Loyal readers will recall that Manitoba’s government set up rather a bit of a Catch-22 for the Cavers, farm entrepreneurs producing charcuterie. While their cured meats were safe and produced following Italian standards, they were not following Manitoba regulations. Because there were no Manitoba regulations. And so the government confiscated all their produce despite having just given them an award for agricultural innovation.
Here’s the latest, from Manitoba agribusiness reporter Bill Redekop at the Winnipeg Free Press:
The case sent shock waves across rural Canada. The Cavers are trailblazers in on-farm food production and have mentored other farmers, speaking at agricultural seminars and workshops. Plus, they had just won the Great Manitoba Food Fight and $10,000 for their prosciutto, a cured meat aged and dried for up to a year,.
So when the province raided their farm, it was like Ben Johnson being caught with steroids. The Cavers’ livelihood depends on their reputation as ethical food producers. Their business concept is small, transparent food production, versus factory farms and multinational corporations. The $600 fines hardly mattered — their reputation did.
The Cavers had no intention of paying the fines. The court date was set for this October. The couple phoned the provincial government, trying to find out what evidence it had against them. They wondered if they were going to need a lawyer. That’s when they learned the province had dropped charges against them three months earlier, without telling them. The province told the Free Press a technical error was discovered on the tickets issued to the Cavers, which made them invalid.
It may be testament to what people think of the government that the raid didn’t hurt the Cavers’ business. In fact, business shot up.
The Cavers continue selling meat, but not charcuterie.
The Cavers still aren’t sure what they did wrong. Leading up to the raid, health inspectors regularly visited their meat-curing operation, they say.
The issue wasn’t that they made unsafe food–the cured meat the province seized and destroyed had never been tested. It was that the Cavers hadn’t documented each step as carefully as mass-produced foods, said Pam.
Examples she gave included the weight of the prosciutto prior to salting, the weight of the salt going into the prosciutto, the weight of the prosciutto before drying and the weight afterward. Instead, they only weighed the meat before and after the process. Nor did the Cavers know which pig each item came from.
Then in June, inspectors told the couple not to sell any cured meat. An inspector made a follow-up visit in July. Clint asked what they could do to make the charcuterie saleable and the inspector said he’d get back to them. Then came the raid in August. The Cavers insist they had complied with the province’s order and not sold any of the meat since June.
The story’s not yet over. The province is insisting that the Cavers add nitrates to their cured meats; the Cavers are rather sure they can produce safe products without it.