It’s back to the drawing board for Pam and Clinton Cavers, who are unlikely to regain control over the $8,000 worth of specialty meats, the product of four years of research and development, seized from their Pilot Mound-area farm.
Officials indicated to them Sept. 6 that the meat would be destroyed Sept. 10 after health inspectors showed up on their farm August 28, seized their entire inventory of charcuterie, a dried specialty meat product developed at their provincially inspected meat shop, and fined them for selling meat “unfit for human consumption.”
The same meat product earned the couple the $10,000 and top prize at the MAFRI-hosted Great Manitoba Food Fight in April, an event at which a variety of MAFRI officials, including the provincial agriculture minister himself, sampled their product.
The couple said while they were still holding out hope, it appears doubtful they’ll ever see their pastured pork prosciutto again.
They have now been told how to start all over again.
Other MAFRI staff — business development specialists — visited their farm Sept. 6 and went over in detail the specific set of good management practices (GMPs) they need to now implement, Pam Cavers said in a telephone interview the same day.
“We just talked about what some of the next steps could be, in order to meet the basic process that the health inspectors are saying that I need to have,” she said.
These GMPs are essentially a written document of steps taken to ensure food safety if they produce more product. Cavers said the meeting with the BDS went well and she praised the staff for their helpfulness.
“It was good,” she said. “They let us know this is not unachievable, ” Cavers said.
“It’s all paperwork.”
Their permit now has a restriction stating that they cannot test, produce, store or sell dried cured meat until authorized by a health official, but as they proceed with this GMP process this should change, she said.
“We hope that it’s the right next step in order to make them happy.”
Cavers said she and her husband want to continue developing the specialty meat product.
“We have $10,000 from the Food Fight winnings and it’s still available regardless of what happpens (to the existing product),” she said, adding that the cash prize will be used to engage the Food Development Centre team and other specialists to help implement the GMPs.
What they don’t have is an explanation for why things suddenly went sour late last month.
The only way they’ve made sense of what happened is that MAFRI’s staff aren’t talking to each other, Cavers said. She said the BDS staff visiting Sept. 6 said they too are “baffled” by the whole turn of events, and were never notified the product was going to be seized.
“It’s definitely a communication problem within MAFRI, there’s no doubt about it,” said Cavers.
Lack of communication isn’t explanation enough for those who are now rallying around the farm couple.
A spokesman for a group which videotaped the August 28 seizure say many are asking questions how department officials treated the Cavers family.
The group was comprised of students and their instructor who were touring a nearby Hutterite colony. Several made their way to the Cavers on the morning of the meat seizure — and have since posted video two of the students took of the incident to a website they’ve produced and dubbed ‘The Real Manitoba Food Fight.’
“The real food fight is beyond just the Cavers,” said Colin Anderson, the course instructor. He was present while the inspectors were confiscating the Cavers’ charcuterie.
What happened to the Pilot Mound family highlights a much bigger problem of a regulatory hurdle making it prohibitive for smaller processors to operate, Anderson said, adding that they created their website — www.realmani tobafoodfight.ca — to spark a wider public conversation about it.
“There’s a lot of very ordinary barriers around regulations that are keeping people from developing businesses to meet this growing consumer demand for local food,” he said.
The website is also urging people to contact their MLA with their concerns and calls for the return of the Cavers’ 160 kg of meat products to their farm.
Another group is calling a meeting for 1 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Clearwater United Church to launch a group that will speak for small-scale food producers. Event organizers Jackie Avent and Julia LaForge are calling the group FEAST — Farmers and Eaters Actively Sharing the Table.