It was standing room only in the fire hall in Central West River Tuesday as people from across the province joined to support Gordon Fraser who has recently been told by the Turkey Marketing Board he can no longer kill turkeys in his shop until he is properly certified.
“The county needs these little places,” Fraser said. “There is no reason why we can’t have them. We fought for these little slaughter houses ever since we started and by God this one isn’t going to shut.”
Fraser, the only person who has been butchering turkeys professionally in Pictou County, said two people from the Turkey Marketing Board came into his shop recently and told him he had to stop killing turkeys because of a complaint.
At the time, Lori Ansems, chair of the board of directors for the Turkey Marketing Board, said these rules have long been in place. She said they are more than willing to allow Fraser to operate his butcher shop if he gets certified with the province and then sends that proof to be registered with their board at no cost.
She said it is a matter of food safety. While there haven’t been any health complaints, she said unless the processing plant is certified, it’s impossible to verify the safety.
The two-hour meeting included comments from many people from across the province who lined up at the front of the room to support Fraser and offer their advice on how best to resolve the issue.
“You have to get the consumers on side,” said Doug White of River John. “You have to tell the province we want to buy small products and we want to get our food done, where we want to get it done.”
He and a few other speakers pointed out that the provincial government can grant an exemption that would overrule the marketing board’s policy and allow Fraser to continue processing turkeys.
“(Premier Stephen) McNeil can give an extension if he wants to,” he said. “I hope they listen to us. If not, we are not living in a place where government responds to the people.”
Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane said she had mentioned to Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell that an exemption could be granted, but he made it clear to her he would not be doing it because of safety concerns.
“I need you to fight with me to get a grace period,” she said. “It’s appalling it happened this time of year. The legislation needs to be changed. “
Betty Lou Scott of Mount Thom said he decision from the board came at a time when turkeys are ready to be processed and now some people have no alternative.
“We need to demand that Gordon be allowed to kill this year’s crop of turkeys,” she said. “The timing couldn’t be worse. When those birds need to be killed, they need to be killed.”
She said once this year’s turkeys are killed, people will be able to work with Fraser to find ways to grant him a more permanent exemption.
Many people expressed concern that this hardship on Fraser’s business is the start of many things to come in terms of the government getting rid of small business owners and hurting rural communities.
Others said they didn’t understand why the Turkey Marketing Board would allow people to butcher turkeys in their backyard, but not allow a professional like Fraser to do the work in his shop.
“Butchering turkeys is the grossest thing I have had to do in my life,” said Amber Dunn. “We can do the turkeys in our backyard where we swat away flies and hornets and you walk into Gordon’s place and there isn’t even a pebble on the floor.”
In the end, organizers of the meeting agreed that public pressure was the best way to keep fighting the issue for Fraser.
Bonnie Allan of Toney River said more than 2,300 names have been collected on a petition supporting Fraser that will be presented next week in the legislature by MacFarlane.
She is a regular customer of Fraser’s and said the turkeys she is currently growing will “be getting the pension before I do them.”
Allen said it’s just not Fraser who is impacted by this decision. Smaller farmers and children in 4H who grow turkeys as projects will also be hurt by this decision as will feed and farm supply companies because people will just stop growing the birds.
County councillor Robert Parker ended the evening’s discussions by saying that the pressure needs to continue and the province needs to step in soon.
“Gordon needs his operation grandfathered for as long as he is in business,” he said.
Parker pointed out that it would take Fraser at least a half-million dollars to certify his business and Fraser said if he did disobey the law, he could be fined up to $5,000.
“We need to demand to the government and politicians that we want to sit down with the Department of Agriculture,” he said. “There needs to be representation from the small backyard community.”
He also suggested the community send a message to the board and the government by boycotting turkeys this coming Thanksgiving.
“We need to send a message where the dollar goes,” he said. “Some big grocery stores in the county depend on the sale of turkeys and chicken and all of these products come from the turkey marketing board. Maybe it’s time we spoke loud and clear. Maybe the stores need to hear it. It’s time for a boycott of any turkey. That’s where we can speak the loudest, with our dollars.”
Names were taken at the meeting and organizers said they would be calling another public meeting to discuss the issue. Representatives from the Turkey Marketing Board were invited to this meeting, but county councillor David Parker noted they were not present.