Growth of illegal homekill raises concerns
Wednesday, 23 May 2012
By Anna McNaughton
Recent coverage of ‘cow pooling’ has raised the profile of home killed meat as a viable method for consumers to attain cheaper meat.
| Carly Anderson learns the trade under the watchful eye of Arend Smilde. |
When conducted responsibly and legally, homekill is not of concern but a growth in illegal homekill operators, who fail to adhere to recommended strict standards of animal welfare or food safety has raised concerns that consumers may be buying meat products which, under normal circumstances, would not pass inspection on many fronts.
Abattoirs Association of New Zealand (AANZ) Manager, Fiona Greig, says the Association has been monitoring the issue for more than two years.
“The reality of the ‘cow pooling’ concept is far more complex than it might at first seem,” says Greig who adds that the Abattoirs Association’s concern surrounds the growth of illegal, black market operations.
“Those operating on the black market are risking the reputation of the entire industry. If something they do results in someone’s serious illness it will not only be the homekill operators who suffer, it will be the licensed abattoirs as well.” The AANZ is lobbying for the establishment and enforcement of stricter laws to protect the industry.
Cow pooling – not in our patch!
For generations homekill has been a way of life for Kiwi farmers but recent coverage of ‘cow pooling’ has put the business under the spotlight. Rural Living visited a long-standing, legal and pristine homekill butchery in Waiuku.
Cow pooling has become a conversation piece throughout media since the story was featured on TVNZ’s Sunday programme recently.
The concept appears to have developed in the USA, where, in some areas, it is legal for ranchers to kill, butcher and sell cattle to the public.
Grass fed beef fetches a premium within the retail sector there so city dwellers are prepared to club together to purchase and share a whole carcass. Divvying up the best cuts can lead to disputes – but many people find they can afford to eat better quality meat and more of it.
The idea has now travelled to New Zealand. But therein lies a snag! The law states that to homekill an animal an individual must own and farm the animal for 28 days; a rather difficult achievement for most townies.
Of course, people living in rural areas can access the quality services of homekill butchers for homegrown
livestock. Franklin has several licensed and respected operators, who can be relied on to provide a humane and efficient service.
Anyone with sufficient pasture to run livestock can access this service. For most small farmers, the decision to keep for home consumption is often reserved for livestock which have been farmed for a long time – beef animals reared from bobby calf or weaner, fat lambs home bred from a small flock of ewes or a pig fattened on household scraps.
If livestock prices are high, the financial side of the equation has to be weighed up against the value of a freezer full of home-reared meat together with the satisfaction of self-sufficiency and pride in serving home-reared meats.
A big plus for many is the reduction in stress to the animal which is slaughtered in a familiar paddock and saved transportation, delays and mixing with unfamiliar mobs of animals at an abattoir or freezing works.
Arend Smilde has been running his Waiuku-based Smilde Homekills, “pasture to plate” service for more than 20 years, initially as an adjunct to a butcher shop. It has been a stand-alone, rural business since 2004.
Arend and Linda emigrated from the Netherlands in 1989 with their family of four children. Arend settled into Franklin and having worked in his family’s abattoir business back home, he says it was logical for him to work in the meat industry here.
Running a retail butchery meant quickly learning how to make sausages and salamis which have become something of a speciality for his homekill customers. Local hunters have cottoned on to bringing wild pork and venison to Arend to maximise utilisation of the catch.
“While no-one enjoys taking the life of an animal, there is pride in doing a quick, clean job,” he says. “And I am convinced that the reduction of stress at slaughter time results in optimal quality meat.”
The animal is skinned and gutted (with all the “bits” taken away by Arend if there is no offal hole on the property). The carcass is then transported to the processing plant which Arend designed and built himself.
With a solid stainless steel interior, the whole building is easy to keep spotlessly clean and is set up for every aspect of handling the carcass – weighing, chilling, butchering and freezing as well as for making salamis, sausages, bacon and ham.
Customers are given the opportunity to decide how they require their meat to be butchered and it is packed to fit their requirements.
There is little waste with lesser cuts of meat expertly trimmed for making quality mince and sausages. The whole exercise is value for money.
Constantly busy with long-standing customers, Arend is fully booked five weeks in advance year-round.
He is determined not to expand but has been able to take on a young trainee, Carly Anderson, who will study at Manukau Institute of Technology while working hands-on with Arend.
With few young people coming into the industry, Arend says he is delighted to be passing on skills to the next generation.
“It’s really good to see a young person come into this industry and quite a step for Carly. After so many phone calls what could I do?”
While farmers are still permitted to slaughter their own livestock on farms with some still slaughtering their own smaller stock, few are equipped to manage full sized cattle.
So, the homekill butcher is required on these larger farms and valued by career farmers, many of whom believe it would be a great loss to rural communities if outlawed because of spurious food safety concerns.
Federated Farmers see a positive aspect to ‘cow pooling’ as it allows customers to deal directly with farmers and have a connection to the meat they eat. The Abattoirs Association of New Zealand however, has warned potential ‘cow poolers’ may find that licensed operators won’t want to deal with the current legal grey area and they will need to avoid the trap of dealing with “cowboys” who will be unlikely to offer the same standards and safeguards.
Carly Anderson is only 16 years old but she has a clear direction in her working life – she is determined to train as a butcher.
Always an outdoors girl, Carly started pig-hunting with her father virtually from the time she could toddle. Carly now has her own pig hunting dog and “goes bush’ whenever she can.
Helping a family friend with butchering and packing a home slaughtered beast gave her the idea that butchery could be a career option; finding a job in the industry was the next challenge.
Carly decided that a homekill butchery would be interesting and began phoning local operators to gain that elusive opportunity – a start.
Arend Smilde initially thought that he could cope without a helper. However, about five phone calls from Carly convinced him that here was a determined, enthusiastic young person – just what was needed in the meat industry, which has not been attracting enough young people.
Carly wasn’t deterred by the commute from her family’s farmlet, on the Pukekawa side of Tuakau, to Waiuku.
“I am really enjoying the variety with something new every day. It’s not like a production line and completing the whole job from slaughter, skinning, boning and butchering through to packaging is satisfying.” She has now completed the first three months of her apprenticeship and is in the process of signing up for the Manukau Institute of Technology butchery course. All signs point to the start of a great career!