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

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

Vancouver Island farmers demand on-site slaughter

COVID-19 pandemic puts supply chains at risk, says group

Alberni Farmers Institute (AFI) wants the province to ease restrictions on slaughter licensing, calling it an urgent measure in case of food supply disruptions due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Together with the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD), local farmers have been asking the B.C. government since 2017 to allow Class D and E licences, permitting on-farm animal slaughter in the Alberni Valley. With the growing impact of the global pandemic and the risk of supply-chain disruption, the designation is critically needed, says the AFI.

“The ACRD has expended significant resources in finding a solution for the slaughter services crisis we face and has submitted the results of extensive stakeholder consultations undertaken since 2014 to the Ministry,” said Lisa Aylard, AFI president. “It is now apparent to many in the Valley — our government, our farmers and our residents — that we need this regional designation and we need it now.”

READ: Lack of security: why Vancouver Island food production is on the decline

Members fear they won’t be able to offer adequate slaughter services to sell their meat legally when it may be most needed in the community. Nearest Class A slaughter facilities are in Nanaimo, Courtenay and Duncan, too distant to offer a solution.

Local farmers as well as the Small-Scale Meat Producers Association have already noticed a large increase in demand for their products.

B.C. regulations were tightened in 2004 after bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease elevated public health concerns. The restrictions were particularly hard on small and mid-sized livestock producers in the province.

“As an agricultural producer it’s very frustrating,” Aylard said.

The Ministry of Agriculture said it continues to review the results of recent consultations on the regulations, which will form part of a comprehensive report on rural slaughter capacities.

“Ministry staff are in contact with farming associations around the province to hear directly what the impacts from the COVID emergency are,” reads a statement responding to AFI concerns.

“The COVID emergency is a reminder about the importance of a safe and secure local food supply, and the benefits of choosing to Buy BC and encourage agriculture in our province,” the ministry added. “At this time, the food supply chain in B.C. is functioning well.”

A study commissioned by the ACRD four years ago found that neither Class A or Class B slaughter facilities would be a realistic option in the Alberni Valley. As an alternative, valley producers asked that the ACRD be classed as a designated region under provincial meat inspection regulations, which would allow Class D and E slaughter facilities.

READ: ACRD ponders abattoir for Alberni Valley

Last September, the ACRD resubmitted a request for special designation. In a letter to Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, Regional District Chairman John Jack said a lack of red-meat slaughter services has been a key roadblock to sustaining livestock production in the region.

“The ACRD is requesting that producers within the region be able to apply for a license that will permit the on-farm slaughter of their own and their neighbouring producer’s animals, through a legitimate and accessible process,” Jack wrote.

READ: Alberni Valley abattoir feasibility study completed

Aylard feels the need for change is long overdue: “For at least the last 20 years, we’ve argued that farmers should be able to do value-added on their land,” she said.

Why has the province not budged, even when other rural regions — Gabriola and Saturna islands are two examples — hold special designation? Aylard believes government policy favours big business.

“It really caters to corporate agriculture,” Aylard said of the status quo. “Bigger is not better. Smaller produces better animals. More natural is far better for people.”

Once the rural slaughter capacity review is complete, results will be released in the form of a “What We Heard” document, the ministry said.

RELATED: Port Alberni council endorses climate, food security measures

AgricultureAlberni-Clayoquot Regional DistrictFarming