“There shouldn’t even be a border as far as any kind of trade.”
– RON RHYNER, VERMILION BAY, ONTARIO
Why does the chicken cross the road into Manitoba? It doesn’t. Just ask Ron Rhyner.
A twilight zone of interprovincial trade restrictions means Rhyner, who farms in Northern Ontario, can’t use a provincially licensed abattoir in Manitoba to custom-slaughter chickens to sell at home.
Never mind that the Manitoba plant is the only one available. Or that Rhyner is just trying to be a good farmer by diversifying his income.
The rules are plain. Meat from a provincially licensed abattoir (like the one in Manitoba Rhyner wants to use) cannot be sold in another province.
It’s a bit baffling to Rhyner, who just wants to sell a few chickens over the farm gate. In Ontario, a farmer can own a maximum of 300 broilers without having to buy quota.
“It’s Canada. There shouldn’t even be a border as far as any kind of trade,” he said from his mixed farm near Vermilion Bay, west of Dryden and east of Kenora.
Rhyner’s conundrum star ted when he wrote to ask the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs if he could get chickens custom slaughtered at a provincially inspected plant in Niverville, Manitoba, about a three-hour drive from home.
Vicky Osborne, an OMAFRA information resource agent, wrote back to list several available abattoirs, including a new provincially inspected plant at Rainy River, Ontario, and
a federally inspected one in Winkler, Manitoba.
Under the rules, those were the only available options, Osborne indicated.
“If livestock are slaughtered in a federally registered plant in another province, then you are permitted to bring them to Ontario. If they are slaughtered in a provincially registered abattoir, then they cannot be sold in Ontario,” she wrote.
Rhyner checked each option and decided they wouldn’t work for him. The Rainy River plant doesn’t do chickens and Winkler Meats is a commercial plant which doesn’t custom kill.
All of which leaves Rhyner in a catch-22. He can grow chickens in Ontario but he can’t get them slaughtered and sold at home – at least not within the rules.
“It’s kind of frustrating,” said Rhyner, who, along with his neighbours, does most of his farm business in Manitoba.
It’s also symptomatic of Canada’s sometimes Byzantine interprovincial trade rules, which can make it easier to do business in the United States than next door.
The reason for Rhyner’s problem is that Canada has a single national standard for meat hygiene set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. To move product between provinces and outside the country, you must meet that standard, said Dr. Allan Preston, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives assistant deputy minister.
Provincial plants can convert to federal standards but it’s not always cheap or easy to do, Preston said.
“It’s a challenge at the moment for a provincial plant to meet all of the federal criteria without some upgrading.”
Manitoba has about 30 provincially licensed local abattoirs, most of which slaughter cattle and pigs.
In a recent consultation on the Agreement on Internal Trade, Keystone Agricultural Producers called for farmers to have more marketing opportunities outside their own provinces.
But interprovincial trade still has to meet federal standards regardless of the AIT.
There are efforts underway to ease interprovincial meat restrictions without compromising food safety, said Preston.
A federal Food Action Safety Plan aims at developing a common meat hygiene standard which would allow provincial plants to sell to other provinces, but not outside Canada.
Federal plants are licensed under strict inspection protocols. But if a provincial plant on an HACCP program could achieve the same results as a federal plant with a reduced level of online inspection, it could be raised to a higher level, Preston said.
This would allow provinces to trade meat more freely between each other without having to meet international standards required for export, he said.
“That’s the hope, that we’ll move to a standard to allow that to occur a little more freely.
“We’re making progress on that but are we doing it? No.”
Sometimes provincial plants do upgrade to become federally licensed. Winkler Meats did. Keystone Processors Ltd. hopes to when its beef plant currently under development in Winnipeg is up and running.
Robert Jowett, owner of Country Meat and Sausage in Blumenort, would like to sell his meat to local grocery stores. But he says when he tries, the conversation is always the same. Can we sell you some meat? Have you got a federal licence? No. Then call us back when you’re federal.
Jowett had plans to go federal during the BSE crisis but decided there was no point selling beef in a depressed market.
Now he may try again. Jowett has plans in the works for a $1-million further processing plant.
The first step is to develop a market for the product, he said.
“If we can build a market, the kill facilities will start taking care of themselves.” [email protected]