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Ag ministers “optimistic” on Atlantic Beef plant

The Maritime provinces’ agriculture ministers agreed today to speed up negotiations aimed at saving the region’s only federally-inspected beef slaughter facility.

Meeting in Moncton, the ministers from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island reviewed a series of reports on the history and current status of the Atlantic Beef Products plant, which was founded by a regional beef producers’ co-op and started production in 2004.

The reports, at the request of the Maritime Beef Council, have been handed over to consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to develop a business plan “agreeable to all three Maritime governments,” the three ministers wrote in a release.

Prince Edward Island, which invested in the plant and built its waste treatment facility, has previously said its most recent cash infusion into the money-losing packer this summer would be its last, unless the other provinces or federal government agree to step up with funding. Nova Scotia, for one, has since balked at funding the plant in its current situation.

New Brunswick Agriculture Minister Ron Ouelette said the next phase of the process will be “very important,” and was “cautiously optimistic that a constructive way forward will be found over the long term.”

His P.E.I. counterpart Neil LeClair said this next phase “should produce a comprehensive plan that will give all of the players a new level of comfort, and provide the basis for a final decision by all three provinces on the plant’s future.”

The ministers noted that over the past two and a half months, losses at the plant have “dwindled substantially.” Previous news reports have stated the facility — operating at Borden, west of Charlottetown — was losing about $500,000 a month, but LeClair was quoted by CBC today saying those losses have been halved.

The recent improvements on Atlantic Beef’s ledger are in part due to growing consumer demand for regionally-produced food, LeClair said. “In particular, regional retailers have responded very positively to consumer desire for locally produced food.”

The ministers didn’t say what deadline, if any, had been given for Pricewaterhouse to complete the business plan.

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