Customers of the Co-op may or may not know that we have a set of buying guidelines that we use when making decisions about what to stock in the various departments. What this essentially boils down to is that we are “committed to providing the highest quality, affordable natural foods and products.” (from the Kootenay Co-op Mission Statement).
Recently we have reviewed our buying guidelines around meat and come up with some changes that we hope will ensure that we stay as close to our mission statement as possible. “We pledge to our Members that we will visit farms within our True Local bioregion prior to committing to initial purchases from farms not already certified by the SPCA, KLAS or an accredited organic certifying body…We recommend all True Local farm products and/or Certified Organic products to our more discerning Co-op Members.”(from our Buying Guidelines)
Everyone agrees that animals should be treated with dignity and respect and that the only way to do this is to provide conditions that allow them to exhibit natural animal behaviours. Animal welfare in the meat industry has in recent history been notoriously inhumane due to the economy of scale required for the prices consumers demand. We are categorically opposed to this type of animal husbandry. Organic standards and KLAS (Kootenay Local Agriculture Society) come with guarantees of both superior animal welfare as well as organic feed and sustainable practices. The SPCA specifically focuses on the animal welfare aspect. While we believe that certified organic is the most sustainable option, we accept products from local suppliers that meet SPCA standards and strongly recommend that they be accredited by this organization as well as work toward organic certification in the future.
Often distributors will try to make a case for ‘naturally-raised’ meat with rock bottom pricing and it is very tempting to stock these products in an attempt to provide Co-op members with the best of both worlds. However, as someone who has worked in the commercial meat industry of the Fraser Valley, I can say that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Raising animals in humane conditions takes far more space–and often more feed–than the conventional counterpart. Fantastic pricing means that either someone is not making money or that someone is getting taken for a ride. Clearly we oppose unethical product representation, and we also want to support farmers with pricing that reflects their costs.
Recently I have used my knowledge of the industry and gone through all of our meat products with a fine-toothed comb. The result is that some products are no longer on the shelf and in many cases new products are replacing them. We feel that this type of review is a valuable exercise that ensure that we are staying as close to our buying guidelines as possible.
We are happy to introduce a new line of sausages from pork that originates at our Creston certified organic egg farm. This is a fledgling project that we hope to develop into a full line of sausages and charcuterie in the near future. Currently these animals have a spacious barn with room to move and places to root. This spring, the farmers will be creating a large year round pasture for them to really spread out. It’s exciting for us to be able to work so closely with the farm and control this process from start to finish, ensuring that our guidelines are fully met.
Another local farmer will be delivering his Black Angus beef for the first time this spring and we hope to keep this in stock year round. The farm is not currently certified organic but we are working with them to provide conditions that are as good as those outlined in the organic guidelines, with feed that is not genetically modified. These animals are on open pasture all the time with supplemental hay in winter. They are finished on non-GMO grains but always in the same humane conditions that they experience year round. The farm will be certifying the farm through the SPCA this summer.
As always, we welcome questions from you and encourage you to be critical with your buying choices at all times. We are excited to talk about the great local options in our meat department!
-Christoph Martens, Deli Manager