Did the butcher rip you off?
When sending an animal to a processor, you need a butcher you can trust
By Wendy Beswick
ALEXANDRIA ó Anecdotal stories abound from farmers who suspect that the carcass or meat that they receive from the meat processor is not from the animal they shipped in. They wonder if it is possible that the tough steak they are fighting through came from that fat, young steer they sent in. Or is it possible that a 90-lb.lamb will return a 33-lb. carcass? (See on-farm slaughter story on page A13)
With no evidence except the carcass in front of him and the word of the butcher, it becomes a matter of trust.
"If a man wants to be crooked in that business then thatís a problem," said retired butcher Fern Richer, of Crysler. "Itís easy to switch meat. He just ruins it for everyone else then."
With over 35 years in the business, Richer has plenty of stories to tell. Like the slaughterhouse owner who sent the colour-blind hired man with red, yellow and blue paint to mark the animals as they came in. "Every cow in the place had blue marked on his butt," said Richer.
Honest mistakes due to poor processing procedures are possible, according to Cory Van Groningen of VG Meats, the 2012 Ontario Outstanding Young Farmer, and secretary/treasurer of the Ontario Independent Meat Processors (OIMP).
"This happens because there is no traceability in these incidences," he said. "It gets difficult because you are cutting off the head that is carrying the ear tag. You have to be up on your paperwork and up on your procedures. Itís the care you take and the procedure you make in order to keep all the IDs in the right spot so you are certain of your traceability."
While the majority of meat processors take great care to deliver customer satisfaction, OIMP has also heard complaints from farmers who suspect malicious switches.
"What we fear is that perhaps the custom slaughter price has not changed a lot (but) that it is possible that certain people are making decisions to switch steak or something like that," he said. "I do not have any fact or proof of that, but it is what we fear."
While it is a matter of trust that the proper carcass will return when the animal goes through the doors at the plant, there are indicators farmers can use to gauge carcass identification when it returns, Groningen says.
"Older beef animals will tend to be a darker red and younger animals will be a paler lean colour," he said.
Farmers should expect approximately 70 % dressed weight from a live hog, 60 % for beef, and 50 % for lamb, says the OIMP, using data from Pennsylvania State University Meat Science program. Those carcasses should then deliver 65 % boneless meat for hogs, 55 % boneless meat for beef, and 70 % for lamb. For example, farmers should expect 123 lb. of boneless meat from a 245 lb. live weight hog. A 1,312 lb. live weight beef animal should deliver 472 lb. of boneless beef, while a 127 lb. lamb on the hoof should give 50 lb. of meat.
With no mechanism in place at either the OIMP or government level, farmers have no recourse but to grumble amongst themselves if they suspect a problem.
"OMAFRAís regulatory role at provincially licensed slaughter plants is to protect animal welfare and maintain the safety of the meat going into the human food chain," said Susan Murray, senior communication advisor for OMAFRA in an e-mail response. "The meat regulations, under the Food Safety and Quality Act, donít address animal or carcass weight. If producers have questions about the meat they are receiving, they should speak directly with the plant operator."
"Farmers talk so much," said Richer. "Itís not long before word gets around about the guy who would have beef for sale, even though he didnít have any of his own. So, he would grab a quarter of yours and replace it with an old cow he picked up from a farmer on Sunday. But what goes around comes around. Heís not in business anymore."