For the life of me, I can’t understand how anyone expects the average Saskatchewan resident to understand our provincial meat inspection system, without doing a lot of research. It’s a labyrinth, but I’ll do my best to draw a map of the current system.
It’s a system Judy Ferguson, the recently retired provincial auditor, knows well, as the provincial auditor’s office started studying it and making recommendations in 2012.
As Judy noted, two different ministries are involved in provincial meat inspection. Saskatchewan Agriculture’s program is known as the Domestic Meat Inspection Program. It’s voluntary, and currently, 12 plants are part of this program.
The rest of the provincial plants are inspected by the Saskatchewan Health Authority. Any provincial plant that doesn’t opt into the Sask Ag program must be inspected by Sask Health.
Meat from provincially inspected plants in either stream can be sold legally through restaurants and retail in this province, but can’t be legally sold out of province or internationally. While researching this story, I was surprised to learn that the Health-inspected plants are allowed to sell into restaurants, retail and institutions. Most of the beef in my freezer was processed at a Health-inspected plant, but I always thought it could only be sold directly to consumers.
There are some key differences in inspections between the two ministries. The Sask Food Industry Development Centre, based in Saskatoon, provides inspectors for Sask Ag’s Domestic Meat Inspection Program. Merle Friesen runs Friesen’s Meat Processing at Warman, Sask, and is part of this program. Friesen’s Meat Processing slaughters livestock for local producers and those from other parts of the province. They also age, cut and wrap the meat, and make jerky, sausage, and other value-added items.
Merle, who answered my questions via email, doesn’t consider the Domestic Meat Inspection Program inspection onerous as long as the facility is clean and safe. It sounded relatively rigorous to me, similar to what Sarah Hunt described in Ontario. Here’s a summary of what an inspection at his plant looks like:
“Our inspector is here each time we slaughter. He comes and looks at all the livestock before we begin to make sure they are healthy. He makes sure the facility is clean and ready to start operation. During the slaughter process, the inspector inspects all the internal organs and related lymph nodes to ensure that the animal is free of sickness or disease, then the carcass is also inspected and approved for human consumption before it is moved to the cooler. We also receive inspection on things like labelling requirements, storage of supplies and ingredients, and temperatures of freezers and coolers, etc...”
Sask Health-inspected plants are currently inspected once a year unless there are complaints or issues that need follow-up. The Sask Health Authority inspectors focus on the facility, looking at overall cleanliness, food handling practices, construction, water quality, sewage disposal systems and temperature controls. They don’t inspect the animals before slaughter or the meat.
That, in a nutshell, is how Saskatchewan’s provincial meat inspection works. Next, I’ll dive into how the regulations have improved in recent years and what I see as the bottom line. Stay tuned.