On May 1, there was a meeting at the Thompson Rivers University campus in Williams Lake to scope out a feasibility and business plan for a B.C. Meat Centre of Excellence.
It was an open meeting for members of the steering committee, local consumers, ranchers and small farm producers, meat cutters, butcher shops, retail outlets, institutional food managers, would-be trainees in the meat industry, small abattoirs and potential investors in a local Cariboo abattoir.
The proposal, as it stands, would involve an abattoir, which would provide the opportunity for training of all kinds, with the probable exception of retail meat cutting, which is available at TRU in Kamloops.
In addition, the vision would include a meat science centre to examine issues in the production (raising) of meats, the harvesting (killing) and the processing of mostly wholesale product.
To make the local, regional and provincial supply of meats readily available here in the Cariboo on a secure basis, more infrastructure is necessary.
A Centre of Excellence would be designed to allow us to excel at this endeavour.
But why, you might ask? Can we not just go to the grocery store and buy our meat?
We certainly can, but it comes from a long way away and is subject to all the risks of the large-scale systems of finishing, slaughtering and processing.
At present, two of the four local meat processors are out of the business. Processing prices are climbing in part because of health regulations and also due to a shortage of skilled labour.
Now backyard and farmyard slaughter can provide small amounts of meat but they are not going to be government inspected as is the case from provincially inspected slaughter plants.
The B.C. government is currently reviewing the very small-scale farm-gate processing facilities.
In an age of convenience foods, further processing into products like sausages and shepherd’s pies, chicken pies, etc. is almost a necessity. These are opportunities that can be developed in a food-research facility.
I think food safe practices need to be observed, even at the farm level if we are to keep customers safe.
There is certainly room for entrepreneurs to supply more food locally. The advantage of that is in cases of emergency where supply from elsewhere becomes difficult, we can still get locally raised protein.
This is the point about locally raised protein. As far as I know, at this time, we can’t commercially raise soy beans and other sources of protein like quinoa. Some of us have tried. Even industrial hemp seed (which is high in protein) is problematic.
Moose and salmon, which have been staples for First Nations and others, are at populations below conservation levels.
That leaves us with traditional farming sources: beef, bison, sheep, goat, rabbit, poultry, maybe farmed fish – to mention a few local proteins.
Much of our Agricultural Land Reserve can produce meat products from grazing the grasses, forbs and shrubs.
If we want to be somewhat self sufficient as a region and as a province we have to develop the infrastructure and entrepreneurship for this meat industry.
David Zirnhelt is a rancher in the Cariboo and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus.