Changes to BC Meat Inspection Regulation (MIR) requirements for all provincially licensed abattoirs (slaughter facilities) in BC came into force in 2004, and compliance became mandatory on September 30, 2007. The changes and upgrades required were suited to large scale operations but costly for community scale (small and medium) meat producers and abattoirs causing some to go out of business. Even as the price of beef (a primary livestock in BC agriculture) has risen dramatically in recent years, causing a resurgence of beef’s popularity on smaller properties and therefore more coming to the market from small producers, the existing regulations are causing a decline in capacity to process. Currently, BC agriculture GDP as a percentage is one of the lowest in Canada at 3.1%.
When abattoirs went out of business, community scale producers in those areas had to transport their livestock further to abattoirs compliant with the MIR requirements or rely on mobile meat processing facilities. The abattoirs (often larger scale) that invested in the required MIR upgrades passed these costs on through slaughtering charges. These additional costs to producers resulted in significant increases in meat product charges, in some instances doubling the per pound charge putting these products out of reach for many customers.
Ultimately, the gap in consumer demand for unique and non-mainstream products may only soon be filled by importing, with the inability of small scale producers to play any significant role in the supply cycle.
The changes to the meat inspection regulations began, in part, as a result of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) incidences in the beef industry and the federal government’s concern about food safety. BSE did not originate from community scale livestock producers and abattoirs. The 2004 MIR requirements were partially an attempt at preserving federal export markets for meat, particularly beef. Meanwhile B.C.’s producers and abattoirs of all community scale livestock (e.g., beef, poultry, bison, pork etc.) fall under the same regulations and have been affected by these changes.
In addition to large scale production facility licenses Class A, B, or C, there are 2 Meat Inspection Regulations licenses currently issued to community scale production facilities and producers in British Columbia, Class D and E. Class D is for 1 – 25 animal units (capacity to process own animals and other people’s animals) and Class E is for 1 – 10 animal units (capacity to process own animals only). See graph:
If you operate in one of ten “designated regions” you may apply for both Class D and E licenses. The ten designated regional districts are: Central Coast, Kitimat-Stikine, Mount Waddington, Northern Rockies, Powell River, Skeena-Queen-Charlotte, Squamish-Lillooet, Stikine, Strathcona (portions only of the Mainland and Discovery Islands) and Sunshine Coast. These areas have been designated by the Meat Inspection Regulation department based on a combination of the following criteria:
- The absence of licensed slaughter facilities;
- Low population density;
- Small livestock numbers; and
- Transportation barriers (e.g., required marine transportation or seasonal road closures).
If you operate in one of the 18 “non-designated areas”: Alberni‐Clayoquot, Bulkley‐Nechako, Capital, Cariboo, Central Kootenay, Central Okanagan, Columbia‐Shuswap, Comox Valley, Strathcona (Vancouver Island portion), Cowichan Valley, East Kootenay, Fraser Valley, Fraser‐Fort George, Greater Vancouver, Kootenay‐Boundary, North Okanagan, Nanaimo, Okanagan‐Similkameen, Peace River, Thompson‐Nicola, you may apply for a Class E licence. Class E licences will only be issued in cases where an operator demonstrates a clear need for additional slaughter capacity or requires services that are not available through an existing Class A, B, or C facility (e.g., species-specific slaughter or specialty slaughter services such as certified organic, halal, or kosher).
Community scale livestock producers/abattoirs are mostly small and medium sized family run farms with an interest in running a viable business off their land. The majority of these businesses factor firsthand production and processing of their livestock as a way of offering fresh, quality and safe meat products. They aim to raise livestock in healthy conditions and to process in humane ways. Customers appreciate the integrity of the meat products these farms offer, choose to support these local farms and like to know where their food comes from. Before the MIR, these farmers kept their processing fees and product cost lower by raising and processing their own livestock and running abattoirs to process others’ livestock.
To partly fill the void, mobile producers began receiving licensing opportunities to operate in 2011 for the 2012 harvest year. However, since the decrease of operators had already begun, many have struggled, and continuing to operate in the face of restrictive regulation is increasingly not financially sensible. The two year pilot project in the North Okanagan ended in 2014, and has not been rolled out across the affected areas in spite of the original intent of the trial process.
The MIR requirements were designed for large abattoir operations and hence very expensive for community scale operations. Abattoirs that did become licensed have now taken over many of the abattoir services and transferred the costs of licensing to the community scale producers (their customers). This has resulted in small and medium farms going out of business or incurring additional processing and transportation costs and losing profits. With a loss of community scale farmers, B.C.’s consumers have also lost diversity of products and local connection to its food sources.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Land has initiated the “B.C. Agriculture Plan” which states that “all British Columbians should have access to safe, locally produced food.” and that “B.C. will enhance its market brand to profile high-quality products reflecting our province’s reputation for environmental sustainability and healthy living.” The plan aims to increase agricultural diversity and produce healthy food and to “strengthen the connection between the people who purchase B.C. farm products and the farming and ranching families who produce them.” By restructuring the MIR requirements our province could attain this in the area of community scale production and processing of livestock raised by B.C. small and medium sized farmers.
THE CHAMBER RECOMMENDS
That the Provincial Government:
- expand “D” and E” licenses throughout the province to include the 18 non-designated areas; and
- conduct randomized meat inspections based on a ranking system developed by the government meat inspectors. Examples of this can be found in the food processing industry: high risk ranking = frequent inspection, low risk ranking = less frequent random inspection.