Farmers in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District will now be able to apply for Class D abattoir licences.
The ACRD is one of three new districts to receive official designation from the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture: Electoral Area D of the Regional District of Central Kootenay and Electoral Area H of the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George were also added to the list.
“We have been working with ranchers, abattoir operators and regional governments since 2017 to increase the amount of locally raised meat British Columbians in rural communities can enjoy, and we are starting to see the results of our collective effort,” said Lana Popham, B.C.’s minister of agriculture.
One of Popham’s goals when she began her term as agriculture minister was to address the province’s meat regulations. “It’s been a constant conversation around the province,” she said, ever since small-scale abattoirs were deregulated a number of years ago. Popham was agriculture critic for the NDP government for 10 years before the party formed government three years ago.
The announcement is welcome news for Port Alberni area farmers. The Alberni Farmers Institute (AFI) in March called for the province to ease restrictions on slaughter licensing, calling it an urgent measure in case of food supply disruptions due to the COVID-19 crisis.
“This announcement is a positive move toward local food sustainability for agricultural producers and their communities,” said Lisa Aylard, president of the AFI. “It’s a work in progress, allowing our local folks to have local meat they can access.”
The AFI board of directors is arranging the required slaughter safe course and hope to run the course in the Alberni Valley soon. A site assessment with the regional health authority and food safe course are also required, Aylard said.
“This is another step in the right direction for local farmers,” said Collin Van Horne of Nighthawk Ridge Farms in Port Alberni. “It gives us added flexibility in providing high-quality, locally produced food.”
The Van Hornes have had to truck their cattle to Gunter Brothers Meat Co. in Courtenay for slaughter since regulations were changed. “For many years we did slaughter on farm and personally, I prefer it,” Van Horne said, adding that the service at Gunter Brothers has been excellent. He is unsure whether he will apply for his own Class D slaughter licence, but appreciates having the choice now.
“Kudos to the Alberni Farmers’ Institute for pursuing this issue. They did a remarkable job keeping it before government so as to get the regulations extended so we could have these licences.”
Class D licencees are permitted to slaughter up to 25 of their own or other people’s animals for direct sale to consumers or retail outlets like restaurants and meat shops in the region where the meat was slaughtered. Regulations ensure animals are humanely handled and slaughtered, carcasses are processed in a clean environment and meat is packaged and stored in ways that reduce contamination, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
There are only 13 provincially designated regions that permit such licences.
Class D licences are one of four types of provincial abattoir licences in B.C. that meet different business models, community size and consumer and industry demand.
A Victoria organization called the South Island Prosperity Partnership announced funding in May for a feasibility study into a south Island abattoir as the call for local, ethically sourced meat grows louder in that region.
“The ability for local producers to access small-scale, on-farm slaughter facilities in the ACRD will support growth in the industry by reducing production costs and improving access to local markets, while encouraging a more accessible and secure local food supply chain,” said John Jack, chair of the ACRD.
Popham praised the all-partisan Select Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fish and Food that was formed in April 2018 for the work members have done around the province. “It was important for me to get an all-partisan take on the issues.”
Popham said while discussions about provincial meat regulations have been ongoing for the three years she has been in office, the timing of the coronavirus pandemic shining a light on local food security has been a bonus.
“If you had to find a silver lining in a pandemic, this is one of them: an awareness of our local food system,” she said.
— With files from Mike Youds, freelance writer
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