On Feb. 5 Norm’s Smokehouse owner Norman Weber pleaded guilty in the Minden provincial offences court to one count of interfering with detained meat products without authorization.
The offence which falls under the Ontario Food and Safety Quality Act resulted in a $875 fine for Weber according to a court bulletin issued by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs.
Weber who operates Norm’s Smokehouse on County Road 1 in Gelert was visited by an OMAFRA inspector on July 30 2015 for a routine inspection when it was determined the business operator had produced sausage that was not approved for inspection the release states.
“The product was placed under detention and Mr. Weber was advised not do anything further with it until authorized by an inspector” the release says. “On Aug. 6 Mr. Weber proceeded to smoke the product without authorization to do so. The inspector re-detained it on Aug. 7.”
Weber told the Minden Times he made a batch of salami which came down to five salamis (equalling 25 pounds) which was detained by the province at the end of July 2015.
“They said well we have to check your recipes” said Weber in regards to the explanation given on why the meat was detained.
The operator said he had submitted all his recipes back in April of last year.
“When they detained it it was halfway through the process” he said. “And the next step was to smoke it and cook it and I did everything by the book. Everything was documented.”
Weber said he was told that someone from OMAFRA would return the following Tuesday (Aug. 4) however no one showed up.
“My product needed to get finished and I went ahead and put it in the smoker” said Weber who adds that he called OMAFRA to tell them he was finishing the process since no one showed up.
“Because I did that without them releasing the product they said I broke detention” said Weber.
Manager of the regulatory compliance unit for OMAFRA Rodger Dunlop told the Times the inspector can not verify for certain that a date of Aug. 4 had been nailed down.
“The plan was that the ministry would be doing some assessment on the actual product and get back to him with a plan and by the time they got back to him he had already moved it” said Dunlop.
When a representative from OMAFRA did show up on Aug. 7 the salami was left in a cooler for two months following the fine said Weber.
He said the product ended up getting “moulded and destroyed.”
Weber says he was trying to comply with rigorous legislation set out by OMAFRA and that the case is a complex one.
“I pled guilty just because I didn’t want to fight with them anymore” he said. “It’s totally ridiculous the regulatory burden that’s involved with OMAFRA it’s just not economically feasible for a small operation like myself.”
Weber said since the incident he has relinquished his licence so he no longer has to deal with OMAFRA.
According to the release issued by the ministry smoking curing and dehydrating of meat are regulated activities and unless otherwise permitted require a licence under the Food Safety and Quality Act.
“Licensed meat plants are regularly inspected to ensure that processes required under the Act to minimize food safety risks are in place” it states.
In business since 2007 Norm’s Smokehouse sells a variety of food products including sausages bacon fish cheese and more.
Weber said the licence he fell under was called a “free standing meat plant” which allowed him to smoke cure and make ready-to-eat product.
“To be able to make that and sell it to the public you have to be a licensed facility and that entails being inspected by OMAFRA every two weeks” said Weber. “And it also requires reams and reams of paperwork.”
Weber said between the required paperwork and inspections he couldn’t take it anymore so he gave up his licence. He can still sell products but can no longer make many of them himself.
As a result he is buying meat products from other licensed facilities however non-meat products and custom work such as game meat is still done at his location.
When he first started his business it took him two years to get his licence following a rebuilding of his shop which cost him $20000 said Weber.
“This was the straw that broke the camel’s back this whole issue with the salami” said Weber. “For a lousy 25 pounds of salami they ran me through the ringer for six months … but is it worth my while to fight it?”
Weber says he does things properly and it’s more of a “conformity issue” that creates tension with OMAFRA. He says he knows a number of small meat producers who are packing it in because they can no longer deal with the “regulatory burden.”
Dunlop confirmed to the paper that this violation was the first one for Norm’s Smokehouse.
The case was heard by Justice of the Peace James E. Oates who determined Weber pay a $750 fine plus a $125 victim fine surcharge.
Weber said he took a reduced fine.
According to the news release from the ministry penalties for an individual convicted of a provincial offence under the act may include a fine of up to $25000 for a first conviction.