Food Matters – Here’s the Beef!

beef1Canada’s beef industry is taking another black eye these days as recalls spread from the XL Foods processing plant in Alberta and more people are reported sick from e coli contained in beef products processed at that plant. Thursday on Food Matters, I doled out  some tips on how to find beef on Vancouver Island that has a much lower risk of e coli contamination.

So far (Oct. 10th) we have just had the one illness reported here on Vancouver Island linked to products originating at XL Foods in Alberta, which is not surprising as the BC Centre for Disease Control estimates about one-third of all the beef sold in BC comes from that one plant. I’ve seen supermarket refrigerator units with less space devoted to beef as they just haven’t had the same supply as usual. On the other hand, interest in other types of beef products is on the rise.

People still seem to want to eat beef, but they may be shying away from beef that comes from cows slaughtered in the huge processing plants, as well as cattle that are fed anything other than grass or hay. Feeds such as soy and corn actually contribute to a greater amount of e coli bacteria growing in the guts of cattle. If those cattle are not processed carefully, the bacteria can be spread from their fecal matter to beef products.

What are the advantages of grass-fed beef?  Lower incidences of e coli. Fewer calories by weight. More good fat, less bad fat, more beneficial Omega 3’s and CLA’s. For more facts about grass-fed animals check out this fact sheet on grass-finished beef. Even more facts from a pro-grass point of view here on the EatWild website.

I talked to a couple of ranchers to find out about their operations.

Tim and Laurice Mock at Windhorse Farm in Glenora. They are very small operators, just a few cattle or sold each year, but they are in the process of growing their herd. They sold their entire stock of frozen beef to one customer last week who was looking to replace beef they were taking back to Costco. CHEK-TV did a news story featuring Windhorse Farm, you can watch the video here.

Doug Wright of Lone Pine Farm on Denman Island. This is a larger operation, 85 to 95 head. Doug has been on the farm since the 1950’s, it was originally his father’s.  He trucks the cattle when they are ready on the Denman Island ferry to Gunter Brothers Meats in the Comox Valley for processing and is part of the Island Pastures Beef co-op.

About 3 years ago a group of small producers on Vancouver Island approached the BC Ministry of Agriculture with this idea of a co-op that would supply retailers with Island-raised, grass-fed beef. The Ministry went to the Country Grocer chain to see if they would be interested in being that retailer. They said yes. Dave Hubscher, the meat and seafood operations manager at Country Grocer told me the program has been successful, stores regularly sell out of Island Pastures Beef. And he’s been getting more inquiries lately; they’re in the process of getting more product from the farmers on a regular basis. That means Gunter Brothers is going to have to expand. There are other places on the Island to have cattle slaughtered and processed. Westholme Farms in Duncan is connected to the Cowichan Valley Meat Market. Mark Cardin and Alfred Braun are both small processors in the Duncan area. But some places have closed. Tim Mock says there was a more widespread supply when there were more abbatoirs.

Others ways to find local beef? Get to know your local farmer. Some farmers take freezers full of beef to farmers markets and sell individual cuts, or you can make arrangements to order full sides or quarters of beef. Make sure you have enough room in your freezer!

Natural Pastures, well-known for its organic cheese, also raises and sells certified organic beef. There’s an Island Meat Co-op on Facebook. Tim Mock tells me Share Organics is another place to source beef from his farm and others around the province.

Is it safe to say that the availability of local beef is on the rise?
Yes and no. It takes a while to increase herd when you are relying on calves that are born on Vancouver Island. Grass-fed cattle take longer to get to slaughter as they don’t put on the pounds as quickly as they would when being fed corn or soy.  The recent drought isn’t helping either, as it means the quality and supply of good grass is diminished. It will be interesting to see how local beef supplies are affected by all of these factors, especially once the XL Foods plant gets up and running again.

But if you know of a good supply of local beef and want to share it, please tell me about it in the comments section below. And if you want to listen to my chat with Jo-Ann Roberts on All Points West just click here for the audio file.

