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Investigated by AARD re: Butchering At Home

02.28.11

I just got an interesting phone call. It was a very nice guy from Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development Regulatory Services Division investigating my home butchering practices. Apparently my home butchering has gained enough public attention to draw some question as to the legalities of what I’ve been doing? Interesting. I thought I’d share the content and outcome of the conversation as it is relevant to my advocacy for home butchering.

The big question it seems was whether or not I’m buying meat, and then reselling it butchered, which most folks reading my blog would know is not the case. There clearly are regulations for meat processing facilities when the product is for resale, and I don’t think anybody [or at least I didn't think anybody] is under the impression that I’m running a butcher/meat shop in my garage and am charging for my services. The good news for home butchering is that so long as it’s for your consumption, you’re allowed to go ahead and do it. Apparently I’m on side. No problems there.

But that led me to a question: my friends and I buy 3 pigs from a local farm, and I write the cheque to the farmer when I pick them up – when my friends pay me for their share/pig, is that then deemed to be me selling processed meat? We’re cutting it together, and folks leave with their share. I was assured that there was no problem with this practice, some common sense would apply, and that it would still be clear that I am not in the business of selling value-added meats. There is no problem with me getting together with friends to butcher.  Good. I would hope not, but was interested if having the friends actually pay the farmer themselves for their animal would be a better practice.  I was assured there was no problem with my existing approach.

I was then asked whether or not I was getting animals via going to the farm, harvesting them there, and bringing them home. As I usually mention in the posts about the butchering, we pick our animals up from a local meat processor, who do the kill/chill, have it inspected, and we take the carcasses from there. Totally legit practice. Carcasses need to be inspected – totally get that. I’m all for that. No butchering of uninspected domestic meats, check.

So the conclusion was that what I’ve been doing was fine according to the law of the land. I have the contact name and number of the nice guy doing his job that called to investigate my practices. If you live in Alberta and have any question about your home butchering practices, I’ll be happy to pass his name on to you so that we can be doing the best we can to be on side with any regulations around it. I know I’m glad I have his number in case I have questions myself.

I have to admit, I’m left wondering who led the provincial regulatory body to believe that I might need to be investigated. I asked twice, but didn’t really get an answer. Interesting.

Thoughts?

12 Responses

  1. Mary says:

    Hi Kevin,

    Wow that is v interesting. I would have thought that the inspectors would have their hands full with may of the other more pressing issues surrounding meat processing; insuring that halal butchers are not practicing animal cruelty in a regular basis, or the state of the provincially regulated abbatoirs, or the fact that several small farmer have difuculty finding an appropriate site to take care of their animal needs in a timely and on a local basis.
    Nevertheless it’s always good to know your local inspector. Stay the course Kevin!
    Best

    Mary

  2. Carissa says:

    Wow! This is very strange indeed, because you’ve been perfectly clear about your intentions, the process and the agreements between you, your friends and the farmers. I’d be interested to know what regulations exist around home butchering farm animals and bartering the cut meat… ((only vaguely… to lend my pleading ignorance some credibility;)))

    There is *absolutely* a need for regulations around the killing and butchering of animals, especially in any large scale abattoir or feedlot situation. At what point do the regulations cease to make sense though, such as with you? Where does autonomy fit in?

  3. I guess it is still a ‘small town’ and word gets around. I am in a truly small city in Sask and have to be very careful with – cooking classes and personal chef style cooking. Farmers markets are over regulated and they are pushing for more restrictions. Having said that, I bought pepperoni from a local non-commercial source and think I had a touch of something that led to a minor GI issue. So I am torn. I know my kitchen is cleaner than any restaurant in town but I have to fly under the radar. I asked the health dept about cooking classes in my home and they had no reg’s but wanted me to be in touch in case I needed a business license. So that leads me to wonder if it is all about the money? When a farmer cannot sell their products it is a sorry state.

  4. Mel says:

    Very interesting. I suppose you can look at this as a good indication that your blog has gained a great degree of publicity. I wonder if they actually read through your butchering posts very carefully, though – because as you said, it has always been completely obvious that your butchering was only for personal use. And I’m also very curious as to who tipped them off, if that’s indeed what happened – because that person also must not have read your stuff very carefully.

    At any rate, kudos to you for putting such a positive spin on the experience. Keep on butchering!

  5. bc says:

    You can’t kill and butcher your own pig? Folks here have been doing that since pigs were invented! It would be a loss if a government outlawed that practice. Hey, for all I know it is outlawed but France doesn’t enforce that rule for small farmers.

  6. Alan says:

    Great work Kevin.

    We have a group of friends who get together and make sausages, salamis and bacon and we all pitch in with the work and share the rewards. We call it ‘The Oder of Meat and Wine’ purely a forum to showcase both. We debated to open this up to a more public crowd but found that we would need commercial licenses and a commercially approved space to create our charcuterie. Needless to say we decide to keep it fun and just invite new people who haven’t had the opportunity to make these delicious items. The hand of the man can help you up or put you down. When it comes to food safety I see the need, absolutely, but most of it is about money and how they can generate funds from permit fees or taxes on finished products.

    I have been creating my plan for my wood oven. Your posts inspired me. I will share the progress as it goes along.

    Yummo!

    Alan

  7. What an uncomfortable phone call. Thank God everything you do is completely transparent, written about in detail with video taped evidence on your own site. Thank God again that you have the intellect and presence of mind to care about the law and abide by it. That is part of the charm of your site. The learning.
    But, I am also left wondering who would have alerted the inspector to call you because, clearly, someone did.
    Someone who has not read your posts. Someone who does not know how you do what you do.
    I appreciate knowing that our inspectors are doing their job, but I also know there are FAR too inspectors in this province to meet the provincial need. So, how did this become a priority?
    In any case, good. It is done, and the powers that be are satisfied that you are on the side of the law.
    Bravo.
    Valerie

  8. Brings to mind Joel Salatin’s book “Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal”. What alarms me about all of this is that they are investigating Kevin Kossowan’s garage instead of inspecting Maple Leaf Foods (or other large processing companies) more closely so that more people don’t get sick or die. It is the same thing as the raw milk debate. If I wish to choose to purchase raw milk or meat from somebody’s house that should be my choice. It just bothers me that people can smoke and use our health care system. People can skydive, skii, race cars, motorcycles and perform numerous other dangerous activities all the while using our medical resources, yet I can’t drink raw milk or buy meat from a trusted friend without being a criminal. Somebody please explain this in a way that I can understand.

  9. You wouldn’t believe the number of requests we have had from people who want to come out, buy a lamb from us, and slaughter it here in the yard. “But it is for our own use”, they say, and cannot understand why this isn’t legal here. It’d be legal for me, the farmer, to do that, but only if the animal has lived on this farm for a month and if meat is for our own consumption.

    I actually called my inspector to get the reasons, so I could explain when asked. It’s a safety thing: the meat inspectors at the abbatoir will check for disease in the carcass and confirm it is safe to eat – a sheep may have been sickly, but as a farmer, who kept the sheep here for at least the last 30 days, I would have known if it was well or not. If someone just shows up and takes the animal I point out – well, I could have given them a sick one that wasn’t safe to eat … and as amateur butchers, they would not necessarily check for all the signs of problems in the carcass. That’s the meat inspector’s job – which is why you picked up your whole carcasses at the abbatoir, with the stamp already on them saying “safe to eat”.

    This is, as I understand it, a fairly big issue in the local lamb and goat markets … the animals are fairly easy to transport and so people go to a farm, buy one, and take it home to slaughter in their backyard (also not legal, unless they keep the animal for a month).

    I’m very thankful to have a local butcher I like and trust (yay for Skinner’s Meats in Onoway!) as I’ve not the time or skill to do the meat cutting myself (and we *do* resell most of our meat). I’ve enjoyed your butchering posts though – some day, we may do some meat cutting of our own (probabaly hunted game).

  10. Karlynn says:

    Yeesh. Having two blogs for many years, I can put a little insight into it, not much ;)

    – On my parenting blog two years ago I was actually monitored because of terms on the site, we figured out, I had posted an article relating to Japanese Beer for Kids.(don’t ask) The wording triggered something, and I could see the same odd looking IP checking in on my site daily for a couple weeks, which when searched came back to a city’s police department. Said it there right on the IP info! Weird, but it happened. The internet is more heavily monitored then I care to think about some days, most of it good but not all. You could have words and terms that are monitored by the government, now isn’t that freaking creepy to think about.

    – There is always some one who disagrees with what you are doing and the web just lets the crazies come out of the woodwork.

    – Where there’s money to be made, the government wants a cut. You also are in the Edmonton Journal too, bringing an audience that perhaps wouldn’t have found you otherwise. Fame baby, makes everyone want a piece of you :)

    Another thought is perhaps it isn’t you, but a place you bought an animal from that is being investigated? People can ask a lot of questions to mask the 3 or 4 that they really want the information about, like where you got the meat and if you harvested the animal there.

    Well done on handling it, I am sure it was with more grace than I would have. I am not surprised at all, but now you are on good terms with your local inspector, not a bad thing at all!

  11. Thanks all for weighing in.

    Just to be clear, they didn’t send an inspector out to check out my garage or kitchen or anything – they called and asked a bunch of questions, and were apparently quickly satisfied that what I was doing was above board. I called them again this morning to ask some more questions of my own, and had a chance to chat more about the problems they run into. Sound like they get the odd guy operating a meat-cutting shop illegally, which they understandably need to look into. Glad I’m not that guy!

    This situation has made me extremely curious about what exactly the legalities surrounding meat handling at home actually are. Far from an expert myself, I’ve made some phone calls and am doing some homework and will report back when I’m a bit wiser about where the lines in the sand are that shouldn’t be toyed with, and offer some resources to allow folks to look into it if they have questions about compliance.

    Meat law. Not something I thought I’d be involved with when studying finance.

  12. [...] Yeah, don’t do that please. I’m addressing this topic to try to share some of what I’ve learned in the past week about butchering at home, and to have an open discussion about [...]

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