National | Letters

Urgent need for support to increase local and regional abattoir capacity

Memo to: Round Table / Table Ronde (AAFC/AAC)
AAFC – COVID-19 – Industry-Government Working Group
From: Katie Ward, NFU President

Re: Urgent need for support to increase local and regional abattoir capacity

As you know, the National Farmers Union wrote to the AAFC Roundtable on May 21 to provide input and direction for the $77M fund allocated to assist food processors dealing with COVID 19 impacts. Since then, the Emergency Processing Fund was announced, and we are concerned that it does not adequately address critical capacity issues that affect farmers who rely on local and regional abattoirs to kill and process the livestock they have raised.

There are significant gaps between the Emergency Processing Fund’s offerings and the needs we have identified. Furthermore, as the impacts of COVID become more apparent, we are seeing additional pressures on local and regional abattoir capacity all across Canada. There has been an increase in number of Canadians who have decided to raise a few animals (mostly hogs) for home consumption who will need to have them butchered; hunters who will be bringing animals in for cut and wrap for their own use; farms that have in response to COVID changed their operations from commodity production to direct to consumer sales — switching their slaughter plans from federal to provincially inspected facilities; fall culling for herd improvement which may be more aggressive than usual in areas with feed shortages; and long-time local producers who have higher demand as a result of consumption shifts due to COVID. As a result, abattoirs are already fully booked for the fall season, many are booking into April 2021 and some are already fully booked for 2021.

For cattle producers, excessive delay in obtaining a kill date can result in animals passing the 30 month age threshold before slaughter, contrary to the farmer’s intention. This leads to higher costs due to the additional procedures required under the Health of Animals Regulations for removal, handling and disposal of Specified Risk Materials from cattle over 30 months of age.

A review of the eligibility criteria for the Emergency Processing Fund indicates it was designed for larger meat packing plants to quickly and safely maximize existing capacity and temporarily increase capacity to handle backlogs. The program’s non-repayable funds do not address any of the problems being experienced by smaller abattoirs that we identified. Likewise, the repayable funds available for strategic investments are focused on increasing automation through installation of new equipment. With the exception of investment in cold storage, these are not the kinds of strategic investments needed to increase the numbers of, and/or expand the capacity of regional and local abattoirs. The July 31 application deadline along with the requirement that funds be spent by September 30, 2020 also made this program less usable by smaller companies. The eligibility requirement that applicants have operated for at least two years precluded the fund’s use for building desperately needed new capacity.

Without effective intervention to support and expand local and regional kill capacity, particularly for poultry, hogs and cattle, farmers who rely on these establishments will be faced with not only income losses this year, but also losing their ability to serve their customers in the future. Farm businesses developed in response to growing consumer dedication to buying local will be prevented from reaching their potential at a time when they would otherwise be able to expand in size or number.

The increase in demand for locally produced food, particularly meat, in response to COVID has been widely reported all across Canada. This has the makings of an economic success story – a silver lining in the pandemic’s very dark cloud – but serious, targeted investment in to create and expand its infrastructure is needed to allow this emerging source of local prosperity to become well established.

Thus, we would like to reiterate our request for the following:

  • Support for transition to new operators, to promote continuity of service when facilities are sold or re-opened, such as
    • Assistance upgrading and refurbishing facilities to meet current needs
    • Assistance with navigating food safety regulations
    • Bursaries to support staff training
  • Expedite re-licensing so that closed facilities can re-open quickly. Consider creating an emergency licensing regime for low-risk operations that serve small local markets.
  • Hire and train more provincial and federal inspectors to maximize capacity of smaller plants.
  • Support for more butchers – such as training, assistance for retired butchers to return to work.
  • Provide assistance for compliance with costly regulatory requirements such as SRM disposal.

We look forward to your timely response with a program designed to support needed local and regional abattoir infrastructure to address mounting Covid-19 related backlogs and ensure the positive steps made towards a more resilient food system are not thwarted.

Sincerely,

(signed)
Katie Ward
NFU President

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