Have Gun Will Travel: Coronavirus at Meat Plants Builds Demand for Mobile Butchers


Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by David Gregorio, Reuters

via The New York Times - June 23, 2020


WINNIPEG, Manitoba Slaughtering cattle is a solitary, but personal business for Gerrit vande Bruinhorst, 55, the mobile butcher of Picture Butte, Alberta.


On this day, vande Bruinhorst, a .303 rifle in hand, arrives early at a customer's ranch. He wears boots, coveralls and a rubber apron to catch any blood.


With one shot to the forehead, the 1,300-pound Black Angus steer goes straight down. Vande Bruinhorst hauls it to his shop, where he will hang the carcass for 14 days before cutting it. His wife Dicky does the wrapping and the rancher returns to pick up the meat.


He kills one or two per day.


"What I like best is I'm working from home, and yet I'm not always stuck at home," said vande Bruinhorst, who immigrated to Canada from The Netherlands at age 18. "I travel all over the area. It's just a pleasant way to make a living."


Vande Bruinhorst, one of Alberta's 113 mobile butchers, earns about C$500 per animal. Unlike slaughter in a plant, no inspector is present at his kills, on the condition that consumption of the meat is restricted to the farm household.


With coronavirus outbreaks slowing North America's meat plants, and more consumers seeking to buy meat directly from farmers, Canadian and U.S. governments face pressure to expand animal slaughter for public consumption.


Yet opponents say restrictions on mobile butchers should stay tight, since slaughtering without inspectors present could create a health hazard.


In Alberta, where coronavirus infections this spring overwhelmed beef plants owned by Cargill Inc [CARG.UL] and JBS, the province is reviewing the rules for farm-gate meat sales.


Butchering also happens on U.S. farms. The number of mobile slaughter units authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which include inspectors, has nearly doubled in three years, to 16.


As consumers discovered sharply higher prices in retail coolers, Alberta rancher Allan Minor fielded more calls for his beef. But slaughter space was scarce in small abattoirs that became flooded with cattle as big plants slowed production.


"You've got cattle ready to go right now and customers willing to buy it, but your hands are tied," he said. "If the mobile butchers could come to your ranch, and it would be legal to sell the meat, that would help."


Brent Dejong, a mobile butcher from Fort Macleod, Alberta, said regulations should allow his customers to sell meat to the public, provided customers know it was not inspected.


"It's buyer beware -- just like buying a used car," he said.


The use in the United States of federally inspected abattoirs on wheels should expand, but limited inspector numbers hold them back, said Patrick Robinette, owner of Micro Summit Processors, a North Carolina abattoir...