Julia Smith is lucky. Her pigs have a date with the butcher.

That was far from guaranteed, said the Merritt, B.C., rancher and president of the Small-Scale Meat Producers Association. B.C. abattoirs and butcher shops are in short supply, Smith explained, limiting the availability of local meat in the province — and recently announced changes to provincial abattoir laws might not do much.

“We have a serious lack of slaughter and cut-and-wrap capacity in this province,” she said.

“Abattoirs are cancelling bookings that were made months in advance because they’re slammed. The only reason I got my spot is because I booked a year in advance.”

B.C.’s abattoir regulations, as they stand, are complicated.

A and B licences are issued to larger, off-farm slaughterhouses, which must have a provincial meat inspector check each animal for disease or mistreatment before and after slaughter. There are no limits on the number of animals these abattoirs can process, and their products can be sold anywhere in the province.

D and E licences, in contrast, are issued for on-farm slaughter operations and allow farmers to slaughter a limited number of animals if they can prove a class A or B facility isn’t easily accessible. An inspector also doesn’t need to be on-farm for the slaughter at abattoirs operating on these licences — but they can only sell within the farm’s regional district.

British Columbians eat more than three times as much pork than is produced in the province. That's something Julia Smith hopes updates to provincial abattoir licensing rules could change. Photo by Willy Driesen

Most of B.C.’s 134,000 head of livestock and 330 million chickens are slaughtered in a facility licensed under these regulations (some animals are processed in federally inspected abattoirs, which means they can be sold across provincial borders).

Currently, class D and E licences are inspected by regional health authorities. The changes announced two weeks ago will transfer that responsibility to the agriculture ministry as of Dec. 1.

The change was one of several recommendations outlined in a 2018 report by the provincial select standing committee on agriculture, fish, and food on local meat production and inspection in B.C.

Julia Smith is lucky. Her pigs have a date with the #butcher. That wasn't guaranteed, explained the president of @Smallscalemeat. “We have a serious lack of slaughter capacity" #localfood #bcfood #bcpoli #localmeat

“British Columbians want high-quality and trusted meat products raised by B.C. ranchers and farmers, and this change will help us meet that demand,” said Agriculture Minister Lana Popham in a statement.

Smith isn’t sure.

“They haven’t changed anything except the oversight. But it opened the door and it’s our hope as an association that we will be able to expand on-farm slaughter,” she said.

Increasing the capacity for on-farm slaughters would ease the pressure on slaughterhouses and butcher shops, she explained, while helping farmers like her expand operations enough to remain financially viable.

As it stands, limits on the number of animals that can be slaughtered on-farm, combined with a severe backlog at class A and B abattoirs, mean that Smith and other small-scale farmers can’t get more animals because they wouldn’t have a place to slaughter and butcher them.

That’s especially frustrating because there is significant demand for local meat, she said.

British Columbians currently eat more meat than is produced in the province, notes the 2018 select standing committee report. For instance, in 2013, B.C. residents ate four and a half times more beef, three and three-quarters more pork, and twice as much lamb than the amount produced in the province.

“We bought our farm four years ago because we couldn’t keep up with demand and needed to expand our operation. Then we got here and found out we can’t expand our operations because I can’t get any more animals killed,” Smith said.

The provincial government is still consulting with abattoirs, ranchers, and local governments around expanding on-farm slaughter options.

It’s an expansion Michael Noullet, who owns Kawano Farms, a class A farm and abattoir in Prince George, B.C. that processes about 375 animals a month, hopes won’t happen.

“The whole (class) D and E expansion is a thorn in my side. I think they should be illegal because they aren’t inspected,” he said.

“There’s an inspector on site for every animal that’s killed here, and the D's and E’s don’t have that. There’s no oversight, so they shouldn’t be allowed to operate.”

That includes no strict requirements for on-farm butchering facilities, including refrigeration and running water, he said.

Smith disagreed, saying that on-farm slaughter reduces animals’ stress and exposure to pathogens — both of which are increased when livestock is transported to an abattoir. She does not butcher her pigs on-farm.

Slaughtering on-farm significantly reduces animals' stress and exposure to disease. That's good for both animals and consumers, who get cleaner meat, Julia Smith said. Photo by Tori Ball

“I did expansions to my shop when they said everything in B.C. is going to be inspected,” Noullet said, referencing a major overhaul of B.C.’s abattoir regulations in 2003 that required all meat sold to pass through a federally or provincially licensed slaughter facility.

Most other abattoirs in the region didn’t plan on expanding to meet the new criteria, so Noullet invested heavily to meet the new requirements for an A class licence to absorb their business. But it was business that never appeared — the day D and E (and, at the time, C) licences were announced, ranchers opted to slaughter on-farm and cancelled their orders.

“I had a massive cooler and massive freezer that sat here empty for years,” he said.

It’s only recently, as demand has increased, that he has seen his facility operating near full capacity. His only remaining limit to taking on more animals — and reducing the backlog limiting the growth of Smith’s business — is labour.

“If I could get more employees, I could do more animals and there wouldn’t be such a long waiting list,” he said. Increasing educational and training opportunities, such as apprenticeships, mentorship, and co-op opportunities, were among the recommendations for reform listed by the 2018 select standing committee report.

Labour shortages, abattoir pileups, changes to on-farm slaughtering rules — B.C. meat producers and abattoirs face issues that have been stewing for years, Smith and Noullet said. And the pandemic has made them bubble up into public consciousness.

