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Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, B.C. Canada

 

May 4, 2006

 

Title: Slaughterhouses on the Butcher Block?

 

Producer / Host: Jon Steinman

Transcript: Pat Yama

 

Jon Steinman: And welcome to Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded in the studios of Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman.

 

Deconstructing Dinner is a weekly one-hour radio broadcast that takes a closer look at our food choices and how these food choices impact ourselves, our communities and the planet.

 

One of the common themes behind many broadcasts of Deconstructing Dinner is that not only do our food choices have far-reaching impacts, but our choices are seeming to become fewer and fewer. And the origins of these choices seem to be increasingly becoming unknown or questionable.

 

On today's broadcast we'll be taking a look behind the rules and regulations that govern the choices we, as the general public have towards meat here in this province. On a recent broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner, the history behind pork was discussed in detail. And in regards to choice, it could be extracted from that broadcast that our choices of pork products have become very limited to those produced in large factory-style operations. Consequentially, the choice to seek out locally raised pork that is done so in more ethical and natural ways has become very limited and almost inaccessible to many of us.

 

But what was not discussed on that broadcast were some of the reasons why our choice is becoming so limited. Of course one of the key factors is what we as consumers choose to buy - this of course contributes to what is then available to us. But behind the scenes are many rules and regulations that are slowly pushing British Columbia's local farmers off the farm and out of business.

 

In September of 2004, the province enacted new regulation that has most recently been extended to come into effect in September of 2007. Many farmers and communities are up in arms in response to these regulations, with many farmers arguing that this is yet again another example of how B.C. farmers are being shoved out of business.

 

Well this of course affects each and every British Columbian that chooses to eat meat. But even for those who do not eat meat because of perhaps the unethical ways in which many animals are raised, this also poses a concern, as many of the farmers affected by these new regulations are raising animals using more traditional, ethical and natural methods.

 

To find out more about this issue we will be hearing from Faye Street and Wayne McNamar of the Cranbrook-based Kootenay Livestock Association; Richard Yntema of North Okanagan Game Meats in Enderby; Dave Anderson of Legendary Meats in the Slocan Valley; Eric Boulton of Somerset Farm on Gabriola Island, and Michael McBane of the Ottawa-based Canadian Health Coalition.

 

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Should you want to find out more about today's topic or if you miss any of today's broadcast, you can visit the Deconstructing Dinner website where all broadcasts are archived and further information is provided on each topic covered. There is also a recently launched podcast link for any of you with iPods or portable music devices and that website is www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.

 

Again, on today's broadcast we will be taking a look into the new meat inspection regulations here in British Columbia that have many farmers and communities up in arms. With the constant emergence of many safety concerns in relation to our province's and country's meat supply, changes to meat inspection regulations are certainly of interest to those of the general public who choose to eat meat.

 

On April 16th, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed the most recent case of Mad Cow Disease in an animal from here in British Columbia. Back in October of 2005, multiple cases of E.coli contamination were discovered in ground beef found at Safeway stores in both Alberta and British Columbia. There was a constant stream of news on the threat of Avian Flu, where entire flocks of birds have been destroyed here in this province. So safety is on the forefront of many minds when purchasing meat at either a grocery store, a butcher or restaurant. And to better understand the new meat inspection regulations that will come into effect in September of 2007, here is a quick background on the topic.

 

Currently, there are three types of slaughterhouse facilities in British Columbia - there are federally licensed facilities, provincially licensed facilities, and unlicensed facilities. Now this latter category is the one in question and consists of facilities that are nevertheless approved and inspected as needed by officials from the regional health authorities. But the meat processed at these facilities is only allowed to be sold outside of designated meat inspection areas where licensed facilities do exist. And these designated areas where licensed facilities exist, are found throughout most of the lower mainland, the southern tip of Vancouver Island, a large portion of the Peace River region and in the North Okanagan around Vernon.

 

Now this latter category was put into question in September of 2004 when the Ministry of Agriculture in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, announced that all facilities within British Columbia that slaughter meat for commercial sale, must be either provincially or federally licensed. The most immediate concern was that many of the unlicensed slaughterhouses would have been unable to cover the costs required to upgrade their operations, leaving many B.C. farmers wondering what would happen to their businesses and leaving many consumers wondering whether the choice to buy locally-raised meat would cease to exist.

 

But why is the availability of locally-raised meat so important. Well first off, local agriculture supports rural economies and in some cases is the backbone of many communities. Secondly, one of the most unethical stages in sending animals to slaughter, is that stage where the animal is transported in a truck from the farm to the slaughterhouse. As some of my guests will explain on today's program, this process is an incredibly stressful moment for any animal and the least amount of stress the animal has to go through the better. And thirdly, and of equal importance, the farther our food is required to travel, the more pollutants get spewed into our air, and the more our food system continues to rely on a resource that is quickly disappearing - oil.

 

So these regulations that threaten locally-raised meat were set to come into effect this year in September of 2006. But as was announced just this past April, the province has acknowledged the difficulty farmers and slaughterhouses face in meeting these requirements, and announced $5 million dollars to help upgrade facilities. And they have even extended the deadline to September of 2007.

