Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Kudos to Cargill for showing Oprah how meat is made | barfblog

Kudos to Cargill for showing Oprah how meat is made | barfblog
 This barfblog posting really gets to the core of the question "do you know where your food comes from?". Barfblog.com is a food safety blog produced by Dr. Douglas Powell,  an associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University.  On his site, Dr.Powell is described as "passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey."  I think that the reference to hockey is code for being a Canadian, and Dr. Powell peppers his blog with many Canadian references (often in a humorous way).
Beef and lamb chilling at Sunterra

Lamb processed on Saturna - inspector on left
     The "do you know where your food comes from" trend was initially exciting for me.  As a meat producer with an education in agriculture and nutrition, I enjoy explaining how we raise our animals and process them.  Recently I visited a lamb feedlot and Sunterra meats in Alberta on a tour with other sheep producers.  Sunterra is a federally inspected plant that processes beef and sheep. It was quite a contrast in scale in comparison to our local slaughter facility on Saturna Island where animals aren't on an assembly line.  Both are similar in other ways - with CFIA inspectors and attention to food safety and a quality product.  The big Cargill plant in the Oprah segment was on another scale - perhaps the largest plant in the world.  It had an animal handling facility based on the design of Temple Grandin, an animal scientist with expertise and special skills in animal handling and animal welfare.
Our lambs are raised and finished on grass
Lambs finished in Alberta feedlot on barley
     Many of our customers ask about how our lambs are raised. We raise and finish our lambs on grass.  We are not organic, because the mild climate increases the incidence of parasites that affect sheep, and they need to be monitored and treated as needed.  Even so, over the years our flock has been selected for the conditions they are living in and the amount of treatments they need have reduced significantly.  The lambs we saw in Alberta were finished in feedlots on locally grown barley.  The lambs are outside in pens, with guardian dogs because of the coyotes. The feed costs are lower in Alberta, and the lambs were in good health and condition.  The young man who ran the feedlot with his dad was very proud of his operation, which finished 4000 lambs at a time.  This was like the feedlot in the Oprah show in the link above - the beef were grain fed in a feedlot, and the animals were in good shape. It really comes down to what you are used to, and what works for your own situation as a livestock producer.   We don't have coyotes in the Gulf Islands, so can leave them outside on the grass all year.  Feedlots are just not seen here, mostly because of the cost of feed, but also because of our climate.  Anyone who feeds groups of livestock provide shelter because our wet climate + lots of animals = mud.   Most people are critical of feedlots because it appears cruel to contain animals in an environment that is not natural or stimulating.  However, if people are going to eat meat and have it priced the way they expect (cheap) this is how most of it is produced.  Livestock are only in the feedlots for short periods of time - not their entire lives - and it is in the feedlot owners best interests to take the best possible care of the animals.  The one we visited had a very good handling facility, where animals are weighed and treated if necessary.
      Sometimes it is apparent that the abundance of negative information gives people some equally negative and sometimes wrong ideas about agriculture.  Thirty years ago the only two books I found on agriculture in a mainstream bookstore were "Merchants of Grain" by Dan Morgan and Three Farms: Making Milk, Meat, and Money from the American Soil by Mark Kramer.  The first book described the seven  families and five companies that control the world's food supplies, and although the book first appeared in 1979 little has changed.  The second book addressed the technological changes that influence modern agriculture and the people who farm.  These themes and players are still written about, thirty odd years later.  Now there are many books about farming and food written by many "experts", and the negative messages often are directed at farmers themselves, and the media jumps in to any hot topic and for the moment, the hot topic is food.  So the way I see it, instead of "let's find out how farmers produce our food"  this movement is saying " let us warn you about what the farmers are doing to our food"!!!!!  Yikes!!!   Well, we are in the thick of lambing - 36 lambs so far - and as I make sure each lamb is with his mom, and his mom is getting her share of the food, I am reminded that we are looking at another 100 ewes yet to lamb.  I have to do this twice a day, seven days a week, rain or shine or snow, whether I am sick or not.  I have to fix fences, harvest the hay, truck it and stack it in the barn, truck in feed, truck the finished lambs to market, sometimes truck lambs to be slaughtered, pick up the packaged lamb and deliver it, and keep predators away.  I have to keep medicines on hand to treat animals when they need it.  And always, I have to just watch them - observe how they behave, what are they trying to tell me? There is more to farming than meets the eye, and that is all part of knowing where your food comes from.  I don't think most people want to know all the details.  They may consider the welfare of the animals, but most put price, quality and safety as a priority.  Animal welfare?  Standards of animal care are an ongoing topic of study and discussion by farmers, animal scientists and veterinarians. If only animals could talk!!
     In an ideal world, people would eat less meat and pay more for it.  It would be healthier for us, and farmers could keep fewer animals which would be better for them and the animals, also.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Barb! I always learn something when I come here. As a cook, I appreciate all of the hard work that farmer's do -- especially when it comes to the care of animals.

    I prefer to eat meat from farmer's I know, and your lamb and turkeys are some of the best I've had. Theresa