The grain can keep growing, the hens can continue laying and that pot of jam on the stove can keep bubbling away if the proposed Food Safety Act becomes law.
Farmers raising grain and livestock for sale through conventional channels will not be considered “food premises” by the act, which has received first reading in the Manitoba legislature, Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Rosann Wowchuk says.
Neither will small-scale poultry producers selling eggs to their neighbours. “That is not going to change,” Wowchuk said.
Wowchuk said the licensing provisions of the Food Safety Act are intended to cover commercial food-processing facilities where food is further processed for sale. It will be business as usual for farmers and farmers’ market vendors operating within their existing guidelines.
Farmers’ markets and community suppers are already covered by guidelines under the Manitoba Health Act. However, Manitoba Health is undertaking its own review of its regulations, including the number of weeks farmers’ markets can operate. It will be consulting with the public, she said.
In most cases, producers marketing meat from the farm gate already have their animals processed in inspected facilities, she noted.
The rural rumour mill has been rife with claims that farmers will have to be licensed as food premises, subject to inspections without warrant and possible closures if a food-related problem can be traced back to the ingredients they’ve provided.
“From reading the definition of “food premise” in her proposed Bill 7 it would appear that every house in Manitoba shall one day have to be licensed as a food premise,” Doug Hillier of Ponemah said in a recent letter to the editor.
And the legislation’s wording seems to support that conclusion. “Under the act “food premises” means premises where, in the ordinary course of business, food is grown, raised, cultivated, kept, harvested, produced, manufactured, slaughtered, processed, prepared, packaged, distributed, transported or sold, or is stored or handled for any of those purposes,” Bill 7 says.
“That means that if they get their way, they would label the farm as a food premise, and then license the farm as a food premise,” said Brian Sterling, a director for the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association in a presentation to about 150 cattle producers seated around the Ross Taylor Auction Services sales ring.
“That would mean that if you had a food health issue, or a food health problem such as listeriosis or E. coli, they would track that back to the food processor – which is fine. But if they are going to license us as a food premise, it would come right back to our farm.”
That would give government officials the power to “shut down a food premise, shut down the food processor, and for no reason at all, they would shut down our farm,” Sterling said.
Sterling added that ranchers should only reasonably be held responsible for such things as animal welfare, drug withdrawal, proper feeding, and broken or lost needles.
MCPA president Joe Bouchard said that premise ID is “old school” for cattle producers in Manitoba under existing legislation.
“We are premise ID’d when we buy our CCIA tags,” he said. “So that’s nothing new for us.”
But the MCPA has informed government officials that it is opposed to the wording for the changes to the act as it is currently being proposed, claiming that it would put farms in the same category as food premises.
Wowchuk said the public will be consulted before the Manitoba Health Act review is completed. The public will also have a chance to voice concerns when the Food Safety Act goes before committee after second reading.