Interim solution on processing uninspected meat still being sought

Bill Limerick, director of environmental health with the Northwestern Health Unit, organized a meeting Tuesday morning at the Emo Legion to discuss interim solutions for processing uninspected domestic meat in Rainy River District.
Local producers, committee members, and area municipal leaders met with several health unit members, as well as two representatives from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs.
“We want to see if there is something we can do in the interim,” Limerick stressed in his opening address. “We don’t want to go backwards. It’s time to move ahead and find solutions.”
Lyle Wiebe, with the Northwestern Health Unit, explained in 2004 there was a regulation change which disallowed uninspected domestic animals from being processed in a facility—primarily due to the possible sale of the product.
There was a phase-in period until 2006, at which time all farmers were to be in compliance of the regulation.
“It was for the protection of the health of the public,” noted Dr. Pete Sarsfield, medical officer of health and chief executive officer of the Northwestern Health Unit.
“We’re trying to raise the bar on food safety,” Wiebe added.
After discussing both the past and present legislations surrounding the issue, the OMAFRA reps addressed those present.
“We came to listen to your concerns and ideas,” said Rena Hubers, director of the food inspection branch. “We have the same goals and I hope we can focus on that.”
Dr. Robert Vanderwoude, manager of the regulatory standards unit, said he feels the most logical step to follow is to get an abattoir up and running in the district as soon as possible.
And with two abattoir projects currently in the works (one by the Rainy River District Regional Abattoir board and the other headed by Russ Richards), an update was provided in order to determine how long an interim solution would be needed.
“To develop an abattoir is very complex and expensive,” noted Geoff Gillon of the Rainy River Future Development Corp.
He explained the RRDRA board recently decided to work with interested operators Paul and Susan Peters, owners of Sunrise Meat and Sausage in Barwick, upon being informed that Northend Farms Ltd. was not willing to move forward with the project.
The RRDRA still is hoping to open the facility in June, 2008.
Meanwhile, Richards said work on his project—to revive the Stratton Meat Plant which closed in 1994—is ongoing.
“Engineers have been hired and wells have been drilled . . . and all the financing has been obtained,” Richards indicated, adding he estimates his facility will be operating in about three months.
Hubers noted whether it’s a new building or an old one, the standards will be the same—and will be applied the same.
But returning to the discussion of an interim solution, Limerick said he’s talked to the ministry and is prepared to look at “for farm use only” as a temporary solution, meaning for the farmer’s own use instead of for selling it.
The Northwestern Health Unit does have the power to make a decision allowing domestic animals to be treated like wild game, which does not have inspection nor processing regulations like domestic animals.
Under the current legislation, farmers are able to slaughter and process their animals on their farm for their own consumption. But since many don’t have the proper space, equipment, or coolers, it is posing more of a health hazard.
“If we see a hazard such as that, we can make a change,” Limerick said.
But since the Northwestern Health Unit and OMAFRA abide by different regulations, even if the former allowed the processing of uninspected meat, there still would be the problem of transportation.
An OMAFRA regulation states “it is illegal to transport uninspected meat for any reason, including further processing, cutting, and wrapping, distribution, or sale.”
Some of the solutions brought up by those at Tuesday morning’s meeting included:
•treating domestic animals like wild game;
•appointing an inspector for the area;
•OMAFRA hiring an examiner;
•OMAFRA taking on some financial responsibility; and
•changing the transportation regulation.
But these would require a regulatory amendment, which doesn’t happen quickly.
Hubers noted if an amendment had full support, it could happen before the fall.
“I’ve heard good ideas,” she added. “And there are possibilities we could go and review.”
However, district farmers voiced their frustration—with some calling the meeting “a waste of time.”
“I applaud you for coming today [Tuesday],” farmer Kim Jo Bliss said to Hubers and Dr. Vanderwoude. “But I feel you are a few months late. We’re been hounding to sit down with someone face-to-face to find a solution for months and haven’t had a response.
“We don’t have time to wait . . . I want to eat my own meat and I don’t want to take it to Dryden to do that.”
The OMAFRA reps concluded by saying they will continue to help in whatever way they can while members of the Northwestern Health Unit echoed those remarks.
“We will work as quickly as we can,” Limerick stressed.
Dr. Sarsfield expressed interest in going to Toronto or Guelph, if that would help, while Emo Coun. Gerd O’Sullivan indicated municipal leaders likely would do whatever they can.
Limerick promised to keep all parties informed of progress on the situation.