 

But many farmers are arguing that $5 million is not nearly enough. Many also argue that these new regulations do nothing to address concerns of Mad Cow or Avian Flu, and if anything increase the risk of such diseases occurring and potentially then infecting humans. This latter concern will be discussed later on in the program, but first we will hear from Faye Street. Faye is the General Manager of the Kootenay Livestock Association based in Cranbrook. And she also sits on the regional subcommittee of the Meat Industry Enhancement Strategy which is coordinated by the BC Food Processors Association. Now the situation in Cranbrook, and in fact the entire South-Eastern corner of British Columbia, is a great illustration of the impact that these regulations could have on the availability of local meat for those living anywhere in British Columbia. In the Southeastern corner of British Columbia there is not one licensed slaughterhouse. And if these new regulations were to come into place as planned this September of 2006, then at that time, nobody in Southeastern British Columbia would legally be able to purchase locally raised meat unless it first travelled hundreds if not thousands of kilometres to or from the nearest licensed slaughterhouse.

 

I recently spoke with Faye over the phone from her office in Cranbrook, and she shares with us some further background on the new regulations, and what her association has proposed for the region. I will also note that the word abattoir is commonly used throughout the program, and for those perhaps unaware, an abattoir is simply another name for a slaughterhouse.

 

Faye Street: Specifically it's going to mean that every single animal that is processed must be done so in a licensed provincially-approved or a federally-approved facility. And we don't have any provincially-approved facility here to process those animals. So, it means that there is one very small facility in Fernie that was at one time licensed, has been licensed for I think 12 to 15 years. For them to upgrade is very expensive. They're not interested in putting the money in or that's what they've told us thus far. And other than that, we have nothing here and so we have to start from scratch. And our proposal to work with the meat regulations is to try and build a regional-based abattoir here in the Cranbrook area that would service from Golden to the U.S. border, from Salmo to Creston to the Alberta border because we feel that that's a reasonable sized region where animals can be safely and humanely transported as well as to go and fetch the finished product afterwards.

 

Jon Steinman: As was mentioned earlier, the cost of building such facilities to meet these new regulations is immense, and Faye explains.

 

Faye Street: We have to get our heads around the fact that these abattoirs are so expensive to build that for small organizations, especially a beef industry that has just gone through the wreck of BSE and is still really, hugely financially from that, we can't afford to build these abattoirs. And we all try and help ourselves by value-adding and trying to work towards a closer gate-to-plate type marketing system, well without abattoirs we can't do that. And if these abattoirs are priced out of our reach then we're basically screwed as far as farm-gate sales are concerned when these new meat regulations come down.

 

Jon Steinman: As was announced in April of this year, $5 million dollars has been allocated for farmers and abattoirs to upgrade their facilities. And I asked Faye to better explain the support the province is providing.

 

Faye Street: Support from who? (laughs) Support from the provincial government I guess Jon. As you know we all heard about a $5 million announcement that Minister Pat Bell put forward a couple of weeks ago. And originally I was very excited about the announcement but - and we're still waiting for clear clarification because for now we don't have any application forms that give us sort of a clear view of exactly what it's going to mean. But my understanding from talking to he and his staff is that for a facility like KLA is proposing to build, there's a $100 thousand ceiling on the money that we can get. And that just doesn't cut it Jon. It's too little, too late. It's like you being a million dollars in debt and me handling you a loonie and saying "gee, hope this helps you out." And so, if it is only a $100 thousand then it's just not enough and it isn't going to do anything to a system.

 

Jon Steinman: As I spoke with Faye over the phone, joining her in the office was Wayne McNamar, and Wayne has spent the past 2 years as the Project Coordinator for the proposed regional abattoir. And he explains the costs required to undertake such a large project.

 

Wayne McNamar: I'm a retired municipal administrator and I was asked, some two years ago to work with KLA to have feasibility study undertaken in support of the abattoir which we did. We did one in-house and we also engaged the firm of Myers Norris and Penny, a national firm to do a feasibility study as well. And they were completed and both studies concluded that an abattoir is only feasible if we can obtain 50% funding assistance through government and the balance through ranchers' contributions and mortgaged through Farm Credit. So those studies were completed and then they determined that it is feasible only if we have 50% funding upfront. Now we're looking at, and I'm talking 1995 costs, $1.3 million. And considering today's dramatic increase in construction costs and real estate and all of that, I would say that $1.3 is probably an addition 25% on that so we're somewhere in the area of $1.6 if we were to build it today.

 

Jon Steinman: And that was Wayne McNamar of the Kootenay Livestock Association. If you are just tuning in, this is Deconstructing Dinner, a weekly one-hour radio program that discusses our food choices, and in today's case, how our meat choices are determined, and how the choices we make affect rural communities, farmers and the environment. In the end, how many of us really know where our meat is coming from when we visit grocery stores, butchers or restaurants.

 

In continuing hearing from Faye Street, the General Manager of the Kootenay Livestock Association, she explains why the deadline for British Columbia's new meat inspection regulations was most recently extended from September of 2006 to September of 2007.

 

Faye Street: Well I think it was pushed ahead because a lot of us lobbied hard. You know I for one told the Minister and anybody else that would listen to me in government that if this shoves forward, what it effectually is, is big government putting small business out of business. And I know that's not what Mr. Campbell's government wants to do. I think they were wise in extending the regulation date until more of the people in this province have a chance to get a handle on it. But having said that the only way we're going to get a handle on it is if someone will step forward and assist with the financing of these facilities because they are too expensive to build. Can't go out with hammer and nail anymore and build them nor are we interested in building any kind of a half-baked affair. If we're going to do it we want to do it right and to do it right is going to cost way more money than this industry can support.

 

Jon Steinman: While it is evident how the new meat inspection regulations will affect farmers and rural communities, it is of equal importance to understand how we as the consumer will be affected.

 

Faye Street: Well I think that's extremely important Jon and that's a point I'd really like to drive home. We know very well there's a huge movement of consumers out there today that are extremely interested in how their food is grown, how it is processed, what kind of chemicals are used in the process of all parts of the agriculture industry. And I'm really proud to see that because I firmly believe that the increase in our cancer rates, our diabetes rates, our obesity, everything, is directly connected to what we put in our bodies. And it's high time the public paid attention to exactly what we're eating. And so then that means that we have to change our whole thinking over from the food producers and processors who are doing it all for the buck, the mighty buck. We have to turn that back, Jon to what about quality and what about quality assurance, and what about doing it the way Mother Nature intended it be done.

 

Jon Steinman: In taking a look at the April press release issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, one of the key benefits listed for the presences of licensed meat inspection facilities is that of traceability, and it associates this traceability to that of an early warning system for diseases such as Mad Cow. We will hear later on from Michael McBane of the Canadian Health Coalition as he shares with us his views on whether or not he believes these regulations address the Mad Cow issue. But in regards to traceability, Faye Street responds to this reasoning and emphasizes how we as consumers can be involved with this issue.

 

Faye Street: To me, the farm-gate-to-plate method of marketing is the best way to go. And you know we're all hung up on this traceability and stuff. You known something, Jon if I sell you a beef and you put it in your freezer to consume it with your own family and there's something wrong with that beef, traceability is really easy isn't it. You know exactly where to go and how to get that traceability problem fixed. My husband and I sell a lot of farm-gate to a lot of customers who have told me, if this meat regulation shuts you down and we can no longer buy meat from the farm-gate where we can actually come, bring our family, see how it's raised, see how it's processed, etc., we won't eat meat anymore because we will not feed our family that, for lack of better terminology, factory food.

 

And so for the consuming public Jon, it's huge. And we as an industry are fighting our faces off here to try and get this done. We need our consumers to step forward and help us. We need our consumers to be telling the government how important this is for them. Because without it Jon, really - I don't stay in this business and have this huge capital investment that I have nor do I work this hard for the satisfaction of putting my animals on a truck and shipping them East. I don't do that for those reasons. The reasons I stay in this business is for the satisfaction of knowing that I'm raising and producing a really good quality product and that I can sell it farm-gate to my consumer and I can look in his eye and see the satisfaction. I can hear his voice when he says, "God Faye that meat is so wonderful" and that's why I stay in this business. Not so that I can become a low-income prostitute to a high profit pimp called the big food processors out there, who take all the profit and do what I disagree with as far as what they do to the quality of our product. I stay in this industry so that I can meet the demand of my consumer out there who wants a better quality product and hopefully I can provide that to them at a better cost. Because I also hear too many consumers saying, "you know we love beef but we can't afford to eat it because it's too expensive." Well it isn't me the producer that's getting that price for that beef. Somewhere there are too many middle men here.

 

So the gate-to-plate method of marketing puts more money back into the pocket of our producers and gives, in my opinion, the consumer a better product.

 

Jon Steinman: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner as we listen to clips from my conversation with Faye Street of the Kootenay Livestock Association based in Cranbrook, British Columbia. Today's broadcast is taking a look at new BC Meat Inspection Regulations that many farmers and rural communities are feeling threatened by.

 

As has been mentioned, one of the key reasons for the introduction of these new regulations is in regards to "public safety." There are many who believe that these regulations do very little to address some of the key public safety concerns most recently in the media. But farmers such as Faye Street do support the regulations from a safety standpoint.

 

Faye Street: So I agree with the regulations. I think they're good and I think we need them. The other side of that Jon is you have to understand that it also restricts us because my husband and I, who do a lot of farm-gate sales, we're restricted to the months of January and February to process our animals because we do care about the safety of our consumers. So we will not process animals on farm in July and August and September and October when there's flies flying around and all that kind of stuff. The only time we will do it is January and February when there's nice clean snow on the ground and we can be assured that the animals being processed, that the air is nice and cool and that they get to a cooler as quickly as possible. So we're really restricted without these abattoirs that we desperately need as well. If we had a facility we would then be able to process 12 months out of the year and be able to offer our consumers a better and more regulated meat supply. And that's important because not all families now Jon have - they deep-freeze is where they can buy a half or a whole.

 

Jon Steinman: In taking a closer look at the many public safety concerns connected to our meat supply, they most often originate on factory farms and via the factory style processing system. Within the factory style system, animals who traditionally eat grass are fed animal by-products - the leading contributor to Mad Cow Disease. Animals are shoved together in crowded and enclosed facilities, and this factory style system was the very system where the recent case of E.coli contaminated ground beef at a Safeway grocery store first originated. In presenting these concerns to Faye Street, she explains the importance of small regional abattoirs or otherwise known as slaughterhouses.

 

Faye Street: There's a big factory food operation that have hundreds or thousands of people working in there in this assembly line and so where's the real care or the real concern or the heartfelt. I mean are they there for that or are they there for the pay cheque they get every two weeks. Where if you have these small regional abattoirs Jon, where the trace-back is real easy because it's Farmer X who knows Consumer X and that produce is being processed through that small facility from Farmer X to Consumer X, trace-back is great. And not only that it's a small facility where everybody knows everybody, where they take some real pride in the product that they're putting out the other end of this smaller facility. It's not the big factory chain gang thing. I work here; this meat is being sold to my neighbour; it comes from Grant or X that I go out and hunt on his property or take my family out for a Sunday drive. So you know there's that heartfelt commitment there that I believe adds to providing a better quality product.

 

Jon Steinman: In wrapping up my conversation with Faye Street, she ended with these remarks.

 

Fay Street: The only thing I'd like to add is the importance of your listening public in getting behind the food producers in this province to help them to give them the tools they need to make a decent economic opportunity to provide a decent living for their families. And if that doesn't happen, the food producers in this province will be gone. Because my age group is the last of the food producers that are prepared to work this hard, to fight this hard, for such a small return to feed the consuming public if they're not prepared to stand behind them. And basically, and I don't say this with any disrespect to our consuming public at all, but we as food producers still hold the trump card. Because we know how to produce food and we are smart enough to know that we will always own a piece of land large enough to be able to produce the food that we require for ourselves and our families. And we would like to be able to do that for our consuming public out there but in order to do that they have to get behind us and support us or we're not going to be here Jon.

 

Jon Steinman: And that was Faye Street of the Kootenay Livestock Association based in Cranbrook. Faye also sits on the regional subcommittee of the Meat Industry Enhancement Strategy, which is coordinated by the BC Food Processors Association. And you can find a wealth of background information on these new regulations by visiting their website at www.bcfpa.ca. And there will also be a link on the Deconstructing Dinner website.

 

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On today's broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner we are taking a look into recent meat inspection regulations here in British Columbia that will and have already affected many small-scale farmers and communities. The new regulations will require that all slaughterhouse operations in the province become provincially or federally licensed. But with the cost to upgrade unlicensed facilities being of a significant amount, many farmers and operations will be unable to remain in business. As is discussed often on this program, local agriculture is integral to rural economies. It very often presents more ethical and environmentally friendly food choices, and it also creates for local or regionally-based food systems that require very little need for transportation. Now as was touched on earlier, the Southeastern corner of British Columbia presently has no licensed slaughterhouses, and without one, the possibility for the general public to source out locally raised meat is threatened. One operation in the region that has already closed the doors of its slaughtering operation is Legendary Meats located in the Slocan Valley of the Kootenay region of British Columbia. Up until February of 2006, Legendary Meats was one of the only facilities in the area capable of slaughtering animals. I spoke over the phone with Dave Anderson of Legendary Meats and he describes his business.

 

Dave Anderson: We've been in business here now for 21 years doing custom cutting, mobile slaughter as well for the local farmers. We provide in the springtime, we provide wiener pigs where we bring them in and drop them off for each person - one person gets two pigs the other person gets three. And feeder cows as well, feeders and Heifers. And then in the fall I go back, kill them on the farm, do the custom slaughter, bring them back to the plant here, cut them, wrap them to their specifications, and that's been the basis of our business as well as cutting wild game. And in the last few years we've gone into retail sales quite a bit more. We have meat in I guess four different stores - the local co-op, Maple Leaf store, Evergreen Market and Thrums Market and that's sort of been the saving grace for us this last little while.

 

Jon Steinman: Up until April of 2006, the date at which the new meat inspection regulations would come into force was September of this year. Back in February, Dave Anderson decided to cease operation of his slaughterhouse so he could begin exploring alternate possibilities. Then, a couple of months after closing down that part of his business, the deadline was unfortunately for him, pushed ahead to September of 2007. Dave Anderson explains where local farmers in the region are now required to take their animals to be slaughtered.

 

Dave Anderson: Well the trouble is there's no place here between the cusp and the American border or anything out to Alberta. We have to go to North Okanagan. This spring I went up to the Meats in the Okanagan, tried to get a price out of them, if they would deal with us. No reply. There's another one - Blue Mountain Packers up there. About 500 ranchers go together and had that one going. It just went under because it can't make it. There's another small one out there called Riverside Meats. He's a provincially inspected plant for Blue Goose Meat who supply whole food to the coast. He's a small operation, a couple people, they can't help it. So basically there's nowhere for us to go.

 

Jon Steinman: As was also announced in April, the province has put forward $5 million dollars to help farmers meet the new regulations, and Dave responds to this announcement.

 

Dave Anderson: But you know it's $5 million but if I was to want to take an upgrade to provincial standards, I would be eligible for $50,000. That won't even put the electrical into a new plant.

 

Jon Steinman: In concluding my conversation with Dave Anderson, he indicates whether or not he believes the business of locally-raised meat can survive in Kootenay region of British Columbia.

 

Dave Anderson: If there's no slaughter facility in the area then they're not allowed to sell those uninspected meat to anybody right. So the logistics of loading the animals, trucking them up to North Okanagan. Even if there is a plant up there that would help you out would have $250 at least to each animal so there's no profit really to be made as it is. And if you had $250 per animal plus loading and unloading and all the steps they go through, the quality of your meat is gone - no, they really can't make a difference.

 

Jon Steinman: And that was Dave Anderson of Legendary Meats located in Slocan Park in British Columbia. But moving west from the Slocan Valley, we arrive in the North Okanagan, and more specifically, North Okanagan Game Meats, a business that is operated by Richard Yntema. Richard has approached the new regulations a little differently as his operation is substantially larger than that of Legendary Meats. Nevertheless, his business is small and the adjustments he is making and plans to make are proving costly.

 

I spoke with Richard over the phone from his home in Enderby located about halfway between Vernon and Salmon Arm, and he briefly describes his business.

 

Richard Yntema: We started deer farming actually just under 15 years ago. We came up from the coast and that's what we wanted to get sort of out of the lower mainland and do something new and different. And my thoughts were we're just going to raise the venison which is the deer as an alternative red meat and that would be the end of it - just be the producer of this different kind of meat. But never did we think that we'd ever get to where we are now just because when we got into deer farming, the marketing arm of the industry was the weakest link. So then we started working with that but knocking on the various doors to potential customers was always a tough slog because we only had the one product. And then we sort of saw, kind of where it was headed and it was not good so we were looking at possibly getting into other stuff. And that's where basically the North Okanagan game meat comes about in a sense that we figured, well there's other farmed game meat also so why don't we just expand our product list and be able to possibly make sales with other healthy, naturally raised meats also. So that's where basically we got into now all the farmed game meats sold - wild boar, lamb, the bison, exotic poultry products and stuff like that.

 

Jon Steinman: As is the case with many of the farmers affected by these new meat inspection regulations, these are the farmers in British Columbia who are typically raising their animals using more ethical and natural methods. And Richard explains the operation of his farm.

 

Richard Yntema: Well basically we do it in what I consider a low to no stress environment for all our animals. I mean we're definitely not a factory farm. We wanted to stay away from that totally because it was an alternative red meat and basically all the animals are in a pasture setting where they eat all natural food. We don't vaccinate for anything. We don't give them anything unnatural. And that seems to be the sort of trend that we want to focus on because people are looking for alternative meats that are not so much the factory meats or the factory-produced products that they are used to in those three main categories - they would basically be the beef, the poultry, and the pork. We want to shy away from that or veer away from that and raise it as natural as possible so people have options as to what they want to eat.

 

Jon Steinman: When Richard Yntema first found out about these new regulations back in September of 2004, he was disappointed that he had never been contacted prior to the changes being announced. And he explains his reaction.

 

Richard Yntema: It was one that sort of it raised your eyebrows because we had not been given any warning in the sense that we were never told that this was coming possibly. Of course things were maybe in a state of flux where the government was getting worried with certain outbreaks of foot-and-mouth initially and then the big BSE outbreaks. So we thought initially it was part of that. But then you sort of wonder, we are stakeholders in that - why weren't we consulted or notified or at least brought up to speed. And it's one of those things where it's a lot of unknowns. So information was pretty hard to come by that was factual or was changing slightly and it's still in a state of change or it's in a state of ironing out all the little details, of course.

 

Jon Steinman: One of the common issues raised by the farmers interviewed for this broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner, is that the new regulations are designed using a one-size fits all approach. And Richard Yntema was one of these farmers posing this concern.

 

Richard Yntema: The old regulations, the Health inspector was looking over our place. We were able to bring in the local veterinarian for inspection. And that seemed to be working really good so to me that was an old case system. Now with these new regulations. the province was going to be covered by this new blanket of federal regulations. And to me that says a little bit overkill because I don't export my product. I don't have any aspirations other than to develop a local market so you sort of was wondering why the logic was to get up to the highest federal standard. And so you have lots of questions about that because the highest standards are not necessarily the best standards. The government should look at each individual plant as to what it's doing and where it wants to go with things. So just to give a blanket regulation province-wide maybe the public looks at that as if a very positive thing but when you look at the detail it was just a really weird way of thinking that we were going to get safer product and safer facilities province-wide.

 

Jon Steinman: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded in the studios of Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. And we are currently hearing clips from my conversation with Richard Yntema of North Okanagan Game Meats located in Enderby. As Richard responds to the new BC Meat Inspection regulations, he further explains how these regulations are designed for large operations and not for a business the size of his own.

 

Richard Yntema: To understand the whole full federal regulations that they were setting out for us to do, you just sort of look at that and it's mind boggling - like you'd have to get up to those high, high standards. With the federal meat regulations they wanted every facility to be up to federal levels which would be basically on par with the big kill plants that tend to do thousands of animals per day. We are not at all at that level so the logic for that is that it would basically break the backs of most of the small producers and processors because there's such a huge cost involved in getting it up to those standards that it's fiscally not possible because we just don't have the numbers.

 

Jon Steinman: As was most recently announced in April of this year, the province has put forward $5 million dollars to assist farmers and slaughterhouse operations in meeting the new requirements. And Richard responds to this announcement.

 

Richard Yntema: Yeah, that's interesting because they first announced the new regulations and then the deadline was fast appearing come this September ‘06. And I believe just around a month ago, Pat Bell, the Minister of Agriculture did a press release that there's now some money attached to the program and we've got all another year. So that tells me that things were not going quite according to plan. Because had they maybe done the research they would have put that money out when they came out with the new regulations so that we would all come together and work with this program. I've talked to various people and it's still so new that there're still a lot of questions and a lot of answers need to be answered because funding is apparently there although the application forms from what I've been told have not been printed yet because the program is so new. So I'm still waiting for an application form. I'm hoping that's forthcoming fairly quickly so I can get on to that process. But unfortunately government works fairly slowly and time ticks on and you're kind of anxious because there's now another deadline.

 

Jon Steinman: Without any funding received from the government, and with a deadline that up until recently was September of 2006, Richard describes the amount of money he has already invested in upgrading his slaughtering operation.

 

Richard Yntema: I've borrowed more money to upgrade my place and of course you get further into debt and I guess a necessary thing to do. I don't like doing it but what other choice do I have really because I see that this is a viable industry and a viable company and I need to take it to the next level. So yeah, you keep on borrowing more money and that's what the whole farming industry right now is in real need for help because certain changes have happened with the government. And there're other factors too - with marketing in a sense that with this open border thing, we're at the mercy at whatever comes across our borders and floods our markets. And usually that is cheaper products so we've got to compete not on a level playing field but we need to compete against that product. And then we can do that quite nicely because we are a local product and it's fresh but of course cost tends to be a factor as to whether or not you'll be displaced out of the marketplace.

Jon Steinman: One of the most interesting observations Richard made in response to the new regulations, is that small-scale agriculture and in this case small-scale farms raising animals and processing meat is a self-policing business. And he believes that the safety concerns that led the government to enact these new meat inspection regulations is a non-issue.

 

Richard Yntema: That's sort of the buzzword that goes around now is that people are worried the BSE and now of course the newest one is of course the Avian Flu. That to me in a small place like mine or any small producer's place is a non-issue because it's almost a self-policing thing that we have to go through. Because we tend to cater to a higher end market and upscale places that if I would give substandard product and bad product to my customers, the industry is small enough that word would get out there and I would be basically shut down in the sense that I would not have anymore sales. So it's in my interest to maintain the highest possible standard for my product to do the best job possible and if a person is knowing what he's doing he will and can do just that excellent job that his customers are looking for.

 

The problem with public safety that it's not in the small places, it's in the much larger places where they tend to run way too many animals for every person to do their job properly. And then you get these outbreaks of E.coli and then other stuff happening because not enough time is spent looking at that because they're going way too fast and it tends to be a dollar issue kind of thing. And all that really happens is that their recall of product - it gets dumped in a landfill and that loss hasn't been taken out of the marketplace and okay, carry on and the problem has not been solved. The problem is again in those big processing places. I don't feed animal by-products to a herbivore and that's what's been happening for so many years is that that's a cheap cost of protein. But a cow's not meant to eat animal by-products.

 

Jon Steinman: Next to Public Safety concerns, the second reason for the new B.C.-wide meat inspection regulations was, as announced by the Ministry of Agriculture, to "offer new opportunities for market and sale." And Richard responds to this justification for the regulation changes.

 

Richard Yntema: And then the other comment you made about offering new opportunities for market and sales - I always find that interesting because I don't believe for one thing that the government should be in the business of marketing my product because what do they know about my product and how to market it. Basically I have found my markets through a lot of pounding the pavement, knocking on a lot of kitchen doors, talking to a lot of individuals. And basically once you're into a few places, again it's just word of mouth. And if you've got a high standard, high quality product it moves on its own because people look at it saying, "boy, that guy has a good product" or "he knows what he's doing and I want your product." And so for the government to get involved in that, I don't see any merit or any value in that because as I said they would have to do what I've just done and they would have to get up to speed on that and then that would be a costly thing for them to do.

 

Jon Steinman: And that was Richard Yntema of North Okanagan Game Meats located in Enderby.

 

Again, you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner, and you can find out more about this program by visiting the Deconstructing Dinner website at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.

 

soundbite

 

On today's broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner we are taking a look into recent changes to meat inspection regulations here in British Columbia that will and have already affected many small-scale farmers and communities. The new regulations will require that all slaughterhouse operations in the province become provincially or federally licensed. But with the cost to upgrade unlicensed facilities being of a significant amount, many farmers and operations will be unable to remain in business. But the topic is also of interest to you and I of the general and food-consuming public. As is discussed often on this program, local agriculture is integral to rural economies. It very often presents more ethical and environmentally friendly food choices and it also creates for locally or regionally-based food systems that require very little need for transportation and provide fresher and perhaps healthier food choices.

 

We have now heard from farmers in Cranbrook, the Slocan Valley and the North Okanagan and how these changes to meat inspection regulations have and will affect these farmers. Continuing on the journey across the province, we arrive on Gabriola Island, but more specifically at Somerset Farm where Eric Boulton has been living and working for over 48 years.

 

My conversation with Eric Boulton covered many issues, and not just the topic of today's broadcast. My conversation with him also illustrated a point that is often mentioned on this program, and that is how disconnected most of us have become to rural communities, rural agriculture, and farmers in general. Perhaps you're listening to this broadcast in your car right now as you drive through the city, and if you look around there is very little agriculture, and very few farmers. But our survival of course depends on the very people we don't see, those living out in the rural areas of British Columbia or in any rural area in the world for that matter. And it is very easy to forget the effort and devotion that farmers put in each and every day so that you and I can eat food each and every day. While farming has become one of the least profitable industries in this country, it raises concern of the level of importance we as a society have placed upon food and the very fuel that sustains us. Before speaking on the topic of today's broadcast Eric used a couple of examples of how the role of agriculture and it's perceived level of importance has steadily been declining. But he first explains his business and the community that supports him.

 

Eric Boulton: Our main customers, well they're people that come to the door. We like to cater to home freezers. We like to cater to people who like clean product. By clean I mean as little chemical as possible - no herbicides, no pesticides and no growth hormones. We don't have an organic product but we do have a sensible product at sensible prices.

 

Jon Steinman: To first illustrate the level of support farmers receive from the government, Eric spoke about the British Columbia Agriculture Land Reserve or ALR - an interesting topic for an upcoming show, where various tracts of land throughout the province have been deemed to be too valuable for anything but agricultural use. But efforts to protect agricultural land cannot just stop there. And Eric explains this challenge.

Eric Boulton: The greatest challenge I think has been since Agricultural Land Reserve came in where the government said you're land is too valuable to subdivide but by the same token they have not really given us much support. But I took the Agricultural Land Reserve to mean that they wanted us to stay in business.

 

Jon Steinman: In further illustrating the demise of local agriculture, Eric Boulton used the chicken industry as yet another example.

 

Eric Boulton: The closing of the chicken processing plant on Vancouver Island has had a devastating effect to the chicken industry because shortly after the plant was closed the processing plant said, we won't supply you with chicks unless you will pay the ferry fares to the mainland for processing. After the closing of the plant - that's taken about seven or eight cents a chicken out of the pocket of every chicken farmer on Vancouver Island that's put a severe financial strain onto the operation of the farms. One farmer who was growing chicken on our Island here pulled out and left his barn vacant because the cost of shipping the chicken was devastating to his business. And he's now in the Fraser Valley where it's more financially friendly.

 

Jon Steinman: With the many limitations placed on small-scale agriculture, this only leads to a greater market share for factory style farming, processing, distribution and retailing. As this market share increases, the cost of food decreases alongside and ultimately leads to the perception that food found in large grocery stores and restaurants is relatively inexpensive while locally produced food or perhaps organic food is then perceived to be far too costly. Local sustainable agriculture and food production is then quietly left to struggle. Now the topic of today's broadcast focuses on the new meat inspection regulations in relation to slaughterhouses, and these regulations apply to all types of meat. But while it may be more doable to bring a chicken processing plant up to licensed regulation, it becomes more difficult to justify such an expense for a slaughtering operation that services larger animals.

 

Eric Boulton: Chicken is processed every day. Beef, sheep may not be produced every day. In rural agriculture, they may be produced seasonally. How do you spend a million dollars or whatever it takes to build it from scratch, and if you build from scratch it's going to be code. That to me is devastating to agriculture.

 

Jon Steinman: Since the new meat inspection regulations were first announced in September of 2004, Eric Boulton was told he could upgrade his current facility to meet the licensed standards. And his reasoning for agreeing to do so again illustrates the devotion many farmers have to their communities and customers.

 

Eric Boulton: Some of us have been allowed to upgrade if you had a facility that was worth upgrading. I felt I had and I called in the CFIA to come and check me out. Why did I do it? Because it needed to be done. I felt that I had an opportunity to serve my neighbours with their few sheep and for me to keep on producing sensible beef. I have a quality butcher in town who likes to sell organic or close to organic meats. He also likes to sell local meats because there is a demand by the public for local meats. Local farmers are trusted. The big processing plants are under suspicion in their view and so for that reason they're prepared to support local agriculture.

 

Jon Steinman: Now that Eric has made the necessary changes to his slaughtering operation, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency must now visit his farm and approve the changes.

 

Eric Boulton: I believe that what I have done here in the building will please them. I'm sure they'll be critical of some points but I've done what I can, I've done what I'm going to do and the hell with the rest. They're going to have to accommodate some of the difficulties that we who in British Columbia and the various valleys and regions have to deal with in terms of transportation, in terms of the facilities that we need to keep on producing and selling locally produced product.

 

Jon Steinman: As Eric has exhausted all his financial resources to make the necessary changes to his operation, he indicates what will happen if the changes are not approved and if he doesn't receive sufficient funding.

 

Eric Boulton: If they can't accommodate, I'm gone and the farm's gone with it. I've gone from probably being the most productive farm on the Gulf Islands to hobby farm status.

 

Jon Steinman: In this next clip, Eric condenses the high cost required to upgrade slaughterhouse facilities into 5 seconds.

 

Eric Boulton: When does a hobby become economically undesirable? It's when the can costs more than the beans!

 

Jon Steinman: And in wrapping up my conversation with Eric Boulton, he ended with these remarks.

 

Eric Boulton: Well it's my sincere hope that small agriculture is allowed to survive. It is the heart and soul in many instances without anybody realizing of the rural community. You kill agriculture what have you got left? We can't all ski. We can't all sail. We can't all get our stuff from Mexico, Chile. How do we pay our bills? Do I really want my children to love the farm so much that they can't pay their bills? Governments fall all over themselves trying to put money in the hands of the people and when it comes to the farmers and the people who keep the community going they seem to be forgotten. They make things so bloody difficult.

 

There use to be 45 chicken farmers on Vancouver Island. I got in the chicken business through a lottery 10 years ago. I use to go to a meeting, there would be 30 chicken farmers there. I was at a meeting 10 days ago, there were 6 of us. We at the present time are down to 13 producing chicken farms. By October I gather there's going to be 7 chicken farms left on Vancouver Island. This doesn't happen by itself. It happens because of the rules and regulations that come about and things that when you need support, perhaps a bit of support, it isn't there at the critical time.

 

Jon Steinman: And that was Eric Boulton of Somerset Farm on Gabriola Island. And again you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner, My name's Jon Steinman. If you are just tuning in, the topic of today's broadcast is in relation to the new BC Meat Inspection Regulations announced in 2004 that would see the elimination of all unlicensed slaughterhouses in the province by September of 2007.

 

Public Safety is one of the reasons for enacting these new regulations, with one of the stated benefits of such licensed operations being that to better warn of emerging diseases such as Mad Cow Disease or BSE. Now this was stated in the April Press Release put out by the Ministry of Agriculture. But Mad Cow disease is known to be one that results from the inclusion of animal by-products in cattle feed - a common practice on large factory style farms. Now these new regulations only affect small-scale farming in the province, and many small-scale farmers raise their animals using traditional methods where the cattle are grass-fed, and hence run no risk of contracting Mad Cow Disease. These new regulations are not just applicable to cattle, but to all animals including poultry and the most recent concern in relation to poultry is of course Avian Flu. To better understand whether the new meat inspection regulations address these public safety concerns, I spoke with Michael McBane of the Ottawa-based Canadian Health Coalition. Founded in 1979, The Canadian Health Coalition is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting and expanding Canada's public health system. I asked Michael if he believes addressing the point of slaughter is a justified response to safety concerns of our meat supply.

 

Michael McBane: I don't think that's necessarily…certainly not the only place we should be concentrating. I think one of the problems is this whole large corporate industrial manufacturing process around meat processing. It's a huge problem. The size of the slaughterhouses, the size and the practices on the feedlots - that's where these problems are happening. It's not happening on the farm level, it's happening when it gets into these massive slaughterhouses. And generally it's industrial processed to speed up the slaughter to make more money and cut corners on safety so they don't bother washing the carcass. Instead they're very modern and so they'll manage the risk and manage the damage after the fact. Instead of cleaning the carcass, instead of being proactive and precautionary, it's all geared to dealing with problems after the fact. And I would fault that policy throughout, certainly throughout the federal meat inspection system. We've gone from preventing problems like the spread of BSE. We could have stopped BSE from coming to Canada. But no we're not interested in stopping problems, we're more interested in managing the damage after the outbreak. So now we're into a BSE management issue instead of preventing BSE. And so I don't see the concentration on the point-of-slaughter. I don't really think that's the way to go at all.

 

Jon Steinman: In better understanding why Mad Cow Disease is still an issue, Michael explains how the feed ban enacted federally in 1997 was not enough to address the issue.

 

Michael McBane: BSE is basically spread through cannibalistic feeding practices. And it's hard to believe that even today, even after this years of knowledge of what's causing this, Canada still permits the recycling of animal protein back into animals that are going to human consumption. So we're putting beef blood for example, into animal feed. We're putting road kill into animal feed. We're putting deer and elk into animal feed. We know that that's how BSE gets spread; it's through recycling of animal protein back into the feed chain. And we have not actually banned that completely. We've got all kinds of loopholes in the regulations. And so instead of preventing BSE which the rest of the world is interested in - it's really Canada and the United States that are not interested in preventing BSE. The rest of the world has much stricter regulation against - complete regulation with no loopholes around recycling protein back into the diet of cattle. See cattle were supposed to eat grass but the Canadian industry just doesn't seem to understand that you're not supposed to feed herbivores meat. And they're still doing it.

 

Jon Steinman: On April 16 of this year, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed that the most recent case of BSE was found in a cow from here in British Columbia. What makes this most recent case so unique is that the cow was born after the 1997 feed ban. A recent guest on Deconstructing Dinner was Shiv Chopra - one of the Health Canada scientists fired in 2004 for what he declares being a result of his outspoken views on Mad Cow and how he had stated from the beginning that all animal by-products need to be removed from animal feed. In this recent CFIA press release, there is of course no mention of this instance. And instead the release indicates that the 1997 feed ban continues to limit the spread of BSE. And Michael McBane responds to this press release.

 

Michael McBane: The CFIA are basically telling the Canadian people that we should accept a certain level of BSE as the new normal. They still are not interested in preventing BSE from happening. They're really into managing BSE and trying to maintain consumer confidence. So they don't seem to be asking the serious questions because they refuse to change the feed regulation and close the loopholes. So until they close the loopholes we're just dealing as public relations.

 

I guess the common denominator here is this large industrial processing of meat. Because it's so large and so concentrated, when you get a problem, a problem potentially becomes an epidemic. And that's why farmers and consumers need to start questioning the wisdom of these large centralized processing plants. And that's why I'm very concerned to hear that they're discouraging local abattoirs. We should be promoting local agriculture. We should not be supporting this massive centralization of meat processing. Again because when you get a problem, a problem can't be isolated and it becomes an epidemic. And so I don't have confidence in this centralization of slaughter but I also don't have confidence in the abandonment of precautionary measures that would entail safe agricultural practices from the very beginning.

 

Jon Steinman: And that was Michael McBane of the Ottawa-based Canadian Health Coalition. You can find out more about the coalition by visiting their website at www.healthcoalition.ca.

 

Faye Street: That's why I stay in this business. Not so that I can become a low-income prostitute to a high profit pimp called the big food processors out there who take all the profit.

 

ending theme

 

Jon Steinman: And that was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded in the studios of Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant Dianne Matenko. Should you want to know anything else about this program Deconstructing Dinner you can visit the Deconstructing Dinner website at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner. Till next week…


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