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11 Responses to Food Matters – Here’s the Beef!

  1. Rob Tryon says:

    Nesvog Meats in Nanaimo

  2. For Vancouver and Fraser Valley, Hopcott’s is wonderful.

  3. Maryanne Carmack says:

    My favorite local farm is Boughneath Farm: Meaning “beneath the boughs”. Boughneath Farm is a local family run farm since 1945, producing ethically raised, pasture fed, Peninsula beef. Offering a wonderful selection of beef cuts such as steaks, mince, roasts, chuck, organ meats and bones (which your pets will thank you for).

    You can find them at the Winter Farmers Market in Market Square starting in November on the 1st & 3rd Saturday of each month, 11-3.

  4. Michelle says:

    Brian and Pat Swan have Stonefield farm in Mill Bay and they raise grass fed beef & pork, they also do chickens and turkeys! Great people!
    Phone: 250-743-3861
    E-mail: email hidden; JavaScript is required

  5. Hey Don.

    Barrie Redl of Redl beef (near williams lake – a bit far), is wonderful. My wife and I love his beef, it honestly has to be tasted in order to understand what we mean.

    His wife Marge is lovely as well.

  6. Great information Don!

    For the record, the Vancouver Island cattlemen approached the BC Ministry of Agriculture (not Agriculture Canada) for assistance – I (formerly Food Industry Specialist with the Ministry)introduced Dave to the ranchers and I believe Jill Hatfield of the Ministry continues to help them out. I so glad to hear that Country Grocer continues with the program! (just wanted to clarify as I doubt people will get much help if they contact Agriculture Canada, these days might get a tiny bit of help from Ministry of Agriculture – not much there anymore)

    I now work as a private consultant, primarily for the BC Food Processors Association. One of my projects may be of interest – the Produce Preservation Program – We are providing train the trainer workshops teaching people how to teach others how to preserve fruits and vegetables. Focus has been on First Nations and Vulnerable populations.

    Loved your pumpkin/squash smashing tip yesterday!


    • Don Genova says:

      Thanks, Debra, I’ve made an adjustment to the text above. Sounds like your workshops would make a good show for me in the future!

  7. Jay says:

    I’ve been ordering my meat online from La Cense Beef for a long time. I’ve never had any problems with them. They only sell grass fed beef, which as you know is a lot healthier than grain fed. They make it real easy to buy beef online. Their new catalog has so many different cuts to choose from. You should check it out.

  8. Phil Carson says:

    Dear Mr. Genova,

    I’m trying to do some research on the economics of raising beef on Vancouver Island. I have some concerns that a recent trend in my area of acquiring expensive land and clearing it to produce cattle doesn’t make economic or ecological sense and may be a ruse for developers to convert forested land into housing developments.

    Our drinking water, our salmon, wildlife, soils, and the ecological integrity of an extremely endangered ecosystem (Coastal Douglas Fir) down to less than 1% is a black eye for Canada and British Columbia who are both signatories to the International Convention on Biological Diversity where allowing ecosystem to hover on the brink of extinction is in direct contravention to the international law and spirit of the convention. My area is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (Mt Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve) which is committed to special model sustainability practices. Converting these special forests rich in biological diversity to cattle ranches in todays world with a concern for our vanishing biological diversity and recognition of the contribution of healthy water, salmon, ….. to our collective well being seems a little beyond the pale. The corporations who are buying these lands are now operating outside the constraints of the forests practices that used to be mandated by the lands being included in the tree farm licenses. Now they seem to be treating us like so many serfs in feudal days denying us access to our rivers, lakes, forests, wildlife and the sources of our drinking water.

    I’m wondering if you have some insights into the economics of building a cattle operation from scratch in a forested region of Vancouver Island. Do you know if these companies are getting a carbon tax credit for encouragement.


    Phil Carson
    250 752-4469
    250 644-4312

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