Provincial meat plants may be able to temporarily do business across provincial lines thanks to a temporary exemption, but Manitoba officials argue that the federal measure doesn’t go far enough and details are scarce.
Why it matters: Manitoba’s agriculture minister is pushing for regulations on interprovincial trade to be generally relaxed, and not just during a pandemic.
On May 21, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced a temporary ministerial exemption for meat and poultry slaughtered at non-federal processing plants. The exemption would allow interprovincial trade of that meat, something normally only allowed for meat processed at a federally inspected facility.
The CFIA argues that the exemption would help ease any meat shortages that emerge because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Canada’s meat-processing sector has been hard hit by the pandemic, with economic impacts trickling down to producers as supply chains back up and markets plummet. In early May, the province of Alberta estimated that 130,000 slaughter-ready cattle were backed up after staff became ill at major processing plants, while the Canadian Pork Council estimates that producers are losing $30 to $50 per market hog thanks to processing disruptions.
The well-publicized disruptions sparked consumer concern over a potential shortage of meat.
Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Blaine Pedersen called the exemption a “stop-gap.”
The CFIA has said that the exemption process will require a food business experiencing a meat shortage to contact their provincial or territorial authority, which will help determine if an exemption is warranted.
“Our understanding of this is that the plant would have to prove that there is a food shortage,” Pedersen said, noting that actual details of the program are hard to find.
“We’ll use beef as an example,” he said. “How do you prove that there’s a beef shortage in the marketplace that you want to go? What do you have to do to prove that?”
Pedersen argued that requiring plants to prove there is a meat shortage in their target market, on top of usual operations, adds to the workload of a likely already busy plant.
“I think the federal government’s just playing a little fast and loose with this, trying to make it sound like it’s dropping the interprovincial restrictions but, really, it’s not addressing the real problem here,” he said.
That “real problem,” according to Pedersen, is restrictions on interprovincial trade, even outside of the market stresses of a pandemic.
Pedersen, along with other provincial governments, has previously pushed the federal government to relax the rules around interprovincial trade in general, including interprovincial trade of meat.
In Ontario, Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ernie Hardeman has, “on numerous occasions, appealed to the federal government to remove interprovincial trade barriers, particularly as they relate to meat and meat products,” a spokesperson said.
Hardeman added that he was pleased with the exemption as a, “first step,” but that, “more work needs to be done to provide greater flexibility in the trade of meat and meat products.”
Pedersen has previously said that he would like to see Manitoba businesses able to tap into the tourism-rich areas of northern Ontario’s cottage country.
Making their case
One local abattoir has expressed interest in pursuing an exemption but that no submission has been made, due to lack of available information, Pedersen said.
“They’ve asked and so we’re trying to help them as much as we can, but there’s been no decision made yet,” he said.
Ontario, likewise, says it has received several requests for information, but no formal requests.
A spokesperson from Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Agriculture, meanwhile, says they are not aware of any requests.
The CFIA has said that any meat traded under the exemption will have to meet requirements under the Food and Drugs Act (FDA), Food and Drug Regulations (FDR), and any other rules in the relevant province or territory.