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Editorial: Bringing home the beef

Cows at pasture in Ship Cove.
Cows at pasture in Ship Cove.

All that’s old is new again. Or is that, all that’s pork is beef again?

Tuesday, the provincial government asked for expressions of interest from farmers who would like to take part in a program to bring purebred beef cattle to the province.

“Bringing superior quality, purebred cattle to Newfoundland and Labrador will eventually allow producers to look within the local industry to acquire breeding stock and to produce quality beef without the additional high costs of transportation from outside the province,” the news release said, adding that it’s looking for applications to apply for a herd of five Hereford cattle.

We could use more locally raised meats and locally grown produce, and setting up breeding stock is a good first step — but while governments are good at first steps, it’s the later ones they often miss.

A report done by the Harris Centre in 2012 pointed out that there’s been plenty of talk about food security and the value that we could get from local food supplies. In 1991, the report said, there was the Report of the Task Force on Agrifoods, with a series of recommendations. A few of those recommendations were then included in Challenge and Change: A Strategic Economic Plan in 1992. But, the Harris Centre report notes, “none of the recommendations were ever implemented.”
What did happen is that the government decided in 1993 to close its pork abattoir division, leaving the province’s pork farmers — who had built up a disease-free herd that was well enough regarded outside the province to export breeding sows — out in the cold. We had a red meat industry — and then, we didn’t.

As the latest government seeks to enlarge cattle stock in the province, the old hurdles arise.

As the Harris report notes, while there’s potential for growth in the industry, “this production potential is being curbed by a severely limited access to the market. In order for meat products to be sold in large grocery store chains such as Sobeys or Dominion, the animal must be slaughtered in a federally licensed facility. Newfoundland and Labrador has no such facility, and without such a facility local producers are unable to provide their products in the national chain stores.”

Locally produced meats can find their way to customers, but the hurdles are large and carry additional costs that can’t always be successfully passed on to consumers — especially to consumers measuring product solely by their own bottom lines.

To be clear, setting up a beef herd can be looked at as a good first step — but there are many, many more steps to come, and governments often seem to lose their way (and often their energy and interest) as those steps become more expensive.

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