Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Corky Evans speaks up on BC's dysfunctional meat slaughter regulations

No pictures this time . . .
I want give a little more exposure to an issue that's been around a long time. A couple of years ago new slaughtering regulations were tabled for B.C. Now they are being out into effect and the insanity of it all is becoming apparent. In the BC legislature, Corky Evans has been prominent among those attempting to restore sanity. Here's what he had to say a few days ago - with a response in the middle from the woman who chaired the government's agriculture committee on this matter:


October 22, Private Member's statements


C. Evans: I rise today to speak on the subject of the meat regulations that came into effect three weeks ago in British Columbia, making it a criminal act for a farmer to kill his chicken and sell it to me or to kill her cow, cut it up, and sell it to me or to you, hon. Speaker, or to anybody else in the province.

For those folks at home who may be unaware of the history, or those urban members whose mailbag may not be full on this particular subject, let me just help you with what we are experiencing, both on the back benches on the government side and the opposition.

Rural people are incensed. They woke up three week ago and found out that what their family had been doing for three centuries is now a criminal act. Raising cattle or poultry or pigs and selling it to the community in which you live makes you a lawbreaker.

Before I carry on to say what I think about this legislation, I would like to say, on the record, thank you. I mean, this is a haywire, silly, ridiculous, over-burdensome, unnecessary regulation brought in by the Minister of Health, who couldn't, at the time, cite a single example of a person getting sick or dying by buying their neighbour's meat. It's a completely unnecessary, indefensible law with no backup to prove that we needed it.

But I would like to start by saying thank you to all the wonderful people in the Ministry of Agriculture and those hired by the minister and working out there in the communities and the consultants, Kathleen Gibson and her folks. Everybody is working to try to make this really stupid law work, and thank you to those folks who are working so hard.

Why the citizens find this law so difficult to comprehend is because it's so counterintuitive. This is, after all, the government of deregulation. Statistically, we know that photo radar saved lives. But in the interest of deregulation, to get the government off people's backs, the government came in and wiped out photo radar. Everybody got that. That was deregulation.

This is the same government that said: "The forest companies are burdened by the Forest Practices Code. It's too big; it's a bit of a cookbook. Let's go to" — what do they call it? —"performance-based forestry." Deregulate the forest industry. Right, everybody gets that. That's what the government is about.

The people cannot comprehend why a government that believes in deregulation would do the opposite to farmers as what they do to the forest industry. Why say that the forest industry should be deregulated, the entire criminal justice system should be deregulated, get rid of photo radar — even though it saves lives — and then impose on agriculture a criminal act for doing what you have always done — raising animals and selling it to your…? People don't get it.

I've been to dozens of public meetings in the Cariboo, in Quesnel and in Comox. In Duncan — on a sunny summer day when people should be making hay — with 24 hours' notice, the hall was filled with a hundred people, every single one of them engaged in the agriculture industry, and everyone against this legislation.

Meetings in Metchosin, meetings in Creston, meetings in Nelson and hundreds of letters from people who don't get it. Why would this government impose on them a regulatory regime that is completely unnecessary and that they don't need? In the meeting in Nelson, farmer after farmer after farmer got up and said: "Show me one person who ever got sick or died from buying what I raise with love and sell to my neighbour. No antibiotics in it. It's fed organic food. We treat it and sell it to our neighbour, who wants to buy local food. Show me one example."

Finally, the civil servants got kind of annoyed because everybody was beating on them, saying: "Show me why." So the civil servants — wonderful people, great people — said: "Look, it's not about safety. It's about BSE and international trade. We had to do this to make Japan and the United States and the European Common Market buy our food."

The farmers all said: "Well, we want you to solve BSE. We want to resolve the trade crisis. But how come, while you were trying to do something for the United States and Japan, you said that what I do for a living here in British Columbia is illegal?" In 130 communities in B.C., where the municipality borders on ALR land it's now against the law for the farmer to sell food to the people in the city.

