Norman Weber of Norm’s Smokehouse in Gelert doesn’t mince words in speaking about the unfairness he sees in his recent conviction for operating a meat plant without a licence.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) put out a press release Feb. 27. They said investigators had also discovered that Weber had been supplying a local business with uninspected meat products. He’ll pay a total of $7,500 in fines after facing Minden Court Feb. 11.
“In September 2019, a Compliance and Advisory Officer and a local Health Inspector visited the store for a follow-up inspection and found that Mr. Weber had been producing several smoked and cured meat products without the required license to do so,” OMAFRA said.
They added it was his third conviction for offences under this regulation.
Weber told The Highlander in an interview he’d gotten out of the smoked meat business following his second conviction a couple of years ago. He said to make smoked meat, such as pepperettes, jerky, salami or sausages, plants require a category two meat license. He no longer had one.
However, he said he had not changed his website, which still advertised smoked meat, and customers had posted information on Facebook about his services.
At the end of last summer, before getting busy with wild game and fish, he said he took the opportunity to make some smoked meat for himself and his family.
He said he had a substantial amount in the shop when a compliance officer made a surprise visit Sept. 10.
“They find me with category two products in my cooler. Bam, Bob’s your uncle. How do I argue that?” He said he had no way of proving the smoked meats were for family so pleaded guilty for the sake of expediency.
He said his first conviction, which he calls the “salami caper,” in 2016, occurred after he was required to send his recipes to OMAFRA but did not hear back from them and went ahead and made five salamis.
Strike two came a couple of years after that. Weber takes full responsibility, saying, “stupid me, I was cheating a bit.” He said he had some pepperettes and jerky in his display cabinet when there was a surprise visit in 2018. He was fined $3,000 plus court costs.
Through it all, Weber maintains there has never been anything wrong with the actual meat, “always the issues were paperwork, bureaucracy, stuff like that.”
He said at one point, he had 12 different clipboards on the walls that had to be filled out on a daily basis. He added inspectors came every two weeks to check the “reams and reams of paperwork involved. Every step of every process you have to write down.” He said he got into trouble for things such as not having all the clipboards filled out, a little bit of light coming under the door or light bulbs not being strong enough in the cooler.
He estimates inspectors used to spend about $1,000 a day to come to Gelert to check up on him, and believes OMAFRA issued the press release about his conviction and fine to justify their existence.
Today, he still does wild game and fish but no longer sells meats. There’s a sign in his shop that says he’s been regulated out of existence.
However, OMAFRA said in the release thatOntario is a leader in food safety and meat inspection. They said the province’s Food Safety and Quality Act, 2001 and its regulations are part of Ontario’s food safety system and set high standards for the protection of consumers and the welfare of food animals.
Under penalties set out in the Act, an individual convicted of an offence is liable to a fine up to $25,000 for a first conviction, and $50,000 for subsequent convictions. Corporations may face fines up to $100,000 for first offences, and $200,000 for subsequent convictions.