Canada’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.