'It was disgusting': Nova Scotia meat plant pleads guilty to multiple violations
Warning: This story contains graphic images
Nearly 3½ tonnes of mouldy meat had to be thrown out at a Shubenacadie, N.S., plant after government inspectors found numerous deficiencies at the facility, including abundant mould growth on the ceilings, walls, compressors, shelves, doors, and seals in the coolers and freezers.
Last Thursday, Moxsom Meats Ltd. pleaded guilty in Shubenacadie provincial court to seven infractions under the Meat Inspection Act that stemmed from inspections in December 2017.
The owner, Jeffrey Moxsom, was fined $5,000, while the company, which previously had its licence suspended and is no longer in business, was fined $7,500.
"It was disgusting. The images that are now before the court depict a ramshackle operation that had fallen into disrepair and meat and meat products that were covered in some cases with an inch of mould," Crown prosecutor Brian Cox said in an interview.
Among the meat thrown out was a moose carcass that had been brought into the facility in November 2017. It had been harvested as part of an Indigenous treaty moose hunt, according to the agreed statement of facts.
The carcass was brought to the facility to be cut and wrapped for a program at the Millbrook First Nation that provides traditional meats to elders and people who can no longer hunt, such as individuals with disabilities. The moose became contaminated as a result of being brought to Moxsom Meats.
What inspectors found
Inspectors found deficiencies related to sanitation, product handling, contamination, maintenance and pest control. Details in the agreed statement of facts include:
- Two rat holes were located above the inspection table on the kill floor, and insufficient efforts were made to keep the plant free of mice, rats, flies and other vermin.
- A cutting board was stained with blood and meat product even after it was cleaned because the board was rough and improperly sanded.
- The wooden walls and ceilings in the cooler and on the kill floor weren't capable of being kept in sanitary condition because they weren't constructed of smooth material impervious to liquid.
- Smoked meat products were stored in direct contact with fresh meat, which resulted in the smoked products becoming contaminated.
- Some meat products were in direct contact with the floor in the cooler and the freezer.
"All of the meat and meat products found at Moxsom Meats Ltd. were unfit for human consumption and had they been consumed, would've presented a clear risk to the public," said Cox.
The company was a third-generation family business.
As part of the December 2017 inspections, investigators also discovered six firearms on the site, including a sawed-off shotgun and a Russian bolt-action rifle with a bayonet.
Because of a previous criminal conviction, Moxsom was under a lifetime ban from possessing any restricted or prohibited weapon or firearm for life, as well as a 10-year ban on any other firearm or ammunition.
At his court appearance last Thursday, Moxsom also pleaded guilty to weapons charges and was given a one-year conditional sentence. He faces nine months of house arrest and then must abide by a curfew for the final three months.
Few convictions under Meat Inspection Act
In Nova Scotia, the Environment Department became responsible for inspection, compliance and enforcement of the Meat Inspection Act on July 1, 2015, taking over responsibility from the Agriculture Department.
Since then, there have been two successful convictions relating to Meat Inspection Act offences, both of them this year, according to Environment Department spokesperson Lisa Jarrett.
Last year, Cox was hired specifically to prosecute cases related to environment and regulatory offences, which covers areas such as food safety, public health, meat inspection, and fisheries and aquaculture.
Agriculture Department spokesperson Chrissy Matheson told CBC News the number of convictions relating to Meat Inspection Act violations wasn't tracked when the department had that responsibility.
Cox said the Crown isn't aware of any case law in the province involving sentences imposed under the Meat Inspection Act and its regulations.
"There has been, I think, an educational approach taken with respect to the Meat Inspection Act and regulations in the past," he said. "Enforcement going forward is going to include, I'm sure, both an educational approach and more of an enforcement approach with respect to investigations and prosecutions."
Jarrett said inspectors are present every day an abattoir is slaughtering, while inspections relating to the building, sanitation and equipment are done one to four times a year.
She said there are 20 active slaughterhouses that fall under the province's supervision.