Over the past month we have been hearing alot about the E.coli scare in Western Canada. Since I am a butcher’s daughter I hear many comments about what is happening in the industry.
Are we safe?
Is this a huge deal?
Who is to blame?
Where should we buy our meats?
and comments like:
Those slaughtering plants are just too large.
They kill hundreds of cattle a day.
I will be buying a lot more local meats now.
It’s sad that the small abbitoirs were so quick to vanish.
Since small abattoirs have such a small voice because so little of us are left, I thought I would speak out for the small slaughter houses across Ontario about this matter.
Your first questions: Why are there so few small abattoirs left in Ontario and even across Canada?
Running a small abattoir with today’s goverment standard is incredibly hard and frustrating. Starting one is next to impossible because of all the demands pressed by society and the government.
Meat can cause a huge health risk to buyers, which concerns the goverment. Canada’s has free health care, allowing Canadians to take whatever health care they need, leading to lots of taxpayer dollars. If people are getting sick from a meat product it is the government who has to put the tax dollars towards the health care. However, this is only a small bump in the road. The meat in Canada is inspected by goverment inspectors who allow the animals to be passed for human consumption. Abattoirs cannot slaughter animals without the inspector on site watching the acts of the butchers. This means that any animal passed into consumption is done by that of a goverment official. They are educated in the various problem areas of the beef, pork, lamb, etc. The inspectors in these many small plants cost the goverment alot of money every year. To help all these costs the goverment makes it extremely costly to open a provincially run,and even federally run, small abittoir. The book of rules is so large that everyone runs away because it will take FOREVER to make the investment back.
But WHY? What is the logic behind this?
With fewer, larger, federally inspected plants, it requires fewer inspectors than many smaller , local abbatoirs. Many of the meat processes can then be done by machines rather than actual people, so there are fewer workers to pay. Management costs are lower too, since there is only one management group to deal with if there is a problem. However, these changes create more of a gap between consumers and farmers.
But why do consumers buy from the large plants instead of the small ones?
In short, it’s cheaper! Since these large plants process such a large amount of product everyday they can have lower costs compared to the small abattoirs. Consumers begin to make it a regular purchase - buying something they know with a cheap price tag. Small abattoirs are normally quite expensive, but give you the fresh-off-the-farm meat instead of the I-have-no-idea-where-this-animal-came-from meat.
The large abattoirs were once small as well, but it was at a time when the goverment standards and cost of production were lower and more consistent. For my family’s plant things can change daily! I remember when I was younger; the rules for the drains changed, so my dad had to tear apart the whole plant to put in the new drains. Luckily our plant was doing well enough to pay for the costs. The scary thing is if we did not have the money to pay for the drains we would have lost everything because we would have been shut down. If you are just starting out and they change a rule, you must comply or leave the business, nothing more and nothing less.
One main question that everyone should know the answer to, What is E.coli? How does it make you sick?
If I was to explain this it would take all day so here are some great links that will tell you everything you need to know.
Overall, Escherichia coli is a species of bacteria that lives in the intestinal tract of warm blooded mammals. This means that is it transferred with fecal matter from any warm blooded animal. The problem with this is that it is everywhere! All of our fruits and veggies are covered with it, our meats, not to mention our pets and even YOU, but do not be alarmed. In small amounts E.Coli is basically harmless. Most strains of E.Coli cannot even make you sick, but there are a few which cause food recalls like the one we are discussing.
How did these strains of E.Coli evolve and why are we just hearing of them over the past ten years?
Since most – if not all- livestock is given various shots and treatment keeping them from getting sick – much like humans – the E.Coli bacteria are regularly brought face to face with their “treatment” this means that they can evolve over time and learn what they can do to get around this treatment. The evolution of the E.Coli brings them to be more harmful to their animal host. Since people’s sanitiary methods are much better than those of animals, the E.Coli become even more harmful to us, since our immune systems are not prepared to handle this change in bacteria. Now, something that used to be totally harmless can make us sick. In some cases, E.coli can even be deadly.
“If you would like a more scientific response to these questions please check out the links I have given above.”
The next question is, where did the E.Coli come from?
The ecoli was found in one of the meat plants tenderizer machines which pulverizes the meat so that it will stay more tender when cooked. How did it get onto the machine? It most likely was not on the machine, but on the meat that was put through it. Most meats have E.Coli on the outer layer which is exposed to oxygen. Many people do not realize that once that outer layer is ground or pushed into the centre of the meat the bacteria can then inhabit the inner portion of the meat. If this meat is not cooked enough, the bacteria can survive, and people get sick.
If E.Coli is in everything why did these people get sick now. Would cooking the meat not kill the bacteria?
The most sensible cause for the sicknesses by the recent E.Coli outbreak is that the tenderizer pushed the E.Coli into the centre of the meat and stayed there until it was cooked and eaten. This means the meat that was eaten was most likely beef. Beef is the only red meat that most people can handle eating raw through the middle without becoming incredibly sick. However, E.Coli is easily destroyed by heat. Likely, whoever had bought the meat did not cook it to the proper temperature all the way through. Tenderized meats and hamburger are especially dangerous because the outer layer of the meat is pushed/ground into the middle where the meat may not reach the correct temperature for a long enough period of time to kill bacteria.
Who is to blame?
The entire meat industry is to blame of course! Government, inspectors, butchers and consumers! We are not educating our buyers and buyers are not wanting to be educated enough about how to cook their meats. No matter how sanitary we are there will always be accidents. Being overly sanitary can also be harmful because our body’s immune system may not be able to handle any - even small amounts – of bacteria that may arise. With our sanitary methods bacteria are only going to get stronger. Our overly sanitary food industries are one reason why uncurable diseases arise, the bacteria will find a way to change and adapt to survive. Ten, even twenty years ago you never heard of the many sanitary things we do in the food industry’s today, but why? Because most of today’s society is so far away from the farm many young children never get the chance to see or touch a cow in real life. Some do not even know they are eating a cow when they have a hamburger! This is a HUGE problem! Farming needs to stay relevant in everyone’s mind. Those of us who are not in agricultural industries often forget (or never knew!) what happens with our food.
Let me know!!