Alberta eases rules on meat sales

Amendments to Alberta’s meat inspection regulations pave the way for more mobile slaughter operations and more options for straight-off-the-farm meat sales, said the chair of Alberta Beef Producers.

Alberta agriculture minister Devin Dreeshen announced the changes July 29 in a field dotted with cattle near Lavoy, Alta.

They provide options for personal-use uninspected slaughter so consumers can buy an animal direct from a farm or ranch and have it slaughtered on site for their own consumption.

That would require the services of a mobile butcher or a mobile butcher licence held by the farm or ranch owner providing the service and they are not allowed to sell the meat to retail or food service outlets.

Video inspection of animals pre- and post-slaughter will also be allowed, done by licensed meat inspectors who might be at other locations. That is designed to eliminate the need for an inspector to attend a farm in person to inspect an animal, particularly if its welfare is at stake.

Changes also allow meat facilities to salvage and sell meat byproducts for things such as pet food.

“We at Alberta Beef Producers, we’ve been asking for increased processing capabilities… and this is a positive step forward,” said ABP chair Kelly Smith-Fraser in an interview. “All of these changes were things that we’ve been lobbying the government on and I think they’ve definitely made a step in the right direction here.”

Dreeshen said the changes also reduce the red tape involved in on-farm slaughter, a goal MLA Grant Hunter, associate minister of red tape reduction, has been assigned to tackle.

The government gathered input through an online questionnaire and held in-person meetings pre-COVID about the proposed changes, Dreeshen said in an interview.

“A lot of work went in by the industry to make sure that we could find the right balance of reduced red tape, of looking to see what other jurisdictions across Canada do, as well as making sure that we have the best safety standards,” he said.

“Alberta’s meat inspection regulations were more burdensome than any other province.”

Earlier public input raised questions about food safety. Dreeshen said people who provide direct meat sales on the farm will be required to keep a list of customers to ensure traceability in case there is a food-related issue.

“We’re making sure that at the front end there is still licensed butchers that are preparing this meat and there is a traceability aspect to make sure that, in the event that there is a food borne illness, that it is being able to be traced back,” he said.

Smith-Fraser said new regulations could ensure more humane handling of animals because one that is lame or otherwise compromised will not have to be transported somewhere for inspection and slaughter before any parts of it can be used.

“It’s a great animal welfare piece as well. It’s giving us those options of being able to utilize animals that wouldn’t have been able to be transported. It’s a lot less stress on the animals and a lot less waste as well.”

The amended regulations allow provincially licensed meat facilities to sell byproducts from slaughtered animals, which could potentially add $300 to the value, said Dreeshen, adding that option will not be used by everyone.

“Again, that’s something that the industry was really hoping, that they’re allowed to extract more value from their animals.”

Dreeshen and Smith-Fraser both mentioned rising demand for local and farm-fresh food. The amendments can provide farmers with a greater opportunity to interact with consumers and tell the story of the food they are buying.

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