VERNON - In August, a Lumby rancher described his worst nightmare as the closure of the North Okanagan’s sole certified organic abattoir. Less than two months later, it became reality.
In the eyes of Don Hladych, owner of Vale Farms in Lumby, the closure of Riverside Natural Meats Ltd. in Salmon Arm has pushed the already teetering resiliency of the North Okanagan livestock industry to the brink. The reason for Riverside’s closure is not known, and calls to the company were not returned.
“The closure has decimated the capacity for the North Okanagan,” Hladych says. “It’s going to drive more slaughter underground. Contravention of the rules is going to increase.”
As per contentious processing regulations imposed by the government in 2007, it’s against the law for farmers to slaughter their own animals. They must take them to licensed abattoirs, but the problem is they’re few and far between, Hladych says. Since the new laws went into effect, the number of livestock producers in the North Okanagan has dwindled from 1,200 to 300.
Vale Farms produces certified organic meat, but they lose that status if they can’t access a likewise certified abattoir. Now, Hladych says they’re trucking livestock to Chilliwack—the nearest certified organic slaughterhouse.
“It makes for a long day,” Hladych says. “The less you have to haul animals the better. It does increase the stress level on the cattle, which is always my number one concern. It also adds a lot of fuel costs, labour, extra shipping costs. We have to raise some of our prices to absorb that.”
He’s also concerned about being able to make the trek at all as stormy weather sets in this month on the Coquihalla.
A more reliable system for Hladych would be to slaughter his animals on site, but that would require a farm gate exempt status, something the government refuses to hand out.
David Miege, owner of Bastion Ranch, located in Tappen, has also been forced to make new arrangements due to the closure of Riverside. However, he produces a smaller volume of organic beef and was able to find a butcher closer to home.
“Valley Wide Meats in Enderby has stepped up and brought in extra workers to help the farmers in our area get their animals processed,” Miege says. “I just hope they can maintain this pace.”
Even if they can, and Miege has faith they will, the fact is the North Okanagan has been stripped of its last certified organic abattoir. Valley Wide Meats has signed an affidavit saying they will follow organic principals, but they’re not officially certified. Certified organic slaughterhouses must adhere to a variety of rules in place to prevent contamination with non-organic meat.
“I’m really happy Valley Wide Meats is there, but you never know what might happen... We don’t know why Riverside closed. There’s that edge of concern that we’re down to just one (place to bring their meat),” Miege says.
Security for farmers hinges on the availability of slaughterhouses, and as it becomes increasingly difficult to find local facilities, Hladych expects more producers will go out of business. But it’s not all bad news. While there’s not much movement on the government side, Hladych is noticing a promising trend: more and more people are finding Vale Farms and choosing to buy local meat. It’s that demand Hladych believes will be the driving force for political change.
“Until a customer stands up and refuses one thing and demands another, they’re forgoing their choice. If all the farmers in the North Okanagan banded together, it still wouldn’t be enough. It has to start with the consumers.”
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at email@example.com, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.