Abattoir operators have been put on notice that regular shifts for provincial meat inspectors must not exceed seven hours a day unless authorized by the province.
“I am asking that all slaughter establishment operators adhere strictly to the scheduled inspection services, which do not exceed seven hours per day,” Gavin Last, executive director of the province’s Food Safety and Inspection Branch, wrote in a letter to all provincially licensed slaughter plants on February 25.
The letter came a week after the February 18 provincial budget, which slashed $2.3 million in funding from the agriculture science and policy budget. The funding improves “public health protection and consumer and retail confidence in the safety of British Columbia’s meat, seafood, and agrifood products through inspection.”
Last’s letter caught industry by surprise.
Nova Woodbury, executive director of the BC Association of Abattoirs, and the association’s president, Bonnie Windsor of Johnston Meats in Chilliwack, said the ministry didn’t consult industry on the directive.
However, the association has been able to work with the province to address key issues the new policy raised. One example is in the case of an equipment breakdown that requires inspectors to stay longer than planned.
“Overtime in an unforeseen situation at a plant will be allowed, as will planned overtime, including weekends and holidays during busy seasons, with prior permission,” notes Woodbury.
Windsor, assistant plant manager at Johnston’s, is relieved that she will have time to work with her 120 union staff on eight-hour shifts to reschedule plant flows. However, the letter indicates that overtime can’t be taken for granted.
“Last has made it clear that plants need to stop considering overtime as a given,” she says.
Abattoirs are still waiting for the province to release recommendations on changes intended to strengthen the industry, despite two consultations since 2018 and a report on slaughter capacity in the province by a committee of the legislature.