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B.C. ranchers defend feeding wine to cattle Add to ...

Canada's federal food watchdog appears to have doubts about feeding B.C. red wine to beef cattle to improve the quality of their meat.

A litre a day in the final 90 days of a beef cow's life is business as usual for the cows of Janice Ravndahl, operator of Sezmu Meats of West Kelowna, which sells wine-tweaked cuts of beef throughout the Okanagan Valley.

The aged wine makes the cows happy. Ms. Ravndahl recalls cattle perking up at the sight of the aged wine was brought towards them after she first started experimenting with the idea a year ago at the family farm in Saskatchewan where she grew up.

"They really like it," Ms. Ravndahl said Tuesday.

She adds: "By no means are we getting the animals drunk. They weigh a thousand pounds. It's not a lot of alcohol for them."

And she argues that the beef makes customers happy. Wine-fed beef cattle yield redder cuts of beef that give off a more compelling beef smell.

"I opened up a package of ground beef the other day and for a few moments, it smelled like I opened up a bottle of wine," she said. "It does have a little bit of a wine smell to it, but it's not lingering."

The says the meat has a "slightly sweet" taste, she says. The fat off the wine-beef is tasty enough she says that she now targets the fat on her plate.

But the Canada Food Inspection Agency recently called. They were not happy.

"They haven't been very articulate in telling us why they're not happy," said Ms. Ravndahl. "They have said something about there being sediment in the wine they're not sure about, but my thought on that is if they're worried about sediment they're going to have to stop all the imports of any Chiantis or ports because that's usually a sign of a well-aged win."

Agency representatives backed off ordering her to stop, suggesting she would have to fill out some forms.

They have not called back since.

The Globe and Mail made a number of calls to the Ottawa-based media-relations department of the food-inspection agency on Tuesday. Officials said, early in the day, they were aware of the issue and expected to comment. By Tuesday afternoon, however, officials said it was doubtful they would have anything to say before the end of the day.

Ms. Ravndahl's cows are fed at Southern Plus Feedlots in Oliver.

"You can feed your animals anything you want. We leave the title of the cattle in (Southern Plus operator Bill Freding's name) until the end when I buy them off him and I sell them," she said, calling the maneuver an effective loophole.

"I don't feed them anything when they're mine because they go straight to the slaughterhouse."

She says she wants to get everything approved in order to be on "the up and up" with all relevant parties. "I don't think we're doing anything untoward or anything."

All of this is intriguing to John Church, cattle research chair at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. He is looking for provincial funding support to do some research into the wine-cow mix.

"It has not really been fairly evaluated," he said Tuesday.

Chemicals in wine could reduce methane belched by cows which is seen as a greenhouse gas, and also reduce e-coli in the animals.

He said he has tried some wine-tempered steaks. "To me, it seemed sweeter than other steaks I've had," he observed. He wants to do some taste testing to check this out in a scientific way.

Mr. Church says it's all a promising innovation.

"To me, it just seems like such a natural fit. We have some of the best wines in B.C. Let's use this resource we have here to produce the best beef in B.C."

He said he has only found one other similar effort, done in Australia.

But Ms. Ravndahl was inspired to all of this last year after seeing an episode of Gordon Ramsay's The F Word in which he fed some pigs beer. The carbonation associated with beer would not go down well with cows - "it's not good for their tummies" - so Ms. Ravndahl thought of wine.

At first, she tried it out with a few cows on the farm in Saskatchewan where she grew up.

"My brother was feeding them the wine, and they could see him when he would leave the house, and whenever they saw coming out with the pitchers they had wine in, they would go trotting over to where they knew they were being fed. They were quite excited to drink it."

They were fed the wine straight up, but now it is mixed with feed.

She is working out of her current home base in West Kelowna. The resulting wine-flavored beef is sold throughout the Okanagan Valley. To date, she says her operation have turned out 35 to 40 head of cattle, but she hopes to expand their output to supply the entire province.

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