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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Natural Meat Company ceases operations

By Annie McLeod, Leader-PostApril 10, 2009

REGINA -- Natural Meat Company, which was running two controversial Natural Valley Farms facilities in southern Saskatchewan earlier this year, is no longer operating at the sites.

Natural Valley Farms, which owns a slaughter plant near Neudorf and a processing plant at Wolseley, went into receivership last September, and is currently shut down.

Clark Sullivan, the court-appointed receiver, said that at the time of receivership, Natural Valley Farms had a lease arrangement with Natural Meat Company, which was operating its facilities. He said once the lease expired on Feb. 10, it was not renewed or extended as the parties could not agree on acceptable arrangement terms.

“The tenant actually left at that point and the buildings and the operations are shut down,” said Sullivan. “Where we’re at right now is we’re continuing our efforts to try and find a buyer and new operator for the assets, as a going concern.”

He said there are some parties that have expressed interest, and hopefully a sale could be made later this spring or summer. The business plan under which the facilities would operate would then be up to the buyers.

Natural Valley Farms’ facilities gained national attention last summer after hidden-camera footage taken at the Neudorf slaughter facility raised questions around slaughtering horses. Sullivan said Natural Valley Farms started as a cattle slaughtering and processing business, but became involved in slaughtering and processing horses for exportation to the European Union. When Natural Valley concluded it couldn’t continue operations, it leased the operations to Natural Meat, a subsidiary of a European company, and one of its customers for horse meat.

Questions also came up regarding visits to the slaughter facility by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The agency previously said that past audits at the Natural Valley plant were “consistently good.” However, action has been taken more recently, while the facilities were under Natural Meat’s control.

Tim O’Connor, CFIA spokesperson, told the Leader-Post Thursday that the CFIA suspended Natural Meat’s operating licence in December 2008, due to food safety concerns.

“That was a temporary suspension of the licence pending corrective actions to bring the facility back into regulatory compliance,” he said, adding that he was unsure of the non-compliance issues, but that they dealt with food safety, rather than animal welfare.

“In mid-January, we temporarily re-instated their operating licence, and then by the end of January they made the decision to close the facility.”

With the recent closure of the Natural Valley facilities, which affected approximately 150 employees, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) has called for an audit of all horse slaughter operations throughout Canada by the CFIA.

“We fear that these problems could be endemic in the horse slaughter industry itself,” said Sinikka Crosland, executive director of the CHDC. “Ultimately, we don’t believe that in an assembly line situation like this, that there can be such a thing as the humane slaughter of a horse. They react quicker, they’re harder to stabalize in the kill-box ... so often the captive bolt gun would miss it’s mark.”

Crosland also said the public deserves to know the details surrounding the operating licence suspensions at the Natural Valley facilities, especially since food safety has been prevalent in recent news.

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