A new certified brand of Island beef is being billed as a game changer for a P.E.I. industry long looking to reverse poor fortune.
Chef Austin Clement, chair of the P.E.I. Culinary Alliance, predicts the new brand launched Tuesday will increase sales of local beef and return premium prices to cattle producers.
Prince Edward Island Certified Beef will provide a premium to farmers, reflecting the extra care and attention that goes into raising each animal.
Several factors are heralded in producing the certified beef characterized by its unique marbling, texture and colour, including the beef cattle being raised on P.E.I. family farms, the animals fed only high-quality grass, grains, potatoes and other vegetables, the meat being federally graded AA or higher as well as third party certified by the Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
The new certified brand is a joint initiative of the P.E.I. Culinary Alliance, P.E.I. Cattle Producers, the Atlantic Beef Products Plant and the departments of Agriculture and Forestry and Innovation and Advanced Learning.
The Culinary Alliance is working with Pearse Dolan of Dolan Foods to distribute the brand to high-end restaurants and specialty shops in central and western Canada.
Dolan told The Guardian that bringing a premium product to market is always a hurdle.
“With a brand like this, what you are going up against is products that are already established out there,’’ he says. “Probably the most prominent would be the certified Angus beef which is a big program out of the United States.”
Still, Dolan describes the P.E.I. premium beef as a unique product with the strongest potential markets lying in big population areas of Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.
“When you think about P.E.I. beef,’’ he says, “you’re thinking about the environment: the cattle are growing up in the sea salt air, the iron soil — these are all attributes to a program that make it better and better.’’
Brian Morrison, co-chair of the P.E.I. Cattle Producers, hopes all of the approximately 450 cattle producers on Prince Edward Island tap into this initiative.
“It may not be all of their production but it can be a part of their production,’’ he adds.
“I certainly can’t say that it is the silver bullet that is going to save everyone, but we hope that it’s a future for the people that are left. And we certainly...hope that younger producers and new producers will come back on line and see the value in our brand and in our product.
“Taste is what’s going to sell our beef,’’ adds Morrison, “and if we can consistently give them a good-tasting product, we are going to have our market.’’
Morrison, who operates a 500-head feedlot in Summerside with his family, hopes to have all of his production moved into the certified premium beef program within one year.
He acknowledges that the beef industry has had a rough run since BSE (more commonly known as mad cow disease) reared its ugly head in Canada in 2003. Since then, the number of cattle producers in P.E.I. has been sliced in half.
“It’s been a struggle for everyone: lower prices (for beef), high commodity prices for feed,’’ he says. “So the beef industry has been struggling.’’
While the new certified P.E.I. beef brand is not the only initiative moving forward, Morrison describes the program as the “top-end initiative.’’
He adds that the Atlantic Beef Products Plant, which has experienced much more financial hardship than success since opening in Albany in 2005, has made “huge strides and changes’’ in the past year or so that has helped stabilize the cattle industry in the province.