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COLUMNS: Do you have a beef with the local cattle industry?

I was talking to a restaurant owner the other day and he was wondering when our local cattle industry would be able to supply food outlets.

I was talking to a restaurant owner the other day and he was wondering when our local cattle industry would be able to supply the food outlets, particularly the restaurant sector, with a consistent quality product.

Travelers regularly ask about local beer and then about local menu items. Now, we are a cattle producing region in B.C. with one of highest beef populations.

Two of our biggest beef finishers send their live beef out of the region for killing and butchering because we don’t have sufficient abattoir capacity here in the Cariboo Chilcotin, with the recent shutdown of two small abattoirs.

A third producer, Pasture to Plate at Redstone, has its own state-of-the-art facility and sends its various meat products to its own retail outlet in Vancouver.

It is not possible to get more than few head processed at the plant in 100 Mile House.

Remember the government provided the capital for a permanent site for a mobile abattoir attached to the butcher shop.

We tried to get our 15-20 head which we marketed directly once; frozen in boxes into 100 Mile House, Prince George, Kamloops, and Barrier abattoirs but were unsuccessful.

Legally, to sell meat one has to have it processed by a government inspected and licensed facility. This is the “due diligent” thing to do.

You can process your own meat for your own consumption, but not for resale.

For most people who would finish beef, taking a few head at a time for over 100 miles starts to be prohibitively costly.

A shipment of 10 or so head might be possible but then once they are market ready they have to be picked up for delivery directly to consumers.

The problem also is having the “finish” or sufficient fat cover which keeps the carcass moist, tender and tasty on a regular basis.

It is much easier to have most of your animals ready in the fall just when everyone else does and when hunters want wild game processed.

So that is one of the major challenges: timing readiness to the processing capacity and the market opportunity.

What then are some of the key steps to a solution to opportunity to provide locals and traveler with a taste of the Cariboo Chilcotin.

Collaboration between producers, processors and market outlets is a must. Joint ventures which gather ready beef for co-operative transport might help. Scaling up in numbers for economies of scale also would help.

The BC Associations of Abattoirs has pursued the objective a totally “made in B.C.” beef (and lamb) product by developing an online market where chefs and meat outlets can order beef and producers can respond and make a sales deal.

It is call BCBEEFNET.

It is a complicated puzzle to get all the pieces in place. Previous attempts at collaborations have failed essentially because of a lack of entrepreneurial capacity and will. We need more, and leadership is one of the keys.

Good marketing and willingness to pay by the consumer is a necessity.

A slight premium to support local producers would go a long ways to make it possible for local and travelers alike to say proudly that they got the best beef ever at a restaurant.

It really bothers me that we can’t refer guests to a place in Williams Lake to get a local steak. Redstone is a long ways to go, but worth it.

Our pride should motivate us to consume “local” more!

A final note: come and support the completion by students of the first year of the TRU Applied Sustainable Ranching course at the Tourism Discovery Centre on Nov. 4, with Her Honour Judith Guichon attending. Local food will be served.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.