditional practice, and the regulations mean that some who chose to stay in business have to bear additional costs and increase their prices. For the rest, McDonald told the Straight, the only choice is to sell their farms.