Changes to Meat Regulation Released

Things looking a bit different?
Nope, you're not on the wrong site – we're updating our look and content! Keep your eyes peeled for more changes!

Author: Hillary Barter

Posted: December 23, 2013

Categories: Food Processing / Policy News / The Meat Press / Working Group News

red poll cow wiki commonsLast May, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) proposed a number of changes to Ontario’s Meat Regulations – that is, the rules that apply to businesses making things from meat.  For people who earn their livelihoods doing this sort of thing, this was a big deal!  After all, regulations like these — designed to make sure that only safe practices are used in meat processing plants — determine what kinds of practices and investments must be made in order to stay in business.

To see what people thought about their proposals, OMAF led a series of public consultations across the province. The goal was to clarify and simplify some of the parts of the most recent set of rules, Meat Regulation 31/05, which came into effect in 2005 and to reduce ‘regulatory burden’.  The consultations lasted several weeks and many people – from farmers to butchers and restaurant owners to abattoir operators and food policy folk – participated, including members of our Meat Working Group. We also hosted a meeting in Toronto where we discussed the proposals and compiled more comments on them (go here for more about the meetings or here to read the Letter of Recommendation that we submitted as an organization.)

The chance to discuss OMAF’s Meat Regulations was seen by many as a unique opportunity. In a highly-regulated business like meat processing, where the growth of harmful bacteria is what everybody wants to avoid at all costs, the question of what regulation looks like – down to the last, nitty-gritty detail – is very important.  Regulations sometimes lead to increased costs for plant operators and are sometimes viewed negatively if the impacts they have on food safety are unclear or difficult to gauge.  So the opportunity to provide feedback was welcomed by many.

Following a long period of review, the proposals have now been confirmed and were announced in the November 15th edition of the OMAFRA Connects newsletter. On January 1st 2014 they become law.

So, what was decided, you might ask?  Well, it looks like many of the proposed changes were accepted as-is, while others were adjusted or made more specific.

What happened?

The biggest changes relate to the ‘Freestanding Meat Plant’ designation, which applies to businesses that process meat and conduct activities that are risky enough to need OMAF looking in (such as smoking and curing meats).  In contrast, other meat processing businesses are regulated by Municipal Health authorities, which inspect mostly butcher shops that are doing less risky activities like simply cutting up meat into smaller parts.  Likewise, restaurants are regulated by Municipal authorities.

A major goal of the amendment process was to make sure only ‘the right businesses’ – not restaurants, bakeries or catering companies but only actual meat plants – were being considered ‘Freestanding Meat Plants’. The way things were working, too many other businesses were being drawn in because they either sold foods with some meat in them or had some small wholesale accounts.

3 Major Proposals

OMAF proposed three ways of addressing this issue: first, that businesses selling ‘food products’ (defined as less than 25% meat) needn’t be brought in. Second, that a meat processing business doing mostly retail sales (rather than entirely retail, as was the original rule) and only low-risk activities (cutting, not smoking) would be exempt. Third, that food service businesses (i.e. restaurants and caterers) also wouldn’t be subject to OMAF inspection, even if a small part of their business model involved meat processing.

These proposals were accepted with a few minor changes.  The wholesale rule, or “Small Volume Distribution Exemption,” states that if a business sells only up to 25% of its meat products via wholesale, and no more than 20,000 kg per year, it doesn’t need OMAF inspection. This was incorporated into the new regulations in pretty much the same form that it was proposed in.

The rule distinguishing food products from meat products was also accepted, with the addition of a few details.  These say that not only are products containing  less than 25% meat considered ‘food’ (not meat), but also pizza, sandwiches, edible oil or fat, and soup stock, no matter how much meat they contain, are also considered food products.  (So, selling sandwiches that contain, for instance, a big pile of corned beef (more than 25% meat) won’t in themselves be grounds for a business to be required to get OMAF inspection!)

The third proposed exemption, the “Food Service Exemption”, was also included in the final regulation. However, unlike in the original proposal, here they clearly define who would qualify as a ‘food service business’: those for whom at least 50% of their sales are meals for immediate consumption.  This rule is important because it means that even if a restaurant preforms some higher risk activities – such as smoking their own meat – they still won’t be regulated by OMAF.  This issue came up frequently during the consultations, since some meat plant operators find it unfair that restaurants can preform the same tasks as them but are subject to less stringent regulations.

Other changes…

Many of the other changes are technical.  For example, the requirement for a separate ‘inedible materials room’ was made more flexible.  Now, if you keep the ‘inedibles’ somewhere separate and dispose of them  before the next processing day, you don’t have to have an entirely separate room dedicated to their storage. (Seems reasonable!) Other changes relate to the rules surrounding the processing of pet food, and a number of other minor adjustments in wording. There were also a few very small changes made to the rules surrounding payment of fees.

What are people saying?

Reactions so far have been mixed – and relatively few in number, as far as we’ve seen. However, we didn’t realize the amendments had been finalized until relatively recently – maybe others have yet to notice as well.  In a recent article in ‘Better Farmer’ Laurie Nicol, Executive Director of the Ontario Independent Meat Processors, expressed support for the new rules, saying that they will “provide flexibility and reduce some regulatory burdens” because they’re “less prescriptive and more outcome-based.”  The Small Flock Poultry Farmers of Canada, on the other hand, have expressed disappointment (to say it lightly) over the nature of the amendments.

If you want to read through the changes yourself they’re listed here, as Meat Regulation  285/13.  You can also look through the bigger Meat Regulation 31/05 (the regulation that was altered) here – the changes have been highlighted in grey in the Table of Contents, which lets you go directly to the clauses that have been adjusted.

What do you think?  Did the review process bring more clarity to the regulations? Have the most-needed changes now been made?  Leave us a comment.