Smithers resists E. coli problems

Since the XL recall, the Sausage Factory phone has been ringing off the hook with people asking for local beef.

B.C.’s new Agricultural Minister, Norm Letnick said he’s taking a look at meat regulations in the province and the possibility of making changes to better suit the growing desire for “closer-to-home” meat processing.

In light of the XL Foods recall, where thousands of E. Coli contaminated products were recalled, the province is preparing their meat regulations systems to assume all responsibility for meat inspection once the federal Canadian Food Inspection Agency pulls out of B.C. in 2014.

“Over the last several month the Agricultural Ministry has consulted with all the key stakeholders, including industry as to what we do once the federal government pulls out,” Letnick said.

After meeting with numerous experts on the subject, including agriculture delegates from other parties, Letnick felt the, “Food regulations in B.C. need a second look.”

“That’s what I’ve committed to do,” he said.

“To look at the meat inspection regulations in the province in light of CFIA leaving at the end of next year and see if there’s a way to, not only make sure people have safe, healthy food but also see if there’s a way to expand the number of farmers out there that are growing animals for meat.”

Since 2007 when strict regulations were implemented across the country from the Mad Cow outbreak, many cattle farmers simply closed up shop because of failing market prices.

However, because of a stable close-to-home trend that’s been building in the Bulkley Valley for almost 15 years, owner and operator of Smithers Sausage Factory, Fred Reitsma said the minister’s comments are no surprise. Noting people in the Bulkley Valley do have a desire to know where their food comes from.

“We’ve run the sausage factory since 1984 and definitely in the last 10-15 years there’s been a significant increase in buying local and to be more accountable,” he said.

“A customer can walk into the Sausage Factory, ask anyone on the floor, what’s in this product?, Where did it come from?, and we can give an explanation for our source,” Reitsma said.

Since the XL recall, Reitsma said the Sausage Factory phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting to know if Reitsma can supply them with local beef.

He said having the ability to go to the source and see how the animals are raised ensures a quality product. Knowing where and how that beef was grown, finished and slaughtered has become very important for a lot of consumers in the valley.

“You can hear and see the story behind your food chain,” Reitsma said.

“It’s more fun when producers can come in and say that’s my lamb or beef in the fridge.”

But if the provincial government is looking into making changes to meat regulations in B.C., possibly supplying subsidies to smaller or medium sized operations then the Northwest Premium Meat Co-op abattoir, just outside Smithers, has the most to gain from such a change.

“It’s really important that the abattoir keeps going because it’s a clean, inspected facility and that’s really where the province should be focusing on, fully funding provincial inspections, and it would help consumers to better obtain clean healthy food close to home,” abattoir manager, Manfred Wittwer said.

Since the XL Foods Wittwer said there definitely has been more people contacting the abattoir interested in knowing how and where their meat was inspected.

“Consumers have been interested in knowing if the meat was inspected locally rather than a big mega plant.”

“That trend is huge,” he said.

“We started with chickens this past year and it’s gone berserk.”

“So many producers want to get into chickens and offer more closer-to-home products to consumers.”

So much so that Wittwer is looking for more help in the abattoir to process animals.

“If there’s a desire in local areas to see closer-to-home processing then we’re definitely seeing it.”