Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen says he is appalled at the way the Northern Health Authority has been cracking down on events like farmers’ markets, community potlucks, and feasts.
People from all over the northwest have been calling his office about the issue, Mr. Cullen said.
“Folks are pretty mad in general,” he said. “It’s turning people off.”
The MP said he understands that it’s important to have safe food, but the health authority has not shown him any evidence that potluck dishes are a huge health hazard here.
Not only is the heavy-handed approach not necessary, it’s also bringing back unfortunate memories for some northern residents. Mr. Cullen said a few elders have been reminded of the days when government officials would shut down cultural celebrations like feasts and potlatches.
His own office has been affected by the crackdown, with staff members having to apply for food permits before he could hold community barbecues in Smithers, Terrace and Prince Rupert.
The Northern Health Authority falls under provincial jurisdiction, so there is a limit to what Mr. Cullen can do about it. He said he has alerted the MLAs in the northwest that this is a hot issue, and has discussed constituents’ complaints briefly with Northern Health officials, who he described as “not all that conciliatory”.
“It’s an allocation of resources issue,” he said, summing up his concerns. “If this is all they have to worry about at the Northern Health Authority, that is very disturbing to me.”
Meanwhile, Northern Health Authority director of communications Mark Karjaluoto gave us some information about the cost of applying for a food permit, after we asked.
For a group holding an event for less than 14 days, which would include community potlucks, the permit is generally free.
Mobile and catering permits are $75 a year, depending on the circumstances. If a mobile serves only one item on a menu, the permit costs $75. But if it serves more than one items, it is considered an “FE1” (under 50 seats) and the permit cost jumps to $150. FE2s (over 50 seats) are $250 a year for a year-round operation.
“Our recommendation is that people call their local environmental health officer on what may (or may not) apply to them in particular,” Mr. Karjaluoto wrote. “We’ll walk them through what they want to do, make some suggestions, and help them.”
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