Province releases consultant’s report on Meat Inspection Branch

Internal reviews and improving communication with the provincially inspected meat slaughter facilities are two of the recommendations in a recently released report on the Alberta Meat Inspection Branch.

“I think probably one significant issue that stood out was the lack of what industry saw as common treatment,” said George Cuff, who was hired last year by Alberta Agriculture to conduct a review of the branch.

Industry officials also said they weren’t adequately consulted and there was a lack of communication between the regulator and industry about policies and procedures. They also complained that inspection practices weren’t consistent between inspectors.

Cuff makes 24 recommendations in his report, including one that urges the department to review its internal processes and clarify its rationale for conducting inspections. He also recommended harmonizing inspection activities and codes with Alberta Health and Wellness, which looks after meat shops with no kill floor and that the industry speak with a single “voice” when stating its concerns.

“I would be surprised if it wasn’t implemented almost in its totality,” said Cuff of his report. “I think overall the system works. I thought overall, the people in it we met and interviewed were for the most part quite keen to do the right thing and you don’t always find that in organizations.”

The head of the Meat Inspection Branch said there weren’t any big surprises in the issues raised by industry.

“It’s got to do with basically a regulated industry being concerned that they’re on the same page as the government that’s regulating them,” said Jake Kotowich, adding his staff will be making internal adjustments recommended in the report.

“What we’re looking at doing is really scrutinizing our processes and asking ourselves the tough questions about streamlining,” he said.

In general, industry complaints were more about communication than the regulations themselves, and the criticism was fair, he said.

“In the past, we haven’t done as good a job as we could,” said Kotowich. “We need to have better mechanisms for communicating and truly getting down to the nitty-gritty of the policy issues.”

The goal is to streamline processes without lowering food safety standards, he said.

He said his department has been talking to Alberta Health and Wellness about operational and regulatory harmonization of their inspections. The report said industry members expressed frustration at the different standards applied when one has a meat shop and a kill floor versus just a meat shop.

Reaction from stakeholders to the report and actions taken already has been positive, Kotowich said.

Bettina Schmucki, owner and operator of YB Quality Meats near Red Deer, said she’s pleased with the report, adding the biggest issue was communication between plants and inspectors.

“I’ve seen improvements already in the meat inspection branch in the last few months,” she said.

Perry Deering, of Deerview Meats near Medicine Hat, said he’s also participated in conference calls since the report was finished. He thought the move was positive.

“The door’s open,” Deering said.

The report is available on Alberta Agriculture’s website.

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