District beef part of DNA project

Nicholas Donaldson

Rainy River District soon will be part of a research project to determine if Ontario beef can be scientifically-identified from that produced in other provinces or countries.
The project, being run by the Beef Farmers of Ontario and the Ontario Independent Meat Processors, is an effort to enhance consumer confidence and address issues of mislabelling.
They hope to be able to scientifically distinguish the meat so consumers are sure they are getting beef produced in Ontario, which helps farmers, abattoirs, and the entire meat sector in the province.
“Mislabelling erodes product margins, damages product reputation, and can directly affect consumer trust,” reads an informational letter from the BFO.
“To combat this, a quick and accurate test which can differentiate beef produced in Ontario from that sourced from other provinces, the U.S., or other countries would be a valuable tool to address and discourage Ontario beef mislabelling,” it adds.
Kim Jo Bliss, who is helping to co-ordinate the project in this area, noted scientific traceability research a couple of years ago helped identify the origin of salmon being sold in Canada.
“It was being labelled as wild salmon but it turned out a lot of it was from salmon farms,” she noted.
The Ontario beef project involves collecting 300-400 meat samples, representing 150-200 farms, from Ontario provincial abattoirs between June and September this year.
A one-inch thick cut of lean beef weighing around 150-200 grams is taken from the neck area of the carcass and sent away to be analyzed.
Rainy River District samples will be taken from beef processed at the abattoir in Emo, with a $15 reimbursement for the farmer for each sample taken.
The farmer also will be asked to provide background information on their cattle, including origin of birth, type of feed, and the origin of the feed.
Bliss is hoping to get samples from at least six different farms in the district, with the first batch being sent away by Sept. 15 and the second by Sept. 28.
Samples from across Ontario will be sent to Guelph to be gathered into one package and then continue on to New Zealand for the testing.
Bliss admitted it sounded a bit strange at first, but her contact in Guelph said they have done it before without issue.
She said they just need to time it correctly to make sure it gets there as soon as possible.
The research will be done by Oritain, a New Zealand analytical company that specializes in scientific traceability. It has the technology to potentially differentiate Ontario beef from imported beef.
One way to potentially identify a “fingerprint” for Ontario beef is using stable isotope ratios and chemical analysis derived from the chemical compositions of plants, soils, water, and the feed animals consume.
These chemical compositions vary naturally in different areas.
An information sheet sent out by Oritain explains that ratios of stable isotopes can change according to temperature, altitude, precipitation, soil conditions, feed, and farm practices, and therefore can be used to indicate different geographical regions.
Along with the isotope ratio analysis, Oritain also will look at trace elements that occur in the meat based on the soil, feed, and water to provide a unique “fingerprint” for the province.
Bliss said she’s not sure if the results will be able to prove anything, but thought it was very interesting to be involved in the province-wide project.
She also noted the results could help the “Rainy River Raised” branding that local producers have been using for sometime now.