Abattoir optimistic about future

Sam Odrowski

The not-for-profit Rainy River District Regional Abattoir’s board is feeling optimistic about addressing some of the issues they’ve recently encountered.

The abattoir board held their annual general meeting (AGM) on Nov. 14 and Kim Jo Bliss, who’s a member, said they should be able to get their taxes lowered.

Currently the abattoir is classified as an industrial property in Emo which is the highest tax category, costing around $22,000 a year.

“We just don’t have that kind of money, so we’ve been working to find some solutions,” Bliss explained.

“We’ve got some information on what municipalities can do and Emo is looking at it more seriously now, so we’re feeling good about that.”

Bliss said because the abattoir is not-for-profit there are tools the municipality has to help lower its taxes.

“It’s new information to them as well, so we are slowly going to work through this in hopes of getting things a little more affordable.”

Also at the AGM, a handful of new faces were welcomed to the board following a brief election. New members include Todd McLean, Brent Miller, Jason Teeple and Steve Loshaw.

The abattoir is currently working to increase its flow and process more animals on a regular basis.

“Right now, we’re killing one day–sometimes two days–a week, but we need to kill two days a week all the time,” Bliss said.

From January of this year to November, 650 beef or elk, nearly 250 pigs, and close to 4,700 birds have been processed at the abattoir.

One of the challenges associated with increasing the amount of animals being processed is ensuring there’s enough staff.

Another issue the abattoir hopes to address is the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) audits that appear to be inconsistent, according to Bliss.

“Everybody feels that food safety is very important and we by no means want to have anything like that overlooked, but we really feel there are some things that come out of the audit that are not so related to food safety and they’re cumbersome,” she noted.

“They point out things like our cement is starting to deteriorate because of all the water used in the plant and so they’ve told us that has to be fixed and it’s a minimum of $10,000.”

There are deadlines attached to the issues that arise through the regular audits and if the deadline isn’t met the abattoir can potentially shut down.

“It’s more than Rainy River that’s struggling with all these same things, so the ministry has been meeting with us to see what they can do, how they can help,” Bliss explained.

“Nobody wants to risk having unclean or unhealthy food, that’s not it, we need to come to some type of compromise so we can keep the doors open and I think we just had to make sure that they realize that this was causing us some grief.”

In the past, the abattoir has felt each auditor conducted their inspections differently and there was no standard process, Bliss said.

“I think that’s what they’re working on now is to make sure that no matter which plant the auditor goes to, they’ll all be looking at the same type of deal,” she noted.

“We are hoping that we’re helping not just Rainy River but other plants as well, who face these same challenges.”

The $10,000 cement repair will eventually have to happen to keep the abattoir open but the board is hoping to receive partial funding for the project, Bliss told the Times.

She said the abattoir still doesn’t have any money in the bank but through Rainy River Meats, their financial situation has slightly improved.

“We are taking some steps forward that hopefully we’re going to start seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” Bliss remarked.

Since the abattoir’s takeover of Rainy River Meats in February, Bliss said there has been a bit of learning curve for staff.

“It’s taken a little bit of time for everyone to find their place and now we’re there and I think we’ll see some increased revenue streams because they’re going to start reaching out in sources to more places to sell meat,” she explained.

The abattoir, meanwhile, plays an important role for the district’s agricultural community.

“It’s a really important piece of infrastructure that benefits our whole district and the surrounding district’s as well, because people bring animals here from Thunder Bay and Dryden,” Bliss said.

“There’s benefit to the whole community to have that abattoir if you want to eat food that is less travelled.”

Bliss said the advantages to both the farming community and consumers is huge but there’s little money in killing cattle.

“I’m hoping we’ll have good news with the town and that we’re solving these problems. We’re really feeling that we should have some good news to report soon,” she noted.