Michael Bland checks on some of his animals in a pasture in Wooddale In 2012. The animals were destined for local markets and have been a big success for people who want to support local agriculture. However, Bland says provincial regulations have become a grey area. — Photo by Sue Hickey/The Advertiser
Michael Bland knows his animals and his agriculture.
The retired veterinarian may be known for the superfruit in his orchards, seabuckthorn, but in central Newfoundland he’s also built a reputation for his organic, grass-fed beef.
However, he has concerns about provincial regulations in relation to his animals and the rules for slaughter when the animals are ready for harvest.
“I’ve had beef on this property since 1975,” he said. “When I retired from the animal hospital, we started developing a herd of cross-bred beef, a cross between Angus beef and Scottish Highland. There was never any intention to grain-feed them. They would survive on rough pasture and grass, trees and whatever else they could eat.”
His animals don’t get injections of growth hormones, or chemicals.
Organic beef is popular in the central region, but Bland said that it’s become tougher to have his cattle harvested.
“They brought in regulations to put through a slaughterhouse, or have it killed in a slaughterhouse,” he explained. “It could be killed at my facility and put through a slaughterhouse. If you wanted to sell to a retail market or a catering establishment you had to have an inspector present. The inspector was notified and an appointment made, the animals were killed but never has he been there. (At one time) he inspected the carcass, and it was sold to a catering establishment.”
But this year, Bland got a letter from the provincial food inspection office in Grand Falls-Windsor that they wanted a record of all the animals he had sold and killed, and who had the beef. However, that never occurred to him.
Now they are strictly applying the rules, and the rules are a bit ambiguous, he said.
“The grey area is in between. It has to go through an approved slaughterhouse. My slaughterhouse is in Bishop’s Falls, but it doesn’t say you can’t slaughter the animal outside the facility and take it into the facility. I can’t take a live animal. Because of time lapse over the years it’s approved but no longer licensed. I’m here with all these animals that are bred specifically for the organic market.”
He has been bringing animals for dressing to a facility in Comfort Cove.
If there’s any consolation, he may soon have another option. There is a new abattoir targeting red-meat harvest (sheep, goats, steers) scheduled to open in Wooddale as soon as the final inspection is completed.
Dr. Hugh Whitney is the province’s chief veterinary officer.
He said in this province, it is not a legal requirement that the animals be inspected.
“It’s recommended, because individual inspection is what the purchaser can rely on to make sure the animal is not diseased, that the animal was properly dressed out,” he said. “It removes the question of … self-regulation if you just do it yourself. We provide that service, but we consider it to be voluntary.”
The number of abattoirs in the province has been declining, but there is an increased interest in local production, Whitney said, which is good news.
“Many restaurants pride themselves on serving local foods. That’s why we’re here, and that’s why there is a system to assure that the food is safe,” he said.
“There are a number of concerns and regulations. You want to make sure the animals are humanely slaughtered, that the conditions of slaughter do not allow contamination of carcasses, because the cattle are covered in manure, and equipment has to be sterilized, these things are all done through regulations
“There is an increasing interest, and we’re all for it.”