Ministry of Ag. not forthcoming on risk assessment, slaughter modernization

·5 min read

For many years, small-scale producers across the province have been lobbying the government for more options and increased access to slaughter for their livestock.

The situation has reached crisis levels, with some producers unable to access slaughter facilities, having to book slaughter dates more than a year in advance, or facing cancelations from an overloaded system, which necessitates holding livestock and thus eliminating any profit as the animals rack up additional feed and labour costs.

In response to these concerns the Ministry of Agriculture released an Intentions Paper titled Rural Slaughter Modernization in Sept. 2020.

The paper concludes with the statement: “The Ministry of Agriculture will develop and finalize approaches suggested in this intentions paper and begin regulatory and policy change by late fall 2020.”

However, those regulatory and policy changes have yet to be released or implemented. An announcement was reported to be coming last month, but it similarly never materialized.

“In spite of Minister Popham saying in February that there was going to be a big announcement coming in the next couple of weeks that was going to open up all kinds of opportunities for livestock producers in BC, there has been no announcement and I was told on Friday that there isn’t going to be one any time soon,” said Small Scale Meat Producers Association (SSMPA) President, Julia Smith who owns Blue Sky Ranch near Merritt.

“This is putting producers in an impossible situation. It takes eleven months for me to produce a pork chop. Almost three years to produce a grass finished steak. With no idea what the future holds, it is very difficult to make decisions. Many of us, myself included are giving up hope and scaling back or shutting down. I bought a herd of cows this year but did not take last year’s calves, for example, as I have no way of knowing if or when I will be able to get them processed,” Smith continued, outlining issues faced by hundreds of producers around the province.

“I cannot make money unless I finish my calves so there is no point staying in the cattle business if I can’t finish. I have sold almost all of my piglets for 2021 because I can’t book kill dates. But I can’t make any money selling piglets so I might as well get rid of my breeding stock. A very sad situation for producers and for consumers who want to buy locally produced meat.”

One proposed solution to this problem would be to allow and expand the traditional, age-old practice of on-farm slaughter once again, which would allow farmers and ranchers to have control of when their stock is slaughtered and then processed.

In the Sept. 2020 Intentions Paper, reference was made to a Risk Assessment which the Ministry undertook in 2009, an assessment which would outline potential risks for small scale, on farm slaughter.

The SSMPA, in the hopes of providing a detailed response to the Rural Slaughter Modernization paper on behalf of their members, requested that they be given a copy of this risk assessment. None was provided by either the Ministry of Agriculture or the Ministry of Health before the feedback deadline.

The document, marked ‘draft’ and ‘confidential’, was only obtained in February of this year after a lengthy Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

SSMPA found that, despite frequent claims to the contrary, the risk assessment very clearly supported on-farm slaughter as being at least as safe, or safer than, conventional slaughter in large scale facilities.

According to the Hazard Identification and Characterization portion of the risk assessment, the most common causes of food borne illness were identified as Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter. Information about each of these pathogens as well as transmission and key carriers and how the infection presents in humans is provided.

Risk Ranger, a simple food safety risk calculation tool, was used to determine risk based on three scenarios:

The risk assessments were broken down into three separate values. Low Risk (0 – 25) Medium Risk (26 – 40) and High Risk (41 – 100).

An accompanying graphic identifies how each scenario scored, with small-scale slaughter consistently showing as low to medium risk.

“We shared this document with two members of the Select Standing Committee on Agriculture who were specifically tasked with providing options for regulatory and policy change that could increase slaughter capacity in rural BC and were informed that they had not been provided with this important document,” reads a statement from SSMPA.

“We have questions. Why was this report never published? Why was it never referred to when small-scale producers slaughtering legally on-farm were repeatedly attacked and their processes maligned? Why did no one mention the results of this study when it was repeatedly suggested that on-farm slaughter was putting public safety and the whole export market at risk?”

As of yet, there has been no response to the SSMPA’s questions regarding either the risk assessment or how it will affect policies moving forward now that it has become public information.

Although plans for an “updated” risk assessment were mentioned in the Intentions Paper, no further information has been released on this document, either.

The full Risk Assessment document can be found at this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1MH_eEn92iITx-E9r6XP-Em-W9-vViFx7/view .

Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald