Green Party Vegetarian Sells Illegal Free-Range Chicken At B.C. Legislature

VICTORIA - Green party leadership candidate challenged Premier Gordon Campbell's Liberal government to a game of chicken Thursday, selling an illegal bird on the steps of the legislature in defiance of a new provincial meat regulation.
calendar icon 5 October 2007
clock icon 4 minute read

Ben West said he staged an act of civil disobedience by selling what he said was an illegal free-range, organic chicken to a friend, who happened to be a meat-eating member of the Green party.

West, a vegetarian, sold the chicken for $20 to Hilde Alden to protest the new government regulation that makes it illegal for farmers to sell meat at the farm gate.

"I believe the price of this is about $20," West told Alden as he pulled a frozen, bagged chicken from a portable cooler he had with him. "Enjoy your chicken."

"This is really going to victimize your rural B.C. farmer who's been doing this the same way for years and years and years without any problem,"

Ben West

"Delicious," said Alden, adding she will eat the chicken for Thanksgiving dinner.

West said he had just committed an illegal act. But the only people who witnessed it were several reporters and a group of American tourists who couldn't resist cracking jokes about the best way to kill chickens.

"With the new meat inspection regulations in place it is not legal for this very safe and healthy chicken to be sold," said West. "We're doing this for the sake of highlighting that fact that these laws are unreasonable."

Under the government's meat inspection regulation, which became law on Sept. 30, West faced a maximum fine of $25,000 a day for a first-offence conviction. An individual with more than one conviction faces a fine of up to $50,000 a day and a maximum jail term of six months.

Corporations face maximum fines of $100,000 a day for first-time convictions and fines of $200,000 a day for multiple convictions.

The B.C. government introduced the meat inspection regulation to provide provincewide standards for inspection and processing of all animals slaughtered for sale.

The regulation, part of the Food Safety Act, is designed to foster public confidence in food safety and the food supply and protection of public health, said the Health Ministry. The regulation requires that all of the meat offered for sale is inspected to ensure it is safe, the ministry said.

West, who planned to give Health Minister George Abbott a 4,000-name petition opposing the meat regulation, said the law has the potential to put small farmers out of business.

"The regulation has been changed so that it makes it basically impossible for people to sell at the farm gate," he said.

"The sort of level of industrial equipment that's required (to slaughter animals) is so cost-prohibitive that your average rural farmer will not be able to actually slaughter their own meat on site and therefore farm gate sales will be impossible."

West said he expects thousands of small farms in British Columbia will go out of business due to the meat regulation.

"This is really going to victimize your rural B.C. farmer who's been doing this the same way for years and years and years without any problem," he said.

West said the regulation does not guarantee safe meat, because the majority of health risks from meat, mad cow disease and avian flu, are primarily associated with large-scale, factory-type farms, not small farms.

The B.C. government recently extended compliance deadlines for farmers by six months to help them adapt to the regulation. The government earlier offered a one-year extension and a $5 million transitional fund.

Opposition New Democratic Party Leader Carole James called on the government to postpone the regulation to allow for more time to consult with farmers.

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