BY Jeff Carter
There’s growing interest in small to medium-sized abattoirs and meat-processing facilities, according to the executive director of Ontario Meat & Poultry. Franco Naccarato said the industry gained a bit of momentum over the past couple years, a phenomenon likely related to the COVID-19 pandemic and growing concerns about food security.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say we’ve turned a corner but there has been a lot of interest in the sector. There have been some new facilities built and new ownership of existing facilities.”
Naccarato pointed to a little business at Sudbury as one example. He said Local Jerky Plus began as little more than hobby about three years ago, quickly expanded and is now federally licensed to export product. Another example is the new generation of ownership stepping up at Peel Sausage at Drayton.
Ontario Meal & Poultry has been supporting the effort, working with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to help smooth the way for entrepreneurs interested in the sector. While food safety is of paramount importance, there have been past complaints that regulations have sometimes been geared for the large players – too much emphasis on prescriptive measures – putting the owners of small facilities at a disadvantage.
While more work is needed in this area, Naccarato said there has definitely been progress. “We have a great working relationship with OMAFRA and they’re responded greatly to our concerns.”
Another positive development has been the creation of the Centre for Meat Innovation and Technology at Guelph, a joint initiative between Ontario Meat & Poultry and the University of Guelph. While the university has had a focus on meat sciences, there’s been a need for practical training; there’s already been a short course held for sausage-making and expertise from Italy is being brought in for a salami-making course. The new centre will also provide training and act as an incubator to help build Ontario’s meat processing industry.
“Our study we did a couple years ago suggested we could basically double our provincial capacity. We’re targeting a billion dollars new infrastructure over the next 10 years,” Naccarato said.
Expansion in Ontario’s meat processing sector provides new marketing opportunities for farmers. For consumers, it supports food security, adding more truly-local options.
Concerning affordability, there can be less expensive options than what’s supplied by regional operations but Naccarato said it’s important to compare apples to apples, taking quality into consideration along with price. From that perspective, small and local players do compete and may even be the more affordable option.
I’ve seen this myself, having frequented a number of businesses here in the Municipality of Chatham-Kent that feature various meat products they produce for themselves or acquire from modestly-scaled suppliers. Certainly, if price is your only measure, there are less expensive options but price is only one measure of value and not always the most important.
Having more options to market meat and poultry from the farmgate also supports the farming community, adding competition to what’s become a highly concentrated industry. It may even encourage more farmers to consider the advantages of having a livestock component to their businesses and expand the opportunities for alternatives to the industrialized protein industry, such as allowing for the expansion of grass-fed options and animals that fall outside the cookie-cutter requirements of the large processors.
Among the younger members of my family are vegans and vegetarians and I don’t dispute their choice. There is a rational argument for purely, plant-based diet, although that opinion often does not take into consideration the importance of livestock to building the sustainability of the food and agricultural system in terms of things nutrient-cycling, reducing fossil-fuel use and building soil carbon.
While there has been widespread criticism of the livestock industry —cow burps, intensive management and welfare come to mind — livestock also provide an opportunity to build more sustainable /regenerative farming systems. ◊