I’ll admit it. I like meat.

I could eat meat 3 meals a day seven days a week. Whether it’s lamb kebabs, sizzling bacon, buffalo sausages, or a juicy steak – its all good to me.

The downside to enjoying meat is the environmental footprint of the choice. And that’s one of the reasons why our family just doesn’t eat that much meat.

The Local Story

In this part of the world, the Kootenays, the ecological footprint of meat is probably higher than a lot of other places as there is no licensed facility to kill and butcher the animals within several hundred kilometres. Even animals that are raised just up the road have to be trucked to a distant facility and back to be sold commercially.

The Castlegar Section of the Columbia River Valley

Recently there was a cooperative proposal for an abattoir to be located in the Slocan Valley at a site near Lemon Creek. This was rejected for various reasons, so the proponents, a cooperative of willing local food advocates searched for an alternative site.

What seemed like a suitable site was located adjacent to the Regional District Landfill in Ootischenia, across the Columbia River from Castlegar.

I understand that this rural area was actually part of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) until land owners in the area realized that it was worth more out of the ALR than in, and started subdividing it, (in fact I played on a golf course there this afternoon). From rural beginnings, the land is now slowly transforming into estate houses and McMansions, sure there’s still the odd orchard, but much of the land has departed from its roots of agriculture. But this is no different than much of the Kootenays, its just a few years behind. Golf and residential are the new economic drivers in this part of BC, as cashed up Baby Boomers look for trivial ways to spend their money. The difference also lies in the recent history of the place – it’s got a landfill, an airport, heavy industrial and transportation, and a modest number of rural houses.

Call me stupid, but with all this, and a golf course (which another community in the Kootenays desperately wants to avoid!),  what difference will an abattoir make? For those readers who are imagining that this is one of those immense feedlot operations – stop right there. Do your homework before you complain. This is a proposal for a modest sized, state of the art, meat processing facility – not a feedlot like the stinky one in Brooks Alberta that I had the misfortune of driving by a few years ago.

This letter was in the local paper last week…

An abattoir is, as the lady said, a slaughter house business and it stinks. Placing such an industry in, or near, any residential area should be avoided at all costs. There is not only the smell to think about, but also the seepage of fluid and biowaste into the ground and water-table. Ootischenia is no place for a cattle feeding and slaughter operation.

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The Reality of Meat and Abattoirs

46048661_2c6b2fff8b_m The proposal is a co-op, not a multi national corporation. The members of the co-op are locals, maybe your neighbours, people who are concerned about the environment, people who don’t see why the Province should enforce meat processing legislation that requires a facility like this to be built. These people see the value in keeping things local. Did you realize that everything that you buy in the local Castlegar Safeway has come to us via Calgary? Even apples from Ossoyos or Cherries from Creston. Breaking out of the multi-nation corporation habit of transporting goods thousands of kilometres is a tough move, but we in the Kootenays have an opportunity to grow our own meat here, process it here and eat it here – not so that it can be shipped to Vancouver or Calgary – but for us here in the Kootenays.

Consider that the proposal may be cutting edge – until you see the details, don’t assume the worst. You don’t buy a car believing that it will crash – rather you look for safety features that will prevent or minimize injury in the event of a crash. You are relying on engineering to minimize the risk, likewise, anything can be engineered. Why assume that there will be “seepage of fluid and biowaste”? Why assume it will “stink”? There are plenty of examples of previously dirty industries cleaned up. How about the Vernon Sewerage Treatment Plant – it’s right downtown and you wouldn’t even know it’s there most of the time.

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Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

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