COVID-19 outbreaks at huge beef processing facilities in Alberta have highlighted a long-standing problem for B.C. farmers and ranchers, the lack of approved slaughter facilities for beef and other livestock on or close to their farms.
In debate on the agriculture ministry’s $77 million operating budget, B.C. Liberal agriculture critic Ian Paton described B.C. farms and ranches with empty fenced areas. He described a lack of small-scale options for meat and vegetable producers, and called for more processing licences and inspections.
“All you need to do is fly over this province and look down at small farms everywhere in B.C., and the livestock are gone,” Paton told the legislature. “They used to be there, but there’s no livestock inside the fences any more. What we’ve shown is that 4,000 head of cattle a day being killed at a plant in Alberta – or two or three plants in Alberta and across Canada – is a little bit susceptible.”
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said there is progress on the horizon on food security and expansion of slaughter capacity in B.C.
“We’ve been working, over the last three years, with the B.C. Cattlemens’ Association to try and figure out a larger way to address larger-scale slaughter in the province,” Popham said. “I’d say we’re getting pretty close to being able to see something new happen. It will offer a larger-scale capacity for beef, red meat slaughter. But it’s also going to give us the capacity to be able to market our own domestic meat within our province as raised and slaughtered here fully.”
Paton introduced a private member’s bill this week, calling for an increase in farm-based processing and sales, not just for beef, poultry and other livestock but vegetables as well.
“If you’re a farmer, you can grow all of the Brussels sprouts and potatoes and whatever in the world, but if you don’t have a processing plant nearby to sell that product to, nobody is going to grow it,” Paton said. “The same with beef and poultry. If you don’t have an abattoir or butcher nearby, why would you bother getting into the production of some beef cattle or chickens or turkeys or hogs or whatever? So we need to get more licences out in B.C.”
Popham was also asked about progress in getting B.C. food onto the menus of hospitals in the province, which she pushed for as critic and has worked on for three years as minister with a program called Feed B.C.
Popham said work began with Interior Health, starting with an expanded greenhouse operation to supply Penticton Regional Hospital. The hospital has also switched to B.C. eggs.
All of the other B.C. health authorities are getting ready to join the Feed B.C. program, and announcements are coming soon, Popham said.