Mindful meat

Posted by on December 6, 2011 at 11:23 pm.

Next time you buy local beef from your butcher, be sure to get the name of the farmer who raised it.

And when you arrive at the grocery store to purchase a locally raised steak, don’t forget to ask your grocer which field the cow grazed in.

If the concept seems a bit silly to you, it shouldn’t, according to abattoir owner Ted Aman.

“It should be a good business practice to know where [meat] comes from, not just the location but the farm, and who farmed it,” says Aman of grocery stores and butcher shops. “It’s very deceiving because they’ll tell you that the meat was local, and a lot of times it isn’t true.”

Aman, who cuts meat for local farmers with local contracts, says that consumers of local foods should be aware that when meat is processed in Ontario it can be labelled as being made in Ontario, even if the animal itself never lived in Canada.

Be careful, too, how you define local. Aman’s Abattoir is provincially inspected, which means that the province has deemed the meat cut in his shop to be safe and proper, but does not have the capacity to cross provincial and federal borders; it must be sold within Ontario.

As a small-scale operation, this should not be a problem, but chain stores and restaurants refuse to buy meat from provincially inspected abattoirs and will only purchase from federally inspected plants.

“I don’t know really, why,” says Aman.“We could sell any product to any chain store in Ontario. They seem to be stuck on the fact that it needs to be federally inspected.”

There are two main problems with that attitude. First, federally inspected plants usually operate under the names of large corporations that take all control away from the farmer. Second, in Ontario, no federally inspected abattoir exists east of Toronto. Cattle grown in Milford might end up on a grocery shelf in Picton, but first it has to travel to Brampton to be slaughtered, packaged and stored, then travel back to the County, a 500- kilometre trip.

Aman has considered getting the federal certification, but the cost of investment would have to be justified. He would need enough local farmers to ensure enough varied contracts. He flips through a booklet a couple hundred pages in length—a checklist from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency—and cites one requirement that in itself would cost him thousands.

Some store owners are interested in supplying customers with local foods but are restricted by company policy. Sobey’s Store Manager Jamie Yeo has proven to be committed to local foods, focussing on stocking County cheese and produce as well as locally caught and farmed fish and seafood. But his local approach stops at beef. Sobey’s has a policy of buying federally inspected meat from Alberta, which is purchased in bulk and distributed to all Sobey’s stores in Ontario.

Yeo says consistency is the guideline for the policy— there just isn’t an operation in Ontario that’s big enough to supply every store in Ontario, and Sobey’s wants customers to expect consistent meat from one store to the next.

Although he wants to carry local meat,Yeo has to pick his battles. Eventually he hopes to persuade Sobey’s stakeholders to allow him to carry local meat. But it would be in a separate section marked local, and customers could choose to buy that meat instead of the usual supply, and understand that it may not always be consistent.

Aman doesn’t think consistency would be an issue for just supplying County chains.

“There’s a number of farmers in Prince Edward County that are raising excellent quality and consistent beef,” says Aman. “To get one farmer that could raise enough beef to supply a number of chain stores—it would be very difficult. But to supply one chain store, I think they could do it.”

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