The recently retired head of the Ontario Independent Meat Processors was recognized for more than 30 years of dedication to the province’s livestock and poultry sectors at the recent annual general meeting of the Veal Farmers of Ontario (VFO).
Why it matters: Only one federally inspected meat plant in Ontario currently slaughters veal, so the well-being of many veal farmers is tied to the well-being of OIMP – a lobby association made up largely of provincially inspected plants.
Laurie Nicol retired in June 2018 from the organization she first began working for in 1985, when it was called the Ontario Freezer Meat Association. During Nicol’s time there, the organization has also been called the Ontario Independent Meat Packers and Processors Society.
In announcing this year’s winner of VFO’s Board of Directors Award, the organization’s executive director Jennifer Haley recalled some of what she referred to as the struggles handled by Nicol during her tenure at OIMP.
These included dealing with regulatory changes on processors and negotiating terms during a work stoppage by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union during which meat inspectors were eventually not allowed to strike.
But Haley also highlighted some of OIMP’s successes, including efforts to build the recognition for provincially inspected meat plants to levels close to or equaling the status of federally inspected facilities.
“I feel honoured,” Nicol told the audience at the AGM, held on March 6 in Stratford.
Speaking to Farmtario following the award presentation, Nicol recalled starting as part of a staff complement of one and a half full time members. When she retired and was replaced by Franco Naccarato, there were five office staff.
When Nicol started her career in 1985, she said a major focus was “to put credibility into the idea of buying a side of beef and taking it home to your freezer.” But as she continued learning about the needs of members and eventually moved into the position of executive director in 1994, she recognized the overall mandate remained essentially unchanged: “advancing the industry; moving the industry forward.”
Nichol said the ongoing challenges over the years were similar to the challenges faced by livestock and poultry producers across the province including “rising energy costs, rising costs of labour, dealing with regulations related to the environment and to labour.”
“I know there’s always going to be the story of the disappearance of small family businesses, and that has happened,” she said. “But in any business, you’ve got to be able to adapt to changes if you’re going to succeed.”