Ontario beef industry struggling with major processing backlog
It’s been over two months since the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) suspended the license of a beef slaughter and processing plant in Ontario, and the shutdown is taking a toll on the eastern Canadian beef industry.
Toronto-based Ryding-Regency Meat Packers Ltd. saw the suspension of its Safe Food for Canadians license effective September 17, for what CFIA calls “non-compliances related to control measures.” As a result of the investigation, CFIA published food recall warnings in September and October for raw beef products from the plant due to the possibility of E.coli O157-H7 contamination.
“As industry we’ve been talking about trying to find ways to increase capacity for about a year now…and then this happened in September,” says Joe Hill, president of the Beef Farmers of Ontario.
Hill says the plant represents somewhere between 10 and 15 per cent of Ontario’s capacity, and the closure has created a major backlog in the fed cattle market in the province.
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“Markets have been depressed a little bit, to the rest of North America, and certainly compared to the West,” he says. “That’s been a disturbing trend over the last number of years, that we’ve seen the Ontario price lagging a little bit behind Western Canada, and historically, we’ve always had a little bit of a premium, given the fact that we’ve got a large market here, and a little bit of a lower supply.”
But more important than price, says Hill, is the issue of the backlog, with cattle that should have been processed up to two months ago, still in lots.
“We’ve been talking with the plant, CFIA, Ag Canada, everybody involved,” Hill says.
According to CFIA, Safe Food for Canadians licenses can be suspended for a few reasons, including: the failure to comply with regulations; the default of payment of any fee related to the license; and, a risk of injury to the public if the licensed activity continues.
As it’s an ongoing investigation, Hill says CFIA won’t comment.
“Specifics to me aren’t important,” he adds. “What’s important is that we get this plant open again — it’s capacity we need…and eastern Canadian beef industry needs that plant open.”
License suspensions are lifted when CFIA determines corrective actions have been taken. If none are taken within 90 days after suspension, licenses may be cancelled.
“I believe there is a way to get that plant operating and keep everybody satisfied, and keep safe, Ontario beef rolling through it,” says Hill, “and we just need to get that happening.”