What Is Local?

December 20, 2020

The word local has become more than a buzzword lately. The Covid pandemic has had its silver lining in the fact that communities have come to embrace their local businesses more than ever before. The question is – what IS local? How is it defined? Furthermore, when it comes to agriculture, there are several more factors to consider that we will discuss in this blog.

There are several aspects of “localness” to meat production we can consider:

  1. Where was the livestock raised? Is it a start to finish farm?
  2. Where was it processed for slaughtering and packing?
  3. Who is handling the retail?

The Beef Test for “Localness”

Beef is an excellent barometer for testing how local it is. Beef cows can be traded many times. Each time a cow is traded, there are elements that provide value-added content. When dealing with mainstream retailers, the custody of the beef from the farm it was raised on to your fridge can be murky at best. The image below displays some of the many stages beef can go through before it arrives to your plate.

Where is the beef raised?

Beef can be on up to 3 farms before they’re processed. In the industrial farming world, there are factory farms for each stage. First, there are farms dedicated and specialized in reproduction and calving. Next are farms used for rearing and preparing for the final stage. Lastly, the cow will arrive at a feedlot and fed a high-calorie diet, as growth is the main focus. Feedlot farms are typically where growth promoters such as steroids are used. These farms can be located anywhere, and as is often the case, the cow will end up moving from one border to another before it’s processed.

For example, a calf is born in Alberta, weaned in Mexico, and finished in Kansas. Would this be considered local?

Ottawa Valley Meats works with calf-to-cow farms. This means 1 cow = 1 farm. Our farmers breed, wean, and finish the cow from the day it’s calved to the day it’s prepared for processing, never leaving the farm. This is the only way any claims to a beef’s diet and a medical background can be 100% verified. Best of all, all our farms are in the Ottawa area.

Infographic depicting the beef lifecycle

Where was the beef processed?

Once a cow is ready for processing, there are two stages to this aspect. First, the beef will be slaughtered at an abattoir; then, the cleaned carcasses will be shipped to the packing plants to be cut according to their customers (which is the retailer in this case). This is when retailers will play with words like “Canadian Grade” or “Canadian” or even “Local”. A cow raised in Mexico, slaughtered in the US but graded on the Canadian system, can be “Canadian Graded”, but this doesn’t make it a Canadian product. Some retailers will also use the fact that the beef was packed in the same province that they operate in to indicate that the product is “Local”. For example, a retailer may purchase Mexican beef, have it slaughtered in the US, packed in Toronto, and sell it to Ottawa residents claiming it is a “Local” product.

Ottawa Valley Meats only sources from Ottawa area farms, uses small family-owned abattoirs and Ottawa area meat packers. When we say local, we mean it! By keeping the whole process local, we ensure every dollar spent is kept in the local agricultural cycle! It also allows us to fully control the process to ensure there is no additives or preservatives used.

Who is the retailer?

Supporting local involves the retail aspect. Just like the farmers don’t slaughter and butcher their animals anymore, they no longer focus on the sales either. The retailer brings the meat to the market. Large box stores will focus on bringing mass-produced beef to market for maximum profit margin and lowest consumer price. Smaller retailers have brought specialized products to the market, especially with the rise in popularity of online sales. This is where the localness test can be important; where are these retailers based? Are they local to you, the province or the country?

Ottawa Valley Meats is an Ottawa-based company with owners from the Ottawa area living with families in Ottawa. Ottawa Valley Meats partakes in community events, charities and even sources everything required in the day-to-day operations from local businesses. OVM purchases livestock directly from the farms they work with to make sure that when they say it comes from a certain farm, it actually does!

Bottom Line

When choosing where you are buying your meat from, consider where the meat is being sourced. There are many online retailers who act as resale for larger packing plants, and the locality of the source is notorious at best. Pay attention to the claims being made. Many retailers will rely heavily on where the meat was packed rather than raised, and clever marketing has made it very hard to distinguish the two. Other retailers will use their locality but supply from major producers based in Southern Ontario and claims they cannot possibly verify. Make sure your meat supplier can tell you what farms they supply from and traceability in their products. If you live in Eastern Ontario and are looking to support farms in your area, Ottawa Valley Meats is your best choice. Support Local!