Friday, December 19, 2008

Where's the beef? Not Europe

I buy beef from two local sources: from Al Bennett at Meacham and Benlock Farms (which has a booth at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market). I like their meat because it's raised with organic principles and tastes great.

So here's the issue: The European Union has banned beef from Canada and the U.S. because most of the cattle are fed growth hormones (i.e. steroids). The ban is based on fears the hormones are bad for our health. More specifically, that the hormones can affect the male reproductive system and contribute to the rates of colon, prostate and breast cancer.

The World Trade Organization ruled the ban is illegal because there is insufficient scientific evidence to back up the claim that growth hormones in cattle are harmful to people who eat the meat. The WTO ruled that Canada and the U.S. can retaliate against the E.U. by slapping tarrifs on imported foods such as Dijon mustard and Roquefort cheese. (Read more about it here.)

This ban affects Saskatchewan farmers, who produce about 30% of Canada's beef cattle. The U.S. and Canada argue the ban is not really about health, but about protecting the European cattle industry from competition. The Food and Drug Administration has set "accpetable daily intakes" for these hormones at which level it considers them safe for human consumption.

In a newspaper column, Kevin Hursh, a farmer who writes about agricultural issues, sides with Canadian farmers in this dispute but asks: "why can't we produce beef without hormones specifically for the European market?"

Personally, I'd rather not eat meat treated with growth hormones, even at "acceptable" levels. What about you?


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Crystal said...

amen. I'm not a cattle farmer myself, but I don't understand why growth hormones need to be used in the first place. I actually agree with the EU and would prefer natural, chemical-free food to the alternative. It may not be proven to have unhealthy side effects, but why take the chance?

Chris said...

There are so many issues to consider in regard to sustainable agriculture. So much of Canada's beef is fed steroid because the cattle are raised in feedlots -- so energy intensive and so much effluent that it isn't disposable in a reasonable manner. We don't need this, nor do the cattle. What we need are healthy animals raised using methods in synch with natural systems.

As an organic fruit and vegetable farmer I rely on manure from a variety of different animals in order to make compost to feed my soil. We need a diversity of argicultural activity to make this kind of farming possible. Most people in North America eat too much meat and our feedlots produce too much meat.

Ultimately, agriculture needs to be re-scaled so farmers aren't having to worry about whether or not Europe is willing to import their product, hormones or not. If you're a local food advocate, wouldn't you hope that the same sort of movements are flourishing in other places, making Canadian beef unecessary in those locations?

So as not to be too serious, some fun recommended reading related to the topic: My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozeki.