Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Butchers Allan and Gerald vande Bruinhorst work on a beef carcass as part of their uncle’s business which allows farmers to circumvent the supply chain blockage caused by COVID-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants, in Picture Butte, Alta., on June 17, 2020.

TODD KOROL/Reuters

Slaughtering cattle is a solitary, but personal business for Gerrit vande Bruinhorst, 55, the mobile butcher of Picture Butte, Alta.

On this day, Mr. vande Bruinhorst, a .303 rifle in hand, arrives early at a customer’s ranch. He wears boots, coveralls and a rubber apron to catch any blood.

With one shot to the forehead, the 1,300-pound Black Angus steer goes straight down. Mr. vande Bruinhorst hauls it to his shop, where he will hang the carcass for 14 days before cutting it. His wife Dicky does the wrapping and the rancher returns to pick up the meat.

Story continues below advertisement

He kills one or two per day.

Dicky vande Bruinhorst wraps steaks from a beef carcass in Picture Butte, Alta., on June 17, 2020.

TODD KOROL/Reuters

“What I like best is I’m working from home, and yet I’m not always stuck at home,” said Mr. vande Bruinhorst, who immigrated to Canada from The Netherlands at age 18. “I travel all over the area. It’s just a pleasant way to make a living.”

Mr. vande Bruinhorst, one of Alberta’s 113 mobile butchers, earns about $500 per animal. Unlike slaughter in a plant, no inspector is present at his kills, on the condition that consumption of the meat is restricted to the farm household.

With coronavirus outbreaks slowing North America’s meat plants, and more consumers seeking to buy meat directly from farmers, Canadian and U.S. governments face pressure to expand animal slaughter for public consumption.

Yet opponents say restrictions on mobile butchers should stay tight, since slaughtering without inspectors present could create a health hazard.

In Alberta, where coronavirus infections this spring overwhelmed beef plants owned by Cargill Inc and JBS, the province is reviewing the rules for farm-gate meat sales.

Butchering also happens on U.S. farms. The number of mobile slaughter units authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which include inspectors, has nearly doubled in three years, to 16.

Story continues below advertisement

As consumers discovered sharply higher prices in retail coolers, Alberta rancher Allan Minor fielded more calls for his beef. But slaughter space was scarce in small abattoirs that became flooded with cattle as big plants slowed production.

Coronavirus infections this spring overwhelmed beef plants owned by Cargill Inc and JBS in Alberta.

TODD KOROL/Reuters

“You’ve got cattle ready to go right now and customers willing to buy it, but your hands are tied,” he said. “If the mobile butchers could come to your ranch, and it would be legal to sell the meat, that would help.”

Brent Dejong, a mobile butcher from Fort Macleod, Alta., said regulations should allow his customers to sell meat to the public, provided customers know it was not inspected.

“It’s buyer beware – just like buying a used car,” he said.

The use in the United States of federally inspected abattoirs on wheels should expand, but limited inspector numbers hold them back, said Patrick Robinette, owner of Micro Summit Processors, a North Carolina abattoir.

“With COVID, mobile slaughter is going to be an integral tool,” said Mr. Robinette. “It’s time to redesign how we’re getting food from the field to the plate.”

Story continues below advertisement

The North American Meat Institute, which represents packers, sees mobile units as a good option for some livestock producers, said Vice-President Sarah Little. But she said expanding the program would not significantly offset lost plant production.

U.S. regulations also allow “custom-exempt establishments”, including mobile butchers, to slaughter livestock without an inspector present, provided the meat is for consumption only of farmers, their households and workers, said a spokeswoman for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Some animal rights groups prefer more on-the-farm slaughter, which eliminates the stress of transportation to packing plants and of animals hearing the deaths of others, said Leah Garces, president of activist group Mercy for Animals.

Fast line speeds in plants can force workers to rush, and inflict additional animal suffering, she said.

‘ROADKILL’

Others say slaughter should only occur under the eyes of inspectors.

“The rules we abide by now are in place for a reason,” said Jim Johnson, owner of abattoir Alberta Prairie Meats. “There’s going to be someone who screws the system and sells roadkill or something.”

Story continues below advertisement

Alberta’s neighbouring provinces already have looser rules for uninspected livestock slaughter.

British Columbia said this month it would license more farmers and butchers to slaughter a limited number of animals for direct meat sales.

Saskatchewan allows the public sale of meat from animals slaughtered on farms, provided that the consumer knows the meat is not inspected.

Back in Picture Butte, a visitor asks Mr. vande Bruinhorst if he could slaughter a steer of his choosing from a nearby feedlot.

Buying its meat would be against Alberta’s rules, Mr. vande Bruinhorst told him.

“Customers really believe the meat tastes better if the animal hasn’t bounced around on the way to a strange facility,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

“They want to do it local.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies