After several years of local lobbying the provincial government to allow a new, licensed red-meat abattoir in the South Cariboo, smaller meat producers faced no real solution at the start of 2012.
Members of the now-defunct South Cariboo Meat Co-op, which collapsed in 2011 before an abattoir was built, were notified by letter in February 2012 they might expect repayment of the portion remaining of their investment in August.
These small farmers and ranchers, and some local consumers, had purchased shares in the co-op under the expectation a new red-meat abattoir would be installed locally.
Now, they were being told to expect about 80 cents on the dollar back for their shares, with the rest going to legal fees, or having already been spent on material deposits, technical fees and ground work.
While disappointed small producers decried the loss of local slaughter capacity, which had ended in December 2011, it seemed some had formed a new plan.
By April 2012, the local lobby group had come up with what they deemed a viable plan for the continuation of slaughter in the South Cariboo.
The proposal involves a pilot project using a local veterinarian to perform the required pre- and post-mortem inspections for slaughter licensing at a local red meat processing facility.
Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett also lobbied for the group in Victoria, armed with many letters in support of the veterinarian inspection plan (rather than provincially-contracted federal inspectors).
Representatives from the ministries of agriculture and health met with abattoir stakeholders on April 18, when some 90 farmers and ranchers flooded into the Valley Room, behind the 100 Mile Lodge, to make their case.
Group spokesperson Diane Wood said it is a widespread problem in British Columbia, with statistics showing only about 10 per cent of 300 red-meat abattoirs, which were operating before the regulations took effect, remained licensed.
“In the smaller communities, like 100 Mile, [it would] keep our local businesses going and keep our [residents] competitive with our farm-gate sales. We are asking them to create another level of licensing for farm gate and for own use.”
Barnett and the group also met with Health Minister Mike de Jong, who rejected the plan.
Meanwhile, the pro-rated co-op refund cheques were finally sent out in early October, at a value per share of $79.13.
By then, however, a light had appeared on the horizon, when newly appointed Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick met with Barnett and group representatives and said it may be time to take another look at the strict slaughterhouse regulations.
Barnett noted the new minister now has meat processing under his mandate, rather than under the health ministry’s mandate.
She said they are continuing to pursue what they pursued with the health minister – veterinary inspection.
“We’ve got support from the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, local governments, regional districts throughout the province … this is huge.”
Meanwhile, XH Buffalo Ranch at South Green Lake successfully obtained all the required permits in the fall for its buffalo abattoir to process small quantities of cattle (not pork or lamb), under the current licensing regulations.
Lone Butte-based producer Ann Armann said the return of local beef slaughter made “a world of a difference” to her.
“It relieves a lot of stress for me, as well as for the animals, not having to truck them over long distances.”
Letnick visited the XH Buffalo Ranch facility on Oct. 30, and said his staff will continue consultations and put forward recommendations on how to move forward with localized slaughter capacity.