The provincial government will provide cost-sharing opportunities for food safety projects, however the meat industry requires more investment in infrastructure and labour to expand capacity
By Jackie Clark
The provincial government will be providing over $200,000 of cost-share support to 25 food safety projects at abattoirs in the province, said a Jan. 16 statement. This newest funding ads onto previous efforts to engage with and support the meat processing industry that began in 2019, including the formation of and consultation with a meat industry engagement panel.
Franco Naccarato, executive director of Meat and Poultry Ontario, said his organization helped with the creation of the panel.
“We’ve been engaging with the government on ways we can improve food safety, and help business at the same time,” Naccarato told Farms.com. “The idea behind the panel is opening lines of communication between the government and industry before decisions are made on policies.”
Government officials have a chance to share policy updates they are working on with the panel to get an industry perspective, he explained. This communication also facilitates discussions that involve the meat industry’s interactions with multiple provincial ministries.
Food safety, the focus of this latest round of funding, is always important to the meat processing industry, Naccarato said.
“It’s good to have government support for our food safety programs,” he added. Meat industry workers are continually improving best practices, which means food safety has ongoing expenses.
Though important, food safety is not the only major concern for the meat processing industry.
The panel has consulted with all sectors, including beef, veal, sheep, pork, and poultry, and “they’ve all indicated that processing is a bottleneck for them,” Naccarato said.
A 2013 study on meat industry challenges, conducted in collaboration with the University of Guelph, had data from as far back as 2009. “So, for over 10 years we’ve been talking about (processing capacity) challenges,” he said.
Since 1999 “we’ve lost 54 per cent of our abattoirs in the province,” and in the last year “Barrett Hides closed, and Ryding-Regency (Meat Packers) lost their license which revealed how vulnerable our sector is,” Naccarato said.
Processing capacity is the foremost issue in the meat processing industry, he said.
“Despite all this, there is great potential for growth. With the right resources and the right strategy, the sector is poised for growth potential that has yet to be determined because of lack of resources to assess current and future opportunities,” Naccarato explained.
At the end of 2019, Meat and Poultry Ontario interviewed 16 abattoirs, and almost all of them indicated that they were interested in increasing their capacity. To do so, they would need help with infrastructure costs, finding skilled labour, modernizing operations, accessing markets and overcoming regulatory barriers, Naccarato explained.
The provincial funding to help with food safety is welcomed, however, more help is needed for the meat industry in Ontario to flourish.
“Abattoirs are the linchpin of our local food system. They are the key to the future development of our sector that can enable our livestock sector to transition from dealing as commodities and to focus on diversity and differentiation as a value-added service to the food system,” Naccarato said.
“Our infrastructure is old, we face chronic challenges with labour, and face regulatory burden that sees thousands of dollars wasted on inconsistent interpretation and application of those regulations.”
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