Cattle graze in a field at Arrowvale Farm and Campground on Hector Road near Port Alberni, B.C. (MIKE YOUDS/ Special to the News)

Alberni farmers make urgent request for on-site slaughter during COVID-19

Meat plants and chicken processing facilities closing due to coronavirus outbreaks

Alberni Valley farmers are reiterating the need for on-site animal slaughter as meat plants across the country are affected by COVID-19.

The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) agreed during a board meeting on Wednesday, April 22 to send a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture, requesting that the region be designated for Class D and E slaughter licensing under the Meat Inspection Regulation, which will permit on-farm animal slaughter in the Alberni Valley.

READ MORE: Vancouver Island farmers demand on-site slaughter

The ACRD has previously submitted formal requests to the Ministry in 2017 and 2019, but this new request will note the increased urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve been working on this project for quite some time,” said manager of planning and development Mike Irg. “Given the COVID crisis that we’re in…this is becoming even more important.”

A letter sent to the Alberni Farmers Institute (AFI) on April 20 by Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said that the Ministry of Agriculture has been conducting a review of the province’s rural slaughter capacity.

“The review is analyzing results from several recent consultations to provide a comprehensive report on rural slaughter capacity,” said Popham. “Once the review is finished, a ‘What We Heard’ document will be made available to the public.”

The letter did not offer a “yes” or “no” answer to the AFI’s request for on-site slaughter.

The AFI responded with a letter of their own, arguing that the province is in the midst of a global pandemic and cannot wait for a report.

“It is time to give producers in the ACRD the legal means to feed their communities,” the AFI wrote.

ACRD director Tanya Shannon expressed support for the AFI on Wednesday.

“There’s getting to be some extreme frustration with this process [from the AFI],” she said.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, two meat packing plants in Alberta—accounting for 70 percent of Canada’s beef processing capabilities—have shut down or reduced operations due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Two chicken processing facilities in B.C. have also reported outbreaks.

READ MORE: Bibeau says Canada has enough food but COVID-19 will still bring challenges

READ MORE: B.C. has 29 new COVID-19 cases, second poultry plant affected

“This might result in a slowdown of product coming to us,” said ACRD director Penny Cote on Wednesday. “The province needs to support us and allow this to happen, even if it’s just for the short time.”

The new letter to the Minister of Agriculture will reiterate the longstanding request for designation, with increased urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ACRD also requests that on-farm slaughter with direct sales to the public be permitted as an immediate emergency measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter will be distributed to MLA Scott Fraser and MP Gord Johns, as well as the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

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