“COVID didn’t change anything for small-scale producers except it shone a light on the problem,” Smith said. “When you’ve got a vulnerable system and you add stress to it ... the cracks are already there.”

Marc Fawcett-Atkinson/Local Journalism Initiative/Canada’s National Observer

How can this woman be smiling when she r apes animals into existence just to kill them? This is a sick and unsustainable and non resilient 'industry'. The future needs to be plant based for animal compassion, the environment and human health. We have to stop the acceptance of violence towards animals for a brief taste sensation. Time to evolve.

Euphemisms like "do" more animals (slaughter more animals) and "process" them (slaughter them) circumvent the often horrific scenes in slaughterhouses in Canada. What we have is a system in which sentient animals like ourselves (yes- we are mammals, too ) are bred and separated painfully early from their young whom they want instinctively to care for, as we do.
Very young male pigs and calves are "processed". Have any even seen the sky?
Does this matter to you, my reader? If not: why not?

I agree about the euphemisms and circumlocutions. Maybe each cut of meat should come with a sticker, describing how the bawling animal was hung upside down, its belly opened with a big saw, and finally its head cut off, while it smelled the blood and felt the fear in the others' voices, their muscles (meat) flooded with adrenaline and other fear hormones.
Or the chickens hung by their feet and scalded live in antibiotic solution ...
Sorry folks, if that put you off your dinner. But that's kinda' the reality of it.
Small scale farmers don't generally do it so inhumanely, and farm kids know what the score is from a very young age. I've known more than one vegetarian who got that way when the piglet or calf they'd named and raised and loved (people naturally bond by taking care of a living creature) ... and then it had to be butchered, and they just couldn't raise the forkful to their mouths.
We actually treat many human beings little better than factory-farmed animals, which at least get enough to eat that their bellies aren't empty.
That all said, plant-based diets are shown to reduce risk of many kinds of health problems, in fact to reverse some of them, they use less energy to produce, and don't divert plant crops from human consumption. Note, please that using corn and soy to produce fuel also diverts plant crops from the food supply available to feed people.

First, let me say that I haven't eaten meat for almost half a century now. I grew up in the country, and spent time on farms.
Then let me say that the concept of rape-by-syringe seems odd to me, especially as the animals seem to register no reaction at all ... very similar to the behaviour of, say, a female llama being ... unh ... made love and complacently chewing her cud while the male does his peremptory stint, literally walks on her as he walks away, and goes off looking for other females ...
Same, actually, for those who object to eating "sentient beings." The animal world is pretty much made up of predators and prey. Where is the outrage at pulling a carrot up by its roots, before it's had the chance to reproduce? Who's to say a carrot doesn't have the same "natural urges"?
I've no ideological problem with people who wish to do so eating meat. Maybe there should be a rule, though, that anyone who wants to eat it should be required to kill it. My guess is you'd see meat consumption going way down.
Then there's the matter of fish. Now salmon *do* mate, and stick with their mate. I watched film footage of a male salmon actually going up on shore, risking his own life, to push his exhausted mate near the end of her journey, who'd been caught in shallows with no water to breathe. And yet, most people don't have the same visceral reaction toward fish as they do to mammals. Ditto for fowl, but to a lesser extent.
What about you know, eating the food -- say seaweed -- that "Nature" uses to feed marine animal species?
I've got a much bigger problem with animals being fed blood and manure of their own species, pelletized into feed along with chemicals like ractopamine (which puts muscle mass on young animals so fast they are ready to slaughter in half the time), preventative antibiotics (which have brought us antibiotic-resistant pathogens) and hormones (to increase milk production or vary fat content of meat animals to "improve quality), all of which passes into the meat and into the humans who eat it, and through waste products into the water table -- *and* the "organic" composted manure!!!
Farmers move to single-animal production, 24/7 indoors and big-machinery-big-chemical one-crop production because of economies of scale -- and because consumers buy the cheapest product: they'd rather have porkchops and bacon several times a week, chockful of chemicals, raised indoors and sometimes injured by terribly rough handling, than pay more for meat from animals raised they way they were in, say, the early 20th C, before antibiotics, chemical fertilizers, and machine-drawn equipment.
A plant based diet can be a wonderful thing: to the extent that it is free of chemical contamination, something virtually impossible to assure oneself of. Still, I'm totally onside with doing the best one can. And let me hasten to note that manufactured/processed "foods" made from "plant-based" manufacture stock is still processed food, and not at all part of a "plant-based" *diet*. Besides, look at the nutrient profiles, and you'll see that, among other things, B vitamin balance is *waaaay* out of whack ... important because oversupply of some B vitamins can create a functional deficiency of others.
In these days of Covid, with every seller adding 20-50% markups on food, I can't afford to eat as well as I should, and am thankful for the weeds in my yard. The way things worked out, I was "locked in" before the garden got off the ground, and so I've kept on top of the weeds to the point of not letting them go to seed, in the hopes next year can be a garden year again. In the meantime, I'm really glad for the edible weeds, and perennial or self-sowing herbs, my little saskatoon bush and the mulberry tree.
The raccoons were glad for the grapes, again, which they bite, take the sweet surface juice from, and spit out all over the deck, year after year. And my neighbours think I've gone Covid-crazy because I yell at them and sometimes swear ...