Sefi Amir, the owner of Lawrence and Boucherie Lawrence, took to her blog yesterday to decipher the morass that is the Quebec beef industry.
In "Québec Beef: The Long Hard Journey from Farm to Plate", Amir unravels a tangled regulatory system of abattoirs, small farms and commodity agriculture titans. It is, in every respect, a brilliant insider account that outlines the lunacy of a system where "we are raising cattle, shipping it away for processing, and then importing already processed meat from other provinces and countries to make up the gap between what we can slaughter and what we consume."
Not having any mega-abattoirs in our back yard is a point of pride for smaller-is-better advocates like me, but it is also the limiting factor to the province's ability to have any sovereignty in its beef production and consumption. Only 27% of the cattle raised in Québec stays in Québec. The rest is distributed as follows: 14% is slaughtered locally and then exported; 30-40% is sent to be slaughtered in Ontario (at Cargill); and 30-40% is sent to be slaughtered in the US (at the JBS in Pennsylvania).
Amir is at her most coherent and pointed when she addresses a plan by Quebec to decommission all B (or small-scale farm) abattoirs that do not convert to Provincial status - a significant and costly enterprise - by July 2015.
There is an opportunity to be seized here; this is a particular moment in time when the Quebec beef industry can decisively leave the path it has been following for [the] last 50 years and address pressing issues like redundant trade, unacceptable animal welfare standards and inefficient energy use in agriculture. Things that made sense at a time when growing bigger seemed empowering and progressive have now been shown to have countless downsides, hidden costs and long lasting negative impacts. Returning to an agricultural system dominated by small diversified farms and mom-and-pop abattoirs may not be a viable solution for the monster that is our food system, but there are ways to be modern and progressive, and at the same time respect rural communities, the animals they raise and the people they employ.