Animals processed in provincial facilities have to be consumed in that province
Major grocery chains are reluctant to carry meat products processed in provincially licensed facilities, say officials in the sheep industry.
Regulations require that those products be consumed in the same province where the animals were killed, but that can cause problems for large distribution centres that ship products across several provinces.
In the case of lamb, it means consumers regularly see imported products on store shelves.
“It’s too difficult for them to segregate the product,” said Terry Ackerman, chief executive officer of Canadian Lamb Producers Cooperative, which is preparing to market a line of processed lamb products.
The Saskatoon-based co-op, which is also pursuing export markets, is working with a federally inspected plant in Ontario, one of only a few facilities that operate in three provinces.
“We’ve already presented our product to the majors and all of our products are coming in federally approved,” he said.
“It’s not that they don’t want to buy Canadian lamb, but they need to buy federally approved lamb because that’s the law of the land here.”
In a recent presentation to the House of Commons agriculture committee, Corlena Patterson, executive director of the Canadian Sheep Federation, said only 30 percent of Canadian lambs are processed in federal slaughter plants.
More than half of Canadian-born lambs are processed in Ontario, almost all in provincially inspected facilities, she added.
“That means that 48 percent of Canadian born lambs have to be consumed in Ontario and they remain unavailable to the rest of Canadian consumers,” she said.
Patterson said Canadian producers supply less than half of domestic consumption. Demand is projected to grow, but she said small lamb processors can’t afford the costs of changing to a federally licensed facility.
She called for greater harmonization of standards between the two systems.
“For the sheep sector, we of course don’t process the same number of animals, and not every facility can process every sort of livestock, so sheep processing facilities can be very specific to processing sheep but they have a lower capacity,” she said.
“So they often times can’t endure the cost of both becoming federally accredited and maintaining that accreditation.”
Ackerman said the differences between federal and provincial systems can be substantial, which makes it easier to build a new facility than to convert an existing one.
“You had better start at a (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) level or you won’t be approved for export. It just won’t happen,” he said.
“Provincial standards aren’t recognized by most countries. They’ll say, ‘well, sorry, you have to start from scratch,’ and that can cost you millions and millions of dollars.”