I had a smart, sophisticated, highly informed woman, she’s my sister after all, seriously ask me the other day when spying cows, she knew what they were, while touring the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa if we’ll be eating ‘roadkill’ under a proposed change to Canada’s meat inspection rules.
Roadkill is the clever if totally inaccurate buzzword adopted by the NDP and spun by the national media to describe a modification that would permit animals slaughtered on-farm in certain situations to be processed for human consumption.
That currently isn’t the case. Only meat from animals killed in licensed facilities is deemed fit for the dinner table. Perfectly safe-to-eat animals that can’t be transported because they’re lame or so ornery they pose a risk to workers end up as deadstock rendered into pet food and other products at a much lower return to the farmer.
"No, Julie," I soothed. "We’ll be eating top quality meat even if the carcass arriving at the processing plant comes directly from the farm. The same safety guidelines will be enforced. I know you’re a national TV reporter but you shouldn’t believe everything the Opposition claims and that your colleagues put out as gospel."
I should have reminded her but forgot that, while Canada has perhaps the safest food delivery system in the world, accidents happen no matter how tight the controls, which have nothing to do with where an animal is slaughtered. I was thinking of the infamous Maple Leaf Foods listeria crisis of four years ago.
I’d like to say that Julie was thoroughly chastened but she wouldn’t be my sister if she was. I didn’t check, but she probably went back to the office and jumped on the roadkill bandwagon again. There’s a saying in the news business that isn’t totally exaggerated: Don’t let the facts stand in the way of a good story.
All this started a few weeks ago when Malcolm Allen, the NDP agriculture critic, went after the government on two related fronts.
"First, the Conservatives will let private inspectors monitor meat (for shame!) and now they’re essentially allowing roadkill-ready meat into the food supply," Allen stated, terrorizing old people, young children and CBC reporters.
"Even scarier is the fact we won’t know how long animals have been dead before processing... or even that the meat will be inspected at all."
Allen was quickly lambasted by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz who rightly called the statements "outrageous rhetoric". Also wading in was Tim O’Connor of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency who explained that cases would be rare when an animal is slaughtered on-farm and would always be under the supervision of a veterinarian to certify the euthanization method and make sure the meat is fit for human consumption.
The method would have to fall into line with humane treatment requirements and the Health of Animals Act; once the carcass was transferred to a processing plant in a specified time frame, it would be inspected again.
O’Connor noted the proposed amendment is still in the early stages and a decision to proceed must be posted in the Canada Gazette and go through public consultations. The role of private inspectors and veterinarians still isn’t fully defined, he added, pointing out that it’s a major hit to a small producer to lose most of the return on an animal because it gets injured.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association weighed into the debate by emphasizing that it’s better to dispatch an injured animal on-farm than to force it to undergo inhumane transport to a slaughterhouse. Diseased animals won’t somehow sneak into the food chain because of the provision, the CCA’s John Masswohl insisted.
Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett agreed the procedure would rarely be needed. On his own farm, Bonnett said he has 100-200 cattle around at any one time and, over 30 years, he would have turned to the proposed provision perhaps three times.
Hopefully, Julie, you can see that the meat producing and processing industry has this one under control despite the scary stories you’re hearing from the NDP and members of your own profession.
I hope, as my sister, you wouldn’t deny producers full income on an animal that’s perfectly safe for human consumption but had the misfortune of breaking a leg or resisting transport to a slaughter facility.
Don’t be afraid. The NDP bogeyman won’t get you!