That's just the municipalities. What about all the unincorporated areas like Tlell, for example? We have hundreds. People, farmers, farm groups wrote in for two years. The B.C. Food Systems Network wrote in with eight wonderful examples of how to make this work, because farmers don't want to just make it go away. If it's solving trade crises, they want to make it work.

I've talked to hundreds of people, and probably only two, three, four have ever said: "Make it go away." The others said: "Make it work." People write in with good examples of how to make this work, and the government ignores them — for two years.

Hon. Speaker, even if you believe this is important public policy, this is the worst enforcement regime, regulatory regime and most mismanaged piece of government-forced policy I know of since the federal gun act — and imposed on the same rural people.

Maybe it's a good idea. Maybe it's important public policy, and they just completely botched the implementation so it is offensive to people.

The most wonderful suggestion I know, out of the hundreds, to make this work comes from a farmer in Tlell who farms on the land that his family has been farming for 88 years. He says: "All I ask is for the ability to continue our family's 88-year tradition. Please allow my farm to sell to my neighbours until such time as I have reasonable access to one of the many licensed facilities that the minister is so proud of." There are 71 people who are trying to become a licensed facility — probably hundreds that we need.

What this fellow is saying is: "Given that they are not anywhere near my home, allow me farm-gate sales, freezer sales, until the government can put a legal, licensed abattoir close to my house." It is simple, it is doable, it would make it work, it would get the people off the government's back, and it would stop killing the businesses — the real business that farming is. If you kill those businesses, they can't participate in the farm income. They will no longer be legal farms, and you know what will happen to them, hon. Speaker? Every single one of them is going to say: "Let me out of the ALR. You made my business a criminal act. Let me out of the ALR, and I'll become a subdivision."

Government, please, move to common sense in order to make the regulation work now, or see the farms go down and the ALR die.

[C Evans continues below]

V. Roddick: I'm pleased to respond to my colleague from Nelson-Creston on the issue of meat regulations, because despite what the member may think, the provincial government is enhancing food safety in British Columbia with this new meat inspection regulation. Supported by the B.C. Cattlemen's Association, the meat inspection regulation under the B.C. Food Safety Act, 2004, will strengthen the province's meat surveillance and inspection system.

The act supports the rapid identification, tracking and elimination at source of food-borne risks to public health and promotes public confidence in the province's $22-billion-a-year agrifood industry. The Ministries of Health and Agriculture and Lands continue to work closely with the small producers and processors in rural and remote areas to support the viability of local food production. The regulatory system has remained flexible to accommodate small-plant operations while ensuring that B.C.'s food safety standards are now consistent across the province and are in line with other jurisdictions in Canada.

The member opposite should note that provinces including Alberta, Ontario and Quebec have meat inspection systems in place similar to what has recently been implemented here in B.C. The few provinces lacking a complete meat inspection system are also re-evaluating their meat safety systems in light of concerns over the safety of the meat supply, including mad cow disease and avian influenza outbreaks.

As part of a commitment to help small producers make the transition, the province has been allowing temporary transitional licences to be issued — that will expire after six months — to processors whose facility upgrades to the new standards are already in process. This is in addition to a one-year extension of the original 2006 deadline, plus a $5-million meat transition assistance program. Government has allocated this $5 million to assist small meat-processors to make the transition to the new standards — $50,000 and up for individual plant owners, and up to $100,000 for community-based projects to develop regional slaughter capacity, including mobile abattoirs.

Government has also agreed to cover the costs of all inspections of these small facilities until 2012. As of Friday, October 19, there were 44 licensed slaughter plants in B.C., including three transitionally licensed plants. There is prospect for another ten to become transitionally licensed in the next few weeks.

There was a total of only 25 licensed plants, both federal and provincial, in B.C. when these announcements were made in 2004. The meat industry enhancement strategy and the MTAP program will continue to work with small producers and processors to help them adapt to the new regulatory environment.

One innovative example is in Fort St. John, where a mobile abattoir for the slaughter and processing of red meat will travel to several docking stations to serve the area's meat producers. Lars from Ladner, a first-class chef at La Belle Auberge in beautiful downtown Ladner, is the spearhead of this mobile abattoir.

