How to Expand Ontario Meat Processing

April 30, 2021 | Paul Bootsma

How to Expand Ontario Meat Processing

Since last fall, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario has been listening to member concerns about the lack of abattoir space in rural Ontario. We hear of producers booking six to nine months in advance to ensure space for their animals, something that would have been unheard of 20 years ago. CFFO has also spoken specifically with abattoir owners to hear their thoughts on the situation.

With recent investments in the meat processing industry (see here, here and here for example), it’s clear that government is taking the issue seriously, as well. This week, we sent a letter to Hon. Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, with recommendations for mitigating risk for small and medium-sized abattoirs.

Our three key recommendations are to introduce:

-  pre-approval processes for new licenses to operate and for building plans of new facilities or expansions;

-  an independent third-party ombudsman committee to hear appeals of inspection findings; and

-  a mandatory review of inspection results that require operators to spend over a set amount on minor improvements to facilities.

In the meat processing sector, new builds are not inspected until after completion. Often, post-build inspections require modifications that were not budgeted for. CFFO sees this as unfair to the owner and recommends a process that approves plans prior to the start of a new build or addition.

Another concern was that there is no appeal process for abattoir owners in the inspection process. We strongly recommend the introduction of a third-party ombudsman to hear appeals, as well as mandatory reviews of any inspection recommendations that require expensive alterations to facilities.

There is a sense that guidelines are open to inspectors’ interpretations. The introduction of both an appeal process and a review process would go a long way toward streamlining the application of government guidelines and improving transparency and trust among operators and inspectors.

CFFO also heard concerns about the long-term growth of the meat processing industry. Our members who operate abattoirs experience several challenges as they manage their businesses, including labour shortages. In our letter, CFFO leant support to the Growth Strategy drafted by Meat & Poultry Ontario, which encourages education for training in this sector to improve the understanding and value of this industry and to create appreciation for the skill it takes. The Growth Strategy offers a positive view for the industry and encourages all participants of industry to do their part in growing the processing sector.

We share Meat & Poultry Ontario’s optimism and are pleased to see there is political interest in supporting this sector, which is poised to generate economic growth and strengthen our local food economy.

Paul Bootsma is Member Relations Manager for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and CHLP Listowel.