Producers of artisanal food must be held to the same standards as large industrial operations, Manitoba's top veterinarian said in the wake of a raid on an award-winning Pilot Mound-area livestock farm.
On Wednesday, provincial agriculture inspectors seized approximately 160 kilograms of cured meat from Harborside Farms and fined owners Clinton and Pamela Cavers for selling food unfit for human consumption.
In May, agriculture officials lauded the prosciutto produced at the farm as Manitoba's best new food product and awarded the Cavers $10,000 to commercialize their charcuterie-production facility.
Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives initially declined comment. On Friday, acting chief veterinary officer Glen Duizer said he could not discuss the specifics of the case because of privacy concerns.
But Duizer said inspectors would not take action against any farm without cause. Inspectors would have evidence in hand before accusing a processor of selling food without a permit, he said.
"We don't attempt to penalize people right away without trying to work with them," said Duizer in a telephone interview from Steinbach. "If it comes to the point where we have to go out, seize a product and fine the (producer), there's probably been a fair bit of work and maybe even a couple of years of work trying to get the product to the public."
Harborside Farms, which has been producing charcuterie for five years, is in the process of attempting to get its product tested by a provincial food-development facility in Portage la Prairie. In June, inspectors visited the farm and ordered the Cavers to stop selling charcuterie after expressing concerns about the need for a separate drying room and instruments to monitor pH and moisture levels, among other issues.
On Wednesday, the inspectors seized ready-to-eat cured meats such as prosciutto but left behind products such as pancetta, which are commonly cooked first. Clinton Cavers said he resents the suggestion there is something unsanitary about his meat shop, noting there is no evidence there is anything unsafe about the product he was producing.
"They're trying to insinuate we have a dirty facility and trying to deflect the fact the food has never been tested," he said, explaining the Portage la Prairie facility did not have any baseline for testing artisanal charcuterie, a popular menu item in high-end restaurants.
Duizer said artisanal products must be held to the same production standards as those produced by industrial operations.
"It doesn't matter whether it's artisanal or not. It matters whether the basics are covered," he said.
"It doesn't matter whether it's charcuterie or steaks, it doesn't matter whether it's Maple Leaf or an artisanal product. You have to have the basics down."
Those basics include a safe processing facility, adequate sanitation, proper structures and design, the segregation of different types of products and controls and monitoring of specific processes, he said.
Artisanal producers across the continent, however, have complained regulatory regimes intended for major players do not work on a small scale and in some cases are not needed.
In southern Ontario, the epicentre of Canadian charcuterie, artisanal production facilities struggle to adapt to an ever-changing set of regulations intended for large factories, said leading Toronto charcuterie chef Grant van Gameren, who has his own line of cured meats, Crown Salumi, and owns a restaurant called Bar Isabel.
"The small artisanal people are constantly trying to play catch-up," he said in an interview from Toronto. "What's really driving this industry? All the big corporate curing and meat plants."
Back in Manitoba, Cavers vows not to give up. He said he received a call of support Friday from Manitoba's deputy minister of agriculture.
"I still want to work with the province to make this happen in a good, safe manner," he said.