A Safe Solution for Slaughter Waste

They say you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but BC’s slaughter waste composting facilities are proving that you can make a sow’s ear into safe, high quality compost.

The final report from a project led by the BC Association of Abattoirs concludes that compost produced at all six of BC’s small-scale slaughter waste composting facilities are producing compost that meets the Ministry of Environment’s Organic Matter Recycling Regulation (OMRR) Class A standard.

The project provided technical support and OMRR compliance training for operators of BC slaughter waste composting facilities.

It also included sampling and testing the compost for pathogen levels, the carbon to nitrogen ratio and trace element composition.

In the end, 101 of the 113 samples tested had non-detectable levels of pathogens, ten samples contained low levels of fecal coliform that were within the Class A standard, and the two samples that exceeded the Class A standard were contaminated from external sources.

“The pathogen results were far and above what I expected to find,” says Ruth MacDougall, the agrologist who conducted the study. “I expected to find instances where it would not meet our provincial Class A standards, and I didn’t.”

Regulations introduced following the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Canada put pressure on small abattoirs to find viable solutions for the disposal of waste tissues instead of paying to have it hauled to Alberta.

In BC, six facilities have been developed to process non-specified risk material waste from slaughterhouses.

“Having these facilities gives people who are remote and don’t have other disposal options a way to deal with [slaughter waste] onsite,” says McDougall. “It offers them a solution for most of their waste. Instead of just landfilling it, they are turning it into a useful, beneficial product.”

The value of composting goes beyond environmental sustainability for some operators.

“Composting has kept us in business,” says Dennis Gunter of Gunter Brothers Meat Company in Courtenay, one of the facilities that participated in the project.

“The difference between what we were paying [to have the waste hauled away] and what we pay to compost is more than our bottom line.”

Public concern about the safety of the compost facilities has surrounded the industry since the beginning, but operators lacked the research and data to support their case. This project not only provides the scientific data to support composting, it has helped operators improve their skills and understanding of what is required to produce compost that makes the grade.

“I hope it provides the public with some measure of confidence that these facilities are safe and run well, and are producing high quality compost that is safe for distribution,” says McDougall.

Funding: $41,434 provided through the Livestock Waste Tissue Initiative. (LWTI059)

Value Chain Opportunities for BC Beef

The BC beef supply chain has evolved over the last 50 years to maximize efficiencies of scale by sending the majority of cattle to Alberta for finishing and processing in large-scale operations. This beef is sold as a commodity, competing on a world market.

But some BC producers are wondering if it makes more sense to set up value chains to serve a growing number of consumers who are looking for local, specialty products.

With partial funding from IAF, the BC Association of Cattle Feeders and the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association, a market and logistics research project for two new BC beef value chains was completed by students and researchers at Thompson Rivers University.

Okanagan’s Finest Angus Beef value chain is led by Southern Plus Feedlot who work with approximately 20 cow/calf producers.

They hand pick Angus calves from ranches in the interior of BC. They are nurtured to limit stress and fed an optimum diet containing locally-grown hay and corn silage. They are processed and dry-aged at a provincially licensed abattoir.

Healthy Steppes Cariboo grass-finished beef includes about 10 ranchers who retain ownership of their calves, back-ground them through winter, finish them on grass as yearlings, then process them at a local facility.

Grass-finished beef is expected to have a higher percentage of Omega 3/Omega 7 fatty acids than beef finished on grain.

“As we started strategic planning, it became very clear that more market research was needed before we invested more time and money in this.” states David Zirnhelt, member of Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and leader of the Healthy Steppes value chain. “The analysis in this study helped us identify which market segments we should focus on and the logistics research told us what kind of scale we need. Now we have some good hard numbers to work with to ensure our value chain will be economically sustainable in the long run.”

Funding: $83,801 through the federal Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program. (A0633)

Adapting to Climate Change

When it comes to adapting to one’s environment, you can’t beat a farmer. Climate change, however, and its potential impact on food production, presents an unprecedented assortment of challenges.

This is why IAF felt it was important to support the BC Agriculture Council (BCAC) in assessing the risks and opportunities that climate change could pose for BC’s agricultural sector.

Thanks to the input provided by producers across the province, a series of reports are now available which highlight potential climate change impacts for BC agriculture at a regional and commodity specific level, as well as possible approaches to support adaptation efforts.

Among other challenges, producers could contend with an increase of extreme precipitation events in spring and fall, more extended dry periods in the summer, and associated shifts in stream flow and water supply. Difficulty managing pest, disease and invasive plant outbreaks is also a concern, given possible shifts in their range, distribution and survival rates.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome, however, is raising awareness of these potential risks.

“It’s a common misconception that climate change just means warmer and more favourable conditions for food production in BC,” says Allen James, Chair of BCAC’s Climate Action Initiative, “but the projected changes would create a more complex and challenging environment for BC’s agricultural producers.”

So will BC be prepared for these challenges?

“We’re on the right path,” according to Emily MacNair, Coordinator of the Climate Action Initiative. Managing climate change impacts to BC’s food system will involve decisions, infrastructure and resources that “go well beyond the farm gate.”

“Adapting to climate change is a collective challenge,” MacNair observes. “Planning and collaboration are needed in our communities and the province as a whole.”

Despite their awareness of the potential risks facing agricultural producers, both MacNair and James remain confident about the sector’s ability to adapt and thrive.

“The assessment has provided a critical foundation to help enhance BC agriculture in a changing climate,” James emphasizes. “Successful adaptation depends on the participation and leadership of the industry, and BC agriculture is well positioned to assume this role.”

For more information on the BC Agriculture Climate Change Adaptation Risk & Opportunity Assessment please visit: http://www.bcagclimateaction.ca/

Funding: $72,114 provided through the former federal-provincial Safety Net framework and Sustaining Fund. (A0630)