Province proposes strengthening and simplifying the licensing categories and increasing the number of inspections
Years of lost market opportunity has British Columbia’s Small-Scale Meat Producers Association cautiously optimistic about new policies and regulations coming this summer.
In a meeting with Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries staff on March 25, the group was informed of new regulations designed to help producers by opening up more slaughter options and marketing opportunities.
There’s a lot of confidence the proposed changes will be accepted by cabinet, but they still need to be approved, said Julia Smith, president of the Small-Scale Meat Producers Association and vice-president of the National Farmers Union.
“The association came about because we realized that we were all bumping up against the same barriers to growth in our businesses, and that was slaughter and cutting and wrap capacity. We need them (regulations) to change in order for us to be able to scale up businesses,” said Smith.
“We’re kind of stuck in hobby farm prison otherwise.”
The ministry is proposing to strengthen and simplify the current licensing categories.
An entry level category will allow producers to slaughter up to five animal units (an animal unit is 1,000 pounds) a year on-farm. The meat processed through this licence can be sold within the operator’s regional district and within a 50-kilometre radius of their farm.
The mid-range category allows producers to slaughter up to 25 AU and replaces the current Class E and D licences. This licence will be available in all areas of the province and the meat processed through this licence can be sold anywhere in the province through retail, restaurants and farmers markets.
“It’s a matter of deciding which you want to apply for. The process is very similar for both,” she said
Due to the volume of production and expanded market opportunities, there will be more inspections than producers have previously experienced when oversight of on-farm slaughter was under the jurisdiction of the regional health authorities.
Last September, Smith said the ministry announced it was bringing oversight of all the abattoirs back under the meat inspection branch, which was the first step in making this happen.
“Previously all of the on-farm slaughter licences were being overseen by regional health authorities, which created all kinds of unnecessary complications and friction. And so now all abattoirs are under one overseeing body, which is going to be really nice,” she said.
An on-farm slaughter licence will be required for both categories and the operator must complete the new slaughter right training program and have an approved food safety plan in place.
A premises inspection will also be required on an annual basis with additional inspections possible based on assessed risk.
Cut and wrap must still take place at a licensed facility and unless the producer is located more than one hour from a provincially inspected abattoir, an explanation of why the inspected facility is not able to meet the needs of the producer must be provided.
“Once you have all of that together and you’re approved then you’re good to go,” she said.
Inspected A and B abattoirs will fall under a single abattoir licence and will not have any processing volume restrictions.
“We are expecting cabinet approval of the new policies and regulations this summer and for producers to be able to be operating under the new licences by this fall,” she said.
Smith said small-scale meat producers are happy with the proposed changes, which should help alleviate some of the bottlenecks and lost revenue opportunities producers are experiencing.
“Because when producers sell an animal locally the money gets spent locally. So it’s going to be a lot of trickle down effects that we’ll be able to see from this. And then we’ll continue to keep pushing and lobbying for expansion,” she said.
“For us this still doesn’t solve the problem. This basically solves the current emergency situation. This will mean that all of the people that were slaughtering unregulated to now are going to be able to pretty easily go ahead and do that legally with appropriate oversight.”