Odors could force the closure of the Sanimax plant in Montreal

Odors could force the closure of the Sanimax plant in Montreal

Sanimax may have to close its Rivière-des-Prairies plant if the city of Montreal implements stricter odor regulations, as it wishes. However, this opportunity, which would please the facilities’ neighbors, would destabilize Quebec’s entire food chain, which relies on the company to process what comes out of the slaughterhouses and recover the oils used by the restaurants.

“If we have to meet the requirements of the conversion in their current form, we have no other choice: We close the Montreal plant [qui emploie plus de 300 personnes] in 18 months,” says Martial Hamel.

Sanimax North America CEO confirms to Le Devoir that he has taken steps with the government to suspend adoption of a regulation passed by the Metropolitan Community of Montreal in June.

She proposes to further regulate rendering activities, ie the activities of collecting and processing animal by-products that come from slaughterhouses and that grocers and butchers don’t want. Among other things, the Montreal Metropolitan Community (CMM) wants to tighten the opening hours of Sanimax, owner of the only facility of its kind in Montreal, and force the company to comply with an odor threshold at all times. But this threshold is so low, believes Mr. Hamel, “that even the [restaurants] McDonald’s will have a hard time respecting that.”

The statute also gives the City of Montreal the power to revoke or suspend permits in the event of non-compliance. In addition, Sanimax has 18 months to build a garage to house the trucks that will unload their goods. “The garage is a solution that we had proposed [dès 2020], but we still haven’t received the zone changes that allow us to build. And the city withdrew [en août 2021] Discussions we had together,” he says.

In a letter sent to the Quebec government in mid-July, Sanimax described the actions of the CMM and Montreal as “disguised expropriation”. The criteria are unrealistic for a company in this industry, says Hamel.

The City of Montreal declined a request for an interview on the matter. In her written response, she says: “It is important to us that the citizens of Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles regain their quality of life as quickly as possible. »

It is clear that the coexistence between Sanimax and the residents of the neighborhood is difficult to say the least. In fact, the complaints have multiplied in recent years. A class action lawsuit was recently filed against the company in the Quebec Supreme Court to compel the Quebec multinational to take measures to reduce odors it describes as “nauseating” and “malodorous.”

Agrifood on alert

But while the impasse between Montreal and Sanimax lingers, it’s Quebec’s agri-food industry that is on the alert. A slowdown – or cessation – of operations at the multinational Montreal plant would have a significant impact on the entire sector, at a provincial level.

The Rivière-des-Prairies site alone collects and processes almost everything that comes from the slaughterhouses in Quebec. Five million chickens and 175,000 pigs are processed there every week. Used oils from gastronomy are added to the animal by-products. 25,000 trucks drive in and out of the site every year.

“Sanimax is an extremely important player in our production chain. We’re following very, very closely what’s happening on file,” said Richard Vigneau, spokesman for Olymel, the province’s largest processor. The same applies to Sollio – the former Coop fédérée – whose members “are both suppliers and customers of Sanimax”, explains Simon Baillargeon, v.-p. Business development and strategic advisor to the cooperative. In fact, breeders use the “animal and vegetable fat” that comes out of the factory as input for their animals’ feed.

Suddenly, if the factory slows down, a domino effect can be expected: the cost of inputs will increase, which will affect the price of what’s sold in grocery stores and butcher shops, he notes.

But alongside the economic and commercial issues, there are also issues related to public health: “Carcass disposal is an activity that is also hygienic. If we don’t collect the animals from the farm, they could be buried anywhere, in a farmer’s field or forest. And then it could get into the groundwater with the water flow. »

According to Dimitri Fraeyes, vice-president for innovation and economic affairs at the Conseil de la Transformationalimentaire du Québec, the issue goes well beyond just looking at the smells of a community: “We only have to think about the environment because what we see of these acts is there that there is a contradiction between a regulation on odors and another on the management of residues. »

Mr Fraeyes reminded that by 2020 municipalities should have diverted 100% of the organic matter produced on their territory from landfills. “They didn’t hit those targets, so it was pushed back. They now need to divert 70% by 2030. I wonder if the municipalities, including Montreal, will be able to meet their targets if they close the plants,” he says.

For its part, in the responses sent in writing to Le Devoir, the City of Montreal points out that Sanimax has never presented a “complete compliance plan”. She claims that the “technological solutions we want for Montrealers exist, are proven, and are being deployed elsewhere in the world.”

Asked about her refusal to resume talks last year following calls from the company and the Quebec Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ), she now says she is “very open to restarting talks with MAPAQ and Sanimax” to work towards developing a provincial-level government action plan aimed at reducing odors and ensuring a better quality of life for residents living near this type of facility.

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