EDITOR’S NOTE: This letter has been reprinted in The Expositor at the author’s request.
To the Expositor:
To the Honourable Ted McMeekin, minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
I have a problem with Regulation 31/05 (Meat) under the Food Safety and Quality Act, and other statutes and regulations currently administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). I therefore seek your help and recommendations.
I, my family, and my community need affordable, sustainable, and healthy food to survive.
I have worked as a professional engineer and management consultant for more than 25 years, specializing in training others and implementing quality assurance management systems, business excellence, process risk assessments, hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) and similar systems, and am thereby well aware of the need for, and importance of food safety.
I took note that a Health Canada survey in 2009 found that 11 percent of Canadians self-identified themselves as not having enough money to buy the food their family needed. With growing concerns about commercially available food quality and world economic issues, my wife and I decided to start raising chickens in May 2011 on our 113 acre rural property in Northern Ontario to feed ourselves, our family, and our community.
If we are able to achieve another 20 years of experience under our collective belts, we hope to have earned the right to call ourselves ‘farmers,’ for I have quickly learned that this worthy profession is complex, full of hard work, and has a long, informal apprenticeship with Mother Nature as a stern teacher. However, we thought we had made a wise decision to start our journey towards becoming farmers when we noted that food staples (eg. flour, sugar, rice, bread, meat, coffee, sugar, etc.) last year increased in price by 80 percent to 150 percent in Ontario. Fresh vegetables went up over 10 percent in just the last three months.
We started with 12 meat birds. I understood that under Ontario Regulation 2328-2010 (generated under the authority given to Chicken Farmers of Ontario), we were permitted to raise up to 300 meat birds per year on our farm. Subsequently, we decided to get 50 or so layers for their eggs. Next, we decided to raise ducks, turkeys, and geese as well. We successfully raised approximately 30 chickens as meat birds, performed the pre-slaughter ante-inspection, slaughtered them ourselves on our farm, and these chickens are now in our freezer, vacuum bagged, ready to cook. We have been enjoying them tremendously.
On re-reading CFO Regulation 2328-2010 today, I have better learned that we must meet all federal, provincial, municipal, and other statutes and regulations to enjoy that 300 bird CFO exemption. I have today found and read the Farm Products Marketing Act, and the Food Safety and Quality Act, 2001 (FSQA), and Regulation 31/05 (Meat) made thereunder.
On speaking with Brian Bell (our local OMAFRA representative who, by the way, does an excellent job for you and OMAFRA, in my opinion) explained to me that I am permitted to slaughter my own chickens on-farm, and eat them provided the meat stays on-farm. The meat is only for my immediate family, and is not to be sold, bartered, gifted or otherwise provided to others off-farm. On my reading of Regulation 31/05, I can find no such exemption, so please confirm this issue for me. Mr. Bell also informed me that the nearest licenced white meat (ie. poultry) processing plant is in Sudbury, a 300 kilometre drive for me one way, and they charge about $3 per bird to process. Mr. Bell explained that it is illegal to sell, gift or supply our meat birds to anybody else unless a licenced processing plant did the inspections and slaughtering for me.
For 30 birds, the total cost to drive to the nearest provincially licenced abattoir and back, and process our 30 bird flock would be approximately $500 (eight hours of my time at $10/hour, 600 kilometre at $0.55/km, $3/bird at 30 birds), which is $3.33 per lb. of additional cost for an average bird weight of 5 lbs. Adding in the cost of buying the chicks, feed, capital costs for the coop, energy costs, my time to feed-water-care for the birds, etc. would put a break-even price of our chickens in excess of $6 per lb. and maybe as high as $9 per lb. Who would buy a $6 per lb. chicken when it is available in the grocery stores for less that $2.50 per lb.?
I would like to sell my ungraded chickens for $3 per lb. to anybody in my community who would like to buy them.
We got into farming, not to become millionaires, but to ensure we, and our community, have good quality, locally grown food that is affordable. Regulation 31/05 seems to make it unaffordable in my particular circumstances. I believe there are many others who suffer the same fate.
Why would I go to all the work and risk, with no hope of selling my birds for those in my community who want (and need) locally grown food at an affordable price?
I believe that under United Nations international treaty, to which Canada is a signatory, I have the right to affordable, healthy food.
Under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I believe that governments can only pass laws and regulations that restrict my common law rights and freedoms when the government has demonstrable proof that those restrictions are necessary and justifiable.
I believe my rights and freedoms are being violated by these (and other related) statutes and regulations administered by OMAFRA.
I therefore request to be supplied with the documented, objective, and substantial proof that the regulations and statutes (which I believe violate my rights) are sufficiently justifiable in this free and democratic country we call Canada.
If you are unwilling or unable to provide this clear and substantial evidence to justify this infringement of my individual rights, I can only conclude that these laws and regulations are unconstitutional, and are therefore void and unenforceable.
I wish to make my position on food safety absolutely clear. I believe that if anyone were to try to dupe people into buying and consuming uninspected meat, misleading them into believing it was wholesome and inspected, this can probably be (and should be) a justified infringement by governments on this bad and immoral behaviour.
If, however, someone wants to come to my farm gate to buy one of my meat birds that I have cared for and slaughtered myself, and I have given full disclosure to that prospective customer, and I have followed normal and safe farming practices, and I am liable for any negligence on my part in the raising, processing, and selling of this locally produced food, why are we (me as producer and any willing customers who give informed consent) not permitted to do so? As currently framed, these laws and regulations appear to be an un-justified, “nanny-state” interference in the lives of consenting adults.
With our large vegetable garden and our poultry, I now have food security for my family. Therefore my concern shifts to my community. How do you suggest I help my community so as to ensure a safe, affordable supply of locally grown food (in this case, including and especially related to poultry) be available on an on-going basis under your Ministry’s current web of oppressive and overly restrictive regulations?
What are you willing to do to simultaneously create greater freedom and better food security for Ontario’s people?
I look forward to your prompt and thorough response to my concerns and requests.
Glenn Black, P.Eng