Looking back to look forward

David Neufeld, Boisevainne, Manitoba

David Neufeld, Boisevainne, Manitoba

The drama surrounding the Cavers farm and their small scale processing business continues. I’ve been close to the Cavers following the inspection (better known as ‘the raid’) of their on-farm meat processing facility. We’ve formed a network of supporters to find a silver lining. Much damage has been done to the Cavers’ reputation and to the trust there was in the government’s benevolent hand. Many of us are concerned about the future of small-scale processing. We can’t just merrily move on. We feel more reflection is needed.

As citizens, we deserve to know why the food safety department of MAFRI acted in such an unreasonable way. Please remember that MAFRI has not said that the prosciutto (dried meat) was unsafe for human consumption. In fact, when the Cavers asked to take samples of the confiscated meat to be lab tested, they were first given permission and then the permission was removed.

A few troubling questions arise.

  1. Apparently, when the Cavers won the Best New Food prize at MAFRI’s Great Manitoba Food Fight, the Food Safety Department reacted saying that in the absence of provincial standards for the processing of prosciutto, the Cavers product should not have been a contender. The 19 Sept. article in the Western Producer editorial suggests one government department didn’t know what the other was doing. Or, could it be, they did know and the Cavers became pawns in a power struggle?
  2. We lobbied for a cooling off period, so that the confiscated meat would not be destroyed without a review. We were told the political arm of government has no authority over the food safety arm. Is the food inspection department a law unto themselves? Are they immune to pettiness, ego and misjudgement? Do we not elect our representatives, in part, to protect us against misuses of bureaucratic power? Why such a rush to destroy the confiscated meat? It’s a dried product and would easily have lasted through a review of the process.
  3. The Cavers asked repeatedly for clear standards. Between the prize being awarded and the confiscation, did MAFRI research prosciutto processing standards in other jurisdictions? When the Cavers asked for clarification of the confusing guidelines they were being given, the inspector actually told them it was largely up to him to decide what was acceptable. Does this sound reasonable?
  4. In his 26 Sept. Western Producer article, Ed White suggests small processors may not ‘get’ what it takes to provide safe food to their customers; that artisanal processes are less ‘sophisticated’ than industrial processing. Firstly, if we examined food-borne illness (E coli, listeria, etc.) caused by eating industrial food and compared our findings with statistics of illness and death caused by eating foods grown and prepared by neighbours – what would we find? This research should be possible and would help the discussion. Secondly, what Mr White (and MAFRI it seems) doesn’t ‘get’ is that customers are choosing nutrient-rich food over the denatured foods they feel cause illness over time – obesity, diabetes, allergies, etc. Our societal definition of food safety is changing; getting broader to include community development, wellness and the environment.

We all want the food we eat to be safe, diverse and healthy. We all want more farmers and new entrants growing a diversity of foods and making comfortable livings doing it. Will MAFRI review the Cavers situation? Will it in generous spirit facilitate the process of developing food safety standards that are appropriate for different scales of production? There’s huge potential. I appreciate your paper finding knowledgeable commentators on these developments.

Written by: David M. Neufeld – Turtle Mountain / Boissevain, Manitoba

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