We have not forgotten about small producers and processors in the development of these new meat regulations. I feel the government is doing everything in its power to make this transition as smooth as possible. No one, no matter what jurisdiction, does business the way they did 30, ten or even five years ago. I know that from my own agribusiness. The majority of all those required upgrades and improvements have been funded by the private sector.

Let's not forget that if, heaven forbid, in the future there were to be an instance of contaminated meat due to poor meat regulations, it would be the members opposite that would be asking why the government hadn't implemented protections to ensure a safe food supply for British Columbians.

This is about public safety. The Public Health Agency of Canada issued a report titled Provincial-Territorial Enteric Outbreaks in Canada, 1996 to 2003." In this eight-year period nearly 180,000 cases…

Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member.

V. Roddick: …of enteric or intestinal diseases were reported across Canada. B.C. was significantly higher than any other province in Canada.

Deputy Speaker: Order, Member.

V. Roddick: This is concerning, and we should do everything we can to promote public safety.

Deputy Speaker: Your time has expired, Member.

C. Evans: I actually quite enjoyed the member's discourse, including the extra time. I would say it proves my point. I was arguing that the government imposed a stupid regulatory act that they didn't need and then didn't do a darned thing to make it work for two years because they didn't care and didn't pay attention. The hon. member proves the case in point.

This is the hon. member that chaired the government's agriculture committee, travelled all over the province and heard the farmers say that it doesn't work and explain to her the regulatory regime. Then two weeks ago, after ignoring their complaints, she went on the radio and said, "Oh, it's perfectly legal for a farmer to sell to their neighbour," and then later found out she was incorrect and had to retract.

She's a lovely person, a wonderful person, an intelligent person, and it proves that the government did not consider this issue for the entire two years that they had to fix it.

Now there is an argument that we have to deal with this in order to solve BSE, and I agree with that. I agree with the trade issues. But if we have to make it against the law to do on-farm sales in British Columbia, how come Nova Scotia gets to do it while Canada claims that all of the meat is trackable? Why wouldn't our government, our Minister of Agriculture, stand up for farmers here the same as the Minister of Agriculture in Nova Scotia? Why are there two kinds of equality in Canada?

The speaker could only name two provinces where they imposed a regulatory regime like ours. Why can't we be like the other places that say that farming is a good idea and producing healthy, organic food in the community is a good idea? What is the government's real agenda in wanting to make what we do for a living where we live against the law? Why is raising chickens starting to look like raising marijuana?

Why doesn't the government say: "Okay, we want it all to be gone through a legal processing facility, and so we'll see to it that they get built, and until there's one within 50 kilometres of your farm, you can do farm-gate sales"? Then you win.

Then the Minister of Health gets what he wants — every piece of meat inspected — but it forces the government that brought in the regulatory regime to see this job through, to actually put an abattoir within 50 kilometres of every farmer's door, or until it gets there, they can sell to their neighbours like they want to and always have done.


If you would like to add your voice, contacting your MLA might be the most effective way.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Bear viewing in the Bella Coola Valley

Autumn is fishing time for bears. Chris Czajkowski (of Nuk Tessli fame) and a friend went to look for bears in the Bella Coola Valley. They didn't have to look for long:

The grizzly came ashore:

Soon after the grizzly left, a black bear came a-fishing:

and came pretty close too:

The grizzly, who hadn't gone that far must have picked up black bear scent (supper?) and stood up:

It wasn't long before they saw a black bear taking refuge high up in a cottonwood tree:

A little later, an uncomfortably close view of a mother and cubs:

A final comment from Chris:
There is some concern about the number of bear watchers and bears in such close proximity, especially the "watchers" who yell or throw stones towards the bears (not at them) in order to make them look up and be more interesting for the photos. I saw a group from a drift boat do just that. The bear was between us and the boat. If the bear had got angry she would have come up the bank to us in a bad mood. Bears don't recognise people in boats as being human, even if they make a noise. But people on land are people!