The massive and unprecedented recall of beef that emerged from a Brooks, Alta., processing plant should cause people to pause and think about the food chain, and how demands for low consumer prices may have a long-term effect that goes far beyond this recall.
The way that meat goes from farm to the table has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. There used to be many more slaughterhouses or killing plants than there are today. There were several in B.C., including what was once called Pacific Meats and later Intercontinental Packers, in south Vancouver. There were also many small slaughterhouses.
B.C. farmers and ranchers produce a large supply of cattle for the meat market each year. But for the most part, they are now shipped off to huge feed lots on the prairies for a final fattening up before being butchered. A few farmers and ranchers raise some cattle to full size and sell meat to customers or specialty butcher shops directly. In virtually all cases, this meat is more expensive—but it comes with the assurance that the final consumer knows just where the meat originated and how it has been handled.
Almost every large grocery retailer buys beef from a handful of huge plants, such as the Brooks facility. It has been estimated that up to 40 per cent of the beef sold in B.C. comes from that plant. That’s why the recall list is such a long one.
Grocery chains today have to offer low prices to get customers in the door, and meat prices are among the most closely-watched.
A push for low prices and efficiencies isn’t a bad thing, but it should never be at the expense of good health.
Hopefully, out of all this will come a demand by meat eaters for better information about the food they eat.