Working for Canadians: Meet Kelly Brown, CFIA meat import/export specialist
Kelly Brown is an import/export specialist at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), affectionately known as the "Meat Import Lady."
Brown is well-known for her expertise when it comes to meat – all kinds of meat. Her fingerprints are all over the original Chapter 10 of the meat hygiene manual of procedures, and it's no mystery why – she had a big hand in writing it.
The straight-shooting, no-nonsense, subject matter expert knows every letter of the law and the regulations. And she's lost count of how many CFIA meat inspectors she's explained them to. "It's got to be somewhere between five and six hundred inspectors who've met me in the training room over these past 15 years," she says.
Meat inspection was her destiny
Brown grew up in Kitchener, Ontario. She put herself through a university science program working summers at the same meat processing facility as her mother. Meat hygiene has defined her working life ever since.
It was 1989, and she fondly remembers her first job, and some very early mornings, with the CFIA.
"At precisely 6:27 a.m. chickens started to roll down that assembly line. I'd been out of bed since 4:30. A group of us car-pooled to the plant at 5:00. There were four of us all there in our 'whites' and ready to inspect those birds. They were coming at 96 a minute on each line."
Brown says the science has changed the way chickens are inspected today, but nothing has changed about her commitment to the health and safety of Canadians.
"It's an understatement to say I'm passionate about meat imports. When it comes to putting safe meat products on Canadians' dinner tables, you simply have to know the legislation and follow the rules."
Brown wants the inspectors she's training to know that industry is, for the most part, compliant with our regulations. She also knows her students are human and can only absorb so much information during the five days of meat school that are focused on imports.
So she has some good stories to tell, while emphasizing that her examples of non-compliance are the exception not the rule. "It makes it more interesting when you've got a story, a real-life situation," she says.
Brown has dozens of them, like one involving Peruvian guinea pigs. The meat, considered a delicacy in South America, cannot be imported legally into Canada. Brown tells a story about guinea pigs turning up in a Montreal cold storage facility.
Snakes from Texas that might be mistaken for sausage? Brown explains to her students that snakes are reptiles and therefore don't fall under our regulations as food from mammals.
And Brown is always consistent – whether she's working with an import broker, delivering a lecture to the School of Health Sciences at Humber College in Toronto, explaining regulations to a foreign consulate, or doing outreach with Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) customs agents at the Windsor, Ontario tunnel.
"I was with CBSA agents watching vehicles come across the U.S. border on a hot summer day. There was a white van, with no refrigeration unit," Brown recalls. "It came out of the tunnel and straight into the back parking lot of a nearby restaurant. They were delivering chicken."
Brown explains that private citizens are allowed to bring 20 kilograms of chicken across the border for their own consumption, but this meat was going directly onto a restaurant menu.
"It was a great illustration for the border patrol. It's not only guns and drugs that can kill people," Brown says.
"It's an understatement to say I'm passionate about meat imports," Brown says. "When it comes to putting safe meat products on Canadians' dinner tables, you simply have to know the legislation and follow the rules."
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