B.C.’s minister of agriculture, Norm Letnick, has been touring areas of the province this month to meet with food producers.
“I’m trying to get a good handle with what’s actually happening on the ground so that when I make my recommendations to government, probably some time in early in January, I’ll have a good idea where the challenges are, what some of the key options are for solutions and improvements and can articulate to other members of government why I have selected a particular course of action,” the minister said.
A city councillor for nine years, in Banff, Alta. and Kelowna, Letnick said he learned it’s a challenge to make recommendations without knowing what’s going on.
Two particular focuses have dominated the tour.
First off, the departure of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency from B.C. in 2013, and how the province should proceed.
“They told us they were leaving a few months ago so we’ve had to look at how we handle meat inspection regulations and the meat inspection itself once they leave. Over the last year we’ve had a lot of consultation with industry, generated and released the B.C. Abattoir Report. We’ve gone back out to the public with four stakeholder meetings to look at the recommendations,” Letnick said.
The other point has been meat inspection in smaller abattoirs. In 2004, the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) scare, resulted in the regime of A and B abattoirs.
In 2010, after a few years of the original regime, rural communities voiced concerns about the lack of abattoir capacity and options in rural B.C.
“Government at that time brought in the Ds and Es, which are really small scale abattoirs,” Letnick said. “D is for remote areas with up to 25 animal units a year, usually a unit is a cow, so 1,000 pounds. Es are really small, up to 10 animal units a year. Ten cows, but if you translate that into chickens that’s a lot more chickens.”
MLAs in the region have told Letnick there still needs to be some adjustments.
“My goal is to recommend some replacements for CFIA but also some changes to the way we do rural processing so it can accommodate rural B.C. a little better,” he said, adding he doesn’t know what the answer is, hence the tour.
“I’ve tasked my staff to come back with some options by mid-December and I am also going to host a roundtable near the end of November with some key stakeholders so I can hear different perspectives on what we change or what we should keep the way it is.”
During the tour, he’s also talked with farmers about organic farming, potato farming, and challenges rural B.C. faces.
Letnick is not going to be in Williams Lake, he said, but was in 100 Mile House, 70 Mile House last week, and will tour Vanderhoof, Prince George, Valemount, Hixon, Clearwater to talk with honey producers, Barrier and Kamloops.