The bison, elk and caribou meat for sale in local stores and restaurants is not local.
It’s trucked up from Alberta.
The Yukon’s bison and elk farmers were not allowed to sell their meat to retailers and restaurants for resale.
It was against the law.
But on February 25th, that changed.
The revised game farm regulations will allow Yukon residents to obtain Yukon-grown products, said Environment Minister Elaine Taylor on Tuesday.
“It will assist in the development of the agriculture industry, which is emerging, and it will help to diversify the economy.”
A lot of Yukoners didn’t realize the wild game they were buying wasn’t local, said Environment spokesperson Nancy Campbell.
“Our bison comes from Alberta,” said Riverdale Super A owner Scott McCarthy.
“But we always try and buy local.”
McCarthy hadn’t heard much about the new game farm reg changes. But he would consider buying local bison, especially if it was cheaper, he said.
Yukon Meat and Sausage owner Ralph Wohlfarth also “hadn’t given it much thought.”
His store, The Deli, sells bison burgers and bison sausage, and “if the price was comparable to down south,” Wohlfarth would consider switching to local game, he said.
“It depends on the cost.”
Although local restaurants and retailers could cut the cost of shipping by buying locally, the meat might still be more expensive.
The plant Wohlfarth buys from in Alberta slaughters 3,500 to 5,000 head a day, he said. “That’s a lot of T-bone steak.”
With that kind of volume, it’s a lot easier to cut costs, said Wohlfarth.
“And everything costs more up here – heating to keep the animals warm, and sometimes feed has to be trucked in from Alberta Ã‰.”
The Yukon doesn’t have a grading system, he added.
So there’s no way to judge the quality of the meat.
Wohlfarth has cut meat that’s really fatty.
“And you buy by weight,” he said.
So if Wohlfarth buys fatty meat, he’s paying for all the fat that ends up on the cutting room floor.
A grading system would solve the problem, he said.
Game animals are quite lean, added Wohlfarth. “So we could consider buying (local game) – it depends on price.”
It’s hard to say if the price will be competitive, said Whitehorse elk farmer Bill Drury.
“The advantage is, we are local,” he said. “That holds a certain cachet.”
Game farmers have been selling their meat through farm-gate sales. The farmers needed a permit, and the meat had to be inspected.
In 2006, the government spent $175,000 on a mobile abattoir.
It serves as an inspection service and offers farmers the chance to transport inspected meat in an inspected transportation unit.
Both are required if meat is sold commercially in the territory.
At the time, farmers thought the abattoir would allow them to sell meat commercially to stores and restaurants.
But this wasn’t the case.
The inspected meat could be sold by the farmer, but could not be resold by the purchaser.
Now, with the regulation changes, retailers and restaurants just have to apply for a free permit before they start selling local game.
But no one has applied yet, said conservation enforcement and compliance manager Tony Grabowski.
The changes are still very new, he added.
It was Grabowski who pushed to amend the regulations.
“The seed was planted by someone who wanted to buy local meat, do value-added, and sell it as a Yukon product,” he said.
After passing through various levels of government, including the Fish and Wildlife Board and public reviews, the changes were made.
Now it’s up to the Yukon public, said Grabowski.
“It’s supply and demand.”
“It’s a positive move government made to allow local people to buy locally,” said Drury.
“We’re selling a top-quality product, with no hormones or additives.
“And just because it doesn’t look like what you see on TV doesn’t mean it isn’t as good or better.”
It’s like Yukon potatoes, said Drury.
“Nobody’s grading those and maybe there’s a blemish here or there, but it doesn’t matter because they’re local – they taste better.”
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