CRYSLER — Despite a boom in demand for meat processing in Ontario, many small abattoirs aren’t considering expansion and those that are aren’t convinced they can pull it off.
The National Farmers Union of Ontario reached out to all 110 provincially-licensed abattoirs and heard back from 33 of them. Twenty operators said they’d be interested in expanding their operations; the rest were older owners more interested in retirement, said Frontenac County beef farmer and NFU livestock committee chair Tim Dowling.
Of those interested in expanding, 55 per cent said that they didn’t think they could make it work because expansion costs are too high and 50 per cent said it would be too difficult to find trained staff. Even when it came to just running their current operations, finding good help was the biggest issue by far, with 81 per cent of abattoir owners saying they had difficulty finding staff.
It’s all put a crunch on capacity. The majority of abattoirs said they were booking more than six months out, and 15 per cent said they were booking at least a year in advance.
The NFU-O met with provincial ag minister Ernie Hardeman for a preliminary meeting last month to share the survey results and kick off a conversation, said Dowling. He said the government is working on the training side already, and that a dedicated funding program for abattoirs to expand would be useful.
Brian and Elisabeth Vandenburg, who reopened Desormeaux Meats at Crysler after taking it over last year, said they’d be considering expansion if they were younger. But they’re not, nor are many of the abattoir owners in the area. Tom Henderson of Tom Henderson Meats & Abattoir Inc. is in his 70s and has been trying to sell for years, Elisabeth Vandenburg said. He has a son in his 40s who works with him, but has no interest in taking over, a far from unusual story in the abattoir business. “The difficulty of owning and operating (an abattoir), the bureaucracy is unbelievable. Young people see that and don’t want in.”
Said Vandenburg: “I don’t want to sound negative. We’re doing really well, we’re really busy. But there is that white elephant about small abattoirs in Ontario. What is going to be the future for them? Are they going to survive? Will there be a younger generation to take them over?”
Food safety is important but regulations are onerous and it’s often unclear how some regulations affect it, Vandenburg said. When they bought Desormeaux Meats, the former owner, Jean-Guy, had to maintain one per cent ownership, she said, so that the operation could keep using his licence.
Inspectors can also be difficult to work with. She recalled when they decided to make pepperettes, small dried, smoked sausages that are a popular snack on the go. Rather than find a solution to problem, an inspector tossed their whole stock and dumped ink on it because their facility isn’t licensed to make products with nitrates, she said. Over 20 per cent of survey respondents said that “the differing expectations of the OMAFRA inspectors made it more difficult to operate their business.”
Dowling said minister Hardeman noted during their meeting that there had been reports of “confrontational relationships between inspectors and abattoirs,” but that “no abattoir should be going out of business because of a relationship with an inspector.”
Dowling added: “If we hear of anything like that we should contact the ministry.”