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New digital system tracks meat from rearing to retail

A butcher cleans up a side of beef at a Langley, B.C., butcher shop in this file photo.


B.C. meat producers and buyers will soon be able to trace beef, lamb, pork and bison digitally from farm to fork, offering consumers an intimate look at the life of their food.

The B.C. Ministry of Agriculture recently announced $63,250 in funding from its Buy Local program for slaughterhouses to expand a new tracking system. The funding will allow the system, which will be launched in January, to include lamb, pork and bison starting in March.

Ron Keely's Kam Lake View Meats, a family-run slaughterhouse in Kamloops, was one of four businesses in a pilot project for the system, an idea that originated from a collaboration with students at Thompson Rivers University.

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"People want to know what they're eating, where it came from and what it was fed," Mr. Keely said.

The system traces the animals with a radio-transmitting tag and number that accompanies them from the farm where they were raised to where they are sold. It carries information about where the animals were born, whether they were fed grass or grains, whether they were given growth hormones, and how they were slaughtered and processed.

The quality of the meat can be assessed and reported anywhere along the chain of production, including the chefs and butchers who serve it. All the information goes into a database that people can access by computer.

"It makes things so much more easy and so much more safe," Mr. Keely said, adding that he sells to niche markets that are "growing huge."

The provincial funds will also support the creation of a smartphone app to help consumers to find farms, stores and restaurants that sell meat raised, slaughtered and packaged in B.C.

Gillian Watt, project manager for the BC Association of Abattoirs, said people are changing how they buy meat.

"Consumers today want to know that the animal was raised humanely. In B.C., our animals are raised on smaller family ranches so they're not in these huge, huge feedlots," Ms. Watt said.

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She said she is frequently asked where consumers can buy local, which is especially difficult when it comes to B.C. beef.

Poultry and pigs in the province are slaughtered in federally inspected slaughterhouses. But beef inspection was changed to a provincial system years ago, and Ms. Watt said most large retailers will not carry B.C. beef unless it is federally inspected.

"It's going to take time, but if we can prove to [retailers] that we have our food safety systems in place, then they will be more apt to look at it."

The smart phone app will help.

For example, Ms. Watt said Choices Markets is the only large grocery chain that carries B.C. beef, but a lot of smaller retailers and farmers' markets sell it.

The Buy Local program was announced in 2012 and includes $2-million for B.C. food producers to promote their products. The government is aiming to expand the agrifoods sector to $14-billion a year by 2017. In 2012, the sector was at $11.7-billion a year.

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B.C. Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm said in a statement the economic contribution of B.C.'s beef industry is estimated at more than a half billion dollars annually.

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