It all started in 2012 when I decided to come back to the farm to start direct marketing our pork and beef. Previously we had sold everything on contract to other distributors and only harvested and butchered meat for our families consumption on farm. This new direction for the farm required us to purchase a stock trailer and start hauling our own animals to an abattoir/butcher for processing for our growing customer base in Edmonton and Calgary. After spending two years transporting our pigs and cattle to an abattoir 1.5 hours several things became clear:
These observations forced us to look deeper into the effect of stress on livestock and meat quality and nutrition prior to and during slaughter. Backed with this science and our own first hand experience we knew that an on farm harvest was the only way we could ensure that all our animals could be harvested with zero stress and the respect they deserve which would in turn translate into the most nutrient dense meat possible.
There was only one problem: To harvest our animals on farm meant that the meat would be "uninspected" and the sale of uninspected meat is illegal in Alberta. However, thanks to the help of another farmer and some excellent raw milk cow share templates we found a loop hole in the Alberta Meat Inspection Act. Or at least we thought so.
You see, in Alberta it is perfectly legal for a producer to have any butcher come out to their land and have the butcher harvest any animal and take it back to his provincially inspected butcher shop for processing. So we thought, what if we turned out consumers into producers? What if we sold them live animals, rented them land, and contracted a butcher to harvest their animals on their land then take the meat back to his provincially inspected butcher shop for processing? Wouldn't they apply for the same exemption to the Meat Inspection Act as farmers? Here have a read our Herd Share Agreement and for yourself:
When we showed our customers the herd share agreement above they were thrilled. They immediately understood the merit behind on farm harvesting and all jumped on board. In fact, after running this model for 3 years and pitching the idea to hundreds of potential customers not one person has disagreed with its merit. With our open door policy, we even had numerous customers come out to the farm on harvest day to watch the process. One of our customers took the following pictures and said "after seeing the whole process I can honestly say I have no reservations about eating that meat.”
Does that cow in in the first picture above looked stressed? Not one bit. Thats because he didn't just get loaded into a trailer, driven down a highway and dropped of in a building he and never seen with people he had never smelled. The end result is no stress and meat that is noticeably better. In fact, in the 3 years of harvesting on farm we did not have a single complaint of a tough steak or off flavour of any kind. Something that happened frequently when we were transporting to an abattoir. And in terms of human health and a safety, what could be safer than harvesting an animal in the fresh air with full sunlight? This is all besides the point because if this process is safe enough for a farmers family under the eyes of the government to why couldn't a consenting consumer choose the same?
Now back to that black SUV and the Alberta Agriculture Investigator that was now standing in our yard holding a file folder stuffed with papers informing us that we were "in contravention of the Meat Inspection Act... an Offence liable to a fine of not more than $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than one year or to both fine and imprisonment." When we informed the investigator that our customers were in full knowledge of what we were doing and referenced our signed herd share agreements for each animal we had ever sold he commented that “if it were up to [him] what we were doing would be the norm.” But that he was "just doing [his] job enforcing a law that exists to protect the people”.
A week later we received a formal letter from the Inspection and Investigation Section of the Animal Health an Assurances Branch of Alberta Agriculture with the same message. Shut it down. Or face the consequences. We decided to shut it down. But we are not shutting up.
Since June we have been busy sharing our story with consumers, producers, processors and policy makers and the media. CBC recently interviewed me about our campaign for legalizing on farm harvesting in Alberta you can watch the video here (or below) and read their article here.
But we can't do this alone. If you care about animal welfare, human nutrition, local food, environmental sustainability or the financial sustainability of small farms we need you to get involved in our campaign to Legalize On Farm Harvest in Alberta.
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