Farm and rural groups are lining up to voice their concerns over proposed new food safety legislation in Manitoba, but they might have to wait until next fall to do it.
Bill 7 had not yet received second reading, been reviewed by cabinet or been scheduled for public consultations as of early this week. The house rises for summer recess June 11, which would push the process back until the session resumes later this year.
Despite assurances from the ag minister earlier this year, farm groups remain concerned farms could find themselves classified as food-processing facilities should the legislation go forward.
Ian Wishart, Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president said in late May his organization generally supports the approach of Bill 7. But he still wants clarification on how this could impact farmers.
KAP doesn’t want farmers inadvertently classified as food-processing facilities under this new law. It could have implications for eligibility to participate in safety net programs, said
“Some groups have suggested that means every farm will end up classified as a food facility. We don’t think that’s the intent of the bill at all, but we do want a little more discussion about where they do see the line.”
– KAP PRESIDENT IAN WISHARTW
Wishart, noting that similar legislation in Ontario was observed to impact farmers this way.
The concern lies with wording which reads that “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.”
“Some groups have suggested that means every farm will end up classified as a food facility,” Wishart said. “We don’t think that’s the intent of the bill at all, but we do want a little more discussion about where they do see the line. If you leave that up to whoever the inspector is, well, then you run into the problem of getting consistency.”
Wishart said KAP will additionally raise a concern the Manitoba Women’s Institute brought forward on what implications new regulation could have on community groups’ ability to continue to serve food in unlicensed food premises.
Manitoba Cattle Producers Association’s president Joe Bouchard said cattle producers are also worried about Bill 7 insofar as how farms are classified. “We’re producing animals that get processed into food,” he said. “There’s many hands in between us and the consumer where that animal turns into food.”
Cattle producers already have programs in place such as the CCIA tag program for traceability, Bouchard added. They don’t want to see confusion arise with new laws and procedures.
“It’s kind of frustrating when government wants to sort of rewrite the book on some of this stuff. We don’t want to see any duplication of programs that are already recognized and have producer buy-in.”
A brief from Beyond Factory Farming, a national organization concerned about livestock production, states the group is mainly concerned with Bill 7 giving too much authority to the minister of agriculture for food safety.
“Our largest concern with having MAFRI assume more responsibility for food safety ‘from the farm to the backdoor of retail’ is based on the conflicting mandates that MAFRI would be confronted with – one that ensures the safety of our food system on behalf of the public good and the other which promotes the commerce and trade in food within the market economy,” a BBF prepared brief states.
“We see that as a potential conflict,” said Glen Koroluk, an organizer with BBF.
Another concern is with regard to what level of training will be required for new food inspectors appointed by the minister of agriculture, Koroluk added. “It looks like it will be not as intense as for a public health inspector,” he said.
But other organizations such as Manitoba Food Processors Association (MFPA), which represents this province’s food-processing sector, see Bill 7 as a progressive step.
“We’ve taken a long hard, look at it,” said Dave Shambrock MFPA executive director. “We’re in support of it.” This will “raise the bar for food safety,” Shambrock said, because it will mean higher levels of inspection that will push more processors to take another look at, and probably upgrade their safety procedures, Shambrock said
“Many companies are going to have to reaccess their HACCP plans and situations,” he said. “I would have to say that’s also the case for producers and product distributors and warehouses and retailers as well.”
MFPA’s one concern is that new or reassigned inspectors will get the training required to competently do their jobs, he added. A warehouse or a distribution facility is a very different premise than a dairy farm, said Shambrock.
Current legislation deals with on-farm food safety, safe livestock and livestock products and the dairy industry. Under the proposed Food Safety and Related Amendments Act, MAFRI inspectors would also assume authority of inspections of warehouses, distributors and processors. Public health inspectors would continue to have responsibility for inspections at the restaurant and retail level.