Let’s Blow our Own Horn about Canadian Beef

Almost 10 years ago, Canada got its global butt kicked when news broke about a lone case of BSE in Alberta.

 Naysayers everywhere – competitors and anti-corporate activists, among them — were lurking in the weeds, waiting for an opportunity to discredit our food system. The agriculture minister at the time, Lyle Vanclief, tried hard to get his U.S. counterpart to hear him out. But before they even spoke, the Americans closed their border to our beef.

As shallow, mean-spirited political moves go, it was unprecedented. It unjustly cast a dark cloud over our beef industry that some say has yet to lift.

So why now, when Canada emerges unscathed in the midst of global storm centred on adulterated beef in Europe, are we not screaming QUALITY LIVES HERE at the top of our lungs?

It’s unlikely someone else will sing our praises if we don’t do it ourselves.

I know. It’s not the Canadian way. And with the XL Foods problem that besieged the sector late last year, we still have lots of room to get our own house in order.

But in a globally competitive environment, when you have a win, say so. It’s unlikely someone else will sing our praises if we don’t do it ourselves.

And in this case, those praises are well deserved. The adulterated beef scandal, based on inspectors finding a beef burger from an Irish processing plant containing almost 30 per cent horsemeat, is capturing global attention.

It’s a low blow to not only the Irish beef sector, which had been making real gains in reputation for quality, but to the food industry everywhere. Reasonable questions are being asked by consumers, not the least of which is could this happen in my country too?

This time around, in Canada, the answer is no.

Acting independently, University of Guelph researchers tested several sources of Canadian hamburger meat, and found no adulteration. All the meat tested was 100 per cent beef. That’s worth more than a news release. The Canadian meat sector should be trumpeting this finding from coast to coast to coast.

 And Ottawa should be supporting the further development of the technology, called DNA barcoding, which give assurance statements teeth. We’re world leaders in this technology. Yet its developers are scrambling for money.

Traceability technology can’t make up for crooked processors. But it can certainly call them out. We need to support these efforts for the sake of the entire food industry – and feel confident telling the world our system, and our beef, is the best.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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