Fire destroys local abattoir, leaves farmers and customers scrambling

Crews work to clean up after a fire destroyed Quinn’s Meats in Yarker. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

The loss of Quinn’s Meats is devastating not only to the business’s owners but also to its customers. Small farms, families, and businesses have been left scrambling in the wake of the business’s destruction by fire on Thursday, Jun. 27, 2024.

Quinn’s Meats in Yarker was the last abattoir in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington region. It serviced many small farms that brought livestock such as pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, sheep, and goats to be slaughtered and processed for meat. The unexpected closure of the business has far-reaching consequences not only for farmers but for local food security.

Craig McLaughlin, president of the Beef Farmers of Ontario, said he was contacted almost immediately by concerned farmers as the fire happened: “I’m in Renfrew County, and the news spread quickly. I was getting reports — that’s the wonders of social media — and someone sent me the link. So I knew what was happening. “

The abattoir, he explained, “is important for those who do direct-to-consumer sales and farm gate sales and for those who are raising their own meat, just for their own families and their personal use. They need to [take] their animals somewhere so [they] can be inspected, harvested properly, cut and wrapped properly. It’s certainly going to leave a big hole [for the surrounding area].” The next closest abattoirs are in Prince Edward County and Hastings County.

In November 2020, Kingstonist spoke with Brian Quinn, the original owner of Quinn’s Meats, when he was looking to sell the business. At that time, he found it difficult to retire because fewer young people were entering the industry.

“The trade hasn’t passed down from generation to generation,” Quinn shared at that time. “Pretty much everybody here is in their 50s. No young kids are stepping up.”

During his career, Quinn said, he watched as abattoir after abattoir closed all around him. “When I started, there were six within 25 miles,” he said. Luckily, after 46 years in business, Quinn sold the business to Kara and Darold Enright of Enright Cattle Company in 2021 and retired.

One reason small abattoirs are disappearing is that modern producers in the region face the high costs of new technology that will bring facilities up to code or increase production, McLaughlin explained. He doesn’t know the Enrights personally, but he said, “The current owner that bought it from Brian Quinn, Kara Enright… I’ve seen her at industry events, and my understanding was that her family had put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into not only buying the property but adding to it.” 

Cattle enjoy the fresh hay at Cedarstone Acres. Photo by Janet Creasy.

An abattoir must constantly upgrade to meet product safety and security needs. Any meat or meat product sold or distributed in Ontario must be processed in one of three ways: at a provincially licensed meat plant under the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; at federally registered establishments under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency; or imported from federally approved sources. In Ontario, food safety is a shared responsibility, and all levels of government — federal, provincial, and municipal — have distinct but interconnecting roles.

Provincially licensed meat plants, like Quinn’s, must meet the requirements of the Food Safety and Quality Act, 2001 and Ontario Regulation 31/05 (Reg. 31/05).  O. Reg. 31/05 establishes requirements for:

  • Licensing of slaughter plants and freestanding meat plants. 
  • Meat plant facilities, equipment, and environment. 
  • Water used in plants. 
  • Meat plant operations and personnel. 
  • Handling and processing of meat products. 
  • Slaughter and inspection activities. 
  • Processing activities. 
  • Transportation and animal welfare. 
  • Provincial labelling.

Livestock and poultry farmers can sell their meat at the farm gate or local farmers’ markets only if it is processed at an inspected facility (federal or provincial). These sellers must also follow all federal and provincial mandatory labelling requirements.

Janet Creasy of Cedarstone Acres Farm explained that the increased pressures on local abattoirs have been observable.  When she first started farming in this area in the early 2000s, “you could call up Quinn’s, and often you could book [your animals to be slaughtered] within a few months, or even sometimes, if you were lucky, within a month.” 

However, as more small local processing plants closed down over the last 20 years, more people from further afield began to travel to Quinn’s. The last time she booked her animals there, she had to book 13 months in advance to have just four pigs slaughtered and processed.

“It is a huge impact,” Creasy said of Quinn’s fire. She gave multiple examples of local farmers she knows scrambling to book their animals elsewhere. However, it isn’t that simple in an already crowded slaughterhouse industry.

Furthermore, she said, some local farmers won’t be able to “truck their animals an hour or two away or find somebody who will truck their animals for them.”

Also, the farther animals must travel, the more stressful it can be for them. “One of the reasons I do the small operation that I do is I want to raise my animals as naturally and as humanely as possible,” Creasy explained. “And I really appreciated that 15- or 20-minute slow drive by my husband and me with our stock trailer. We took the animals to the abattoir, where we knew the people, we knew the butchers, and we knew [the animals] were treated well, right? There’s not very much stress when you’re loading your own animals into your trailer, and you take them out the night before so they can just calm in the barn, and the next morning, they’re gone properly.”

“It’s not my first choice to drive an hour down the road with animals in our stock trailer on [Highway] 401, but that’s what we’re doing now. That’s what we’re doing with our pigs.” 

“I’m afraid,”  she shared, “because the average age of small farmers and our small producers is older, that it’s going to be the end for some small farmers. I deliberately do not choose to send my animals to a sales barn. I deliberately don’t choose to put them on a trailer with, you know, 10 other cattle from somebody else’s farm. So it’s all got to be something we can manage, [in order] to maintain what we believe is the right way to handle what we produce.”

She emphasizes that the love and care she gives each animal, from birth to ultimate slaughter, is essential to the quality of the product, and is frankly more humane.

Pigs at Cedarstone Acres enjoy the special attention of their farmer. Jane Creasy believes the love and care she gives each animal, from birth to ultimate slaughter, is essential to the quality of the product, and is more humane. Photo by Janet Creasy.

The National Farmers Union of Ontario (NFU-O) encourages livestock producers to sell their products directly to customers or through other local channels “as part of a broader shift in Canadian agriculture from a blinding focus on ever-increasing exports of low-priced commodities to instead focus on producing for domestic consumption and improving farmer net income.” 

According to NFU-O’s website, local and regional food systems require more than just farmers willing to sell food. Local abattoirs provide an essential pathway for livestock producers who want to sell high-quality products within their communities. To facilitate the continued existence of such establishments, the NFU supports differentiated regulations, appropriate to differences due to the wide range of processing facility scale, from provincially regulated mobile abattoirs to large federally regulated slaughter plants.

Kim and Dave Perry run the Perry Maine-Anjou farm and the Food Less Travelled store in Verona, South Frontenac. Kim Perry spoke to Kingstonist, saying the fire at Quinn’s is a significant setback in maintaining an already deficient ability to keep livestock processing for local farmers. “Sadly, it takes a crisis before anyone understands or pays attention.”

Personally, the Perrys lost two pigs in the Quinn’s fire. That’s a few thousand dollars worth of meat, leaving them without the product their customers expect.

Perry stressed that she and others must be cautious even when discussing the issue of processing and abattoirs in the media. First, they don’t want to offend anyone for fear of being cut out of the already meagre capacity at the local level. Second, they don’t feel supported by local provincial and federal politicians, who “tell the public that they are trying, and they’re not trying. They’re not trying at all.”

She is frustrated that the food supply issues during the pandemic didn’t tip people off to how precarious the situation really is. “All it takes is for [our leaders] to say, ‘Wow, you know, our people don’t have food.’ I challenge anybody to be hungry for 48 hours; all of a sudden they would start crying, ‘What do you mean, we don’t have…?'” Once local meat is no longer able to be processed, only factory farms and foreign companies will have the capacity. “What will they do when we can only get products from Cargill and Brazil? You know, it’s just pathetic. It’s really discouraging.”

NFU-O also uses the pandemic as an example in a news release, saying it provided “the opportunity to realize the flaws in our food system and make the changes that will bring resilience and food security to Canadians… Now more than ever, one key area that needs to be addressed is the lack of provincially licensed abattoirs in Ontario. The situation is serious.”

“The number of abattoirs has fallen almost by half since 1995. This shortage is stalling the growth of local food production and regional food distribution. It increases travel time to abattoirs, which affects animal welfare and the farmers’ ability to earn a living,” said NFU-O Council member Hilary Moore. “Most, if not all of these small meat processing businesses are family-owned and operated, employing people from the local community,” she added.

Poultry in a small or medium farm enjoys a much better lifestyle than at a factory farm situation. Photo by Janet Creasy.

The NFU-O is asking the government for scale-appropriate regulations which encourage regional food production, processing, and distribution and recognizes the very important public health benefit of short traceable supply chains from farmer to abattoir to consumer. NFU-O President Don Ciparis said it is crucial that small and medium-scale processors receive more government support: “Expanding their capacity reduces reliance on international corporations, creates jobs, makes Canada’s livestock sector more resilient, and Canada’s food supply more secure.”

The benefits of local abattoirs extend far beyond just farmers, according to the National Farmers Union. In its 2021 national report, “Taking stock of abattoir regulations,” the NFU provides an example of Killarney Meats, a provincially inspected custom abattoir and meat processing facility for cattle, pigs, lambs, and wild game located in Killarney, Manitoba. Its primary customer base is direct marketers who sell their products in nearby larger centres such as Winnipeg. 

Much like Greater Napanee and the surrounding area, the municipality’s website indicates that agriculture is both an economic and cultural cornerstone and that “the town and surrounding rural area continue to prosper and grow as an agribusiness centre.” 

The graphic explores some of the many benefits for farmers, animals, community members, and the broader environment. Image from “Taking stock of abattoir regulations”.

In a bit of cruel irony, a local farmer, Cory Priest of Thorpe Farms attempted to bring a much needed cutting-edge abattoir to the region to cater to small- and medium-sized local farms. He signed an agreement of purchase with the Town of Greater Napanee for a building site and hoped to raise $2.5 to $3 million through an equity drive by the end of May 2022. Unfortunately, community equity failed for several reasons, according to Creasy: “The obvious one is farmers generally do not have extra cash (immediately) available.”

Next, she said, “ There’s still a lack of understanding of what local food and food security means and entails for the average consumer. It’s hard to relate if you don’t understand the ‘why’ and ‘what’ behind local farmers.”

“All levels of government talk of the value of local food and food security, but they need to put money into grants to start abattoir projects. Not loans, but grants. In my honest opinion, money is often given to big corporations and industry — think automobile industry, aerospace, etc. — but local food production is essential. We need to understand where food comes from, how far it travelled, and who handles it. Canada has high standards and safety guidelines, but not every country has comparable standards.”

“Remember,” Creasy stressed, “No farmers, no food, no future.”

This is a developing story.

3 thoughts on “Fire destroys local abattoir, leaves farmers and customers scrambling

  • Another example of Doug Ford and Justin Trudeau not listening to the needs of citizens, maybe instead of telling us what we need they should start paying attention!

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