The silencing of the lambs

“Up and down the Valley, small packing plants that serve nearby farmers are being bought by Muslims. 

“While the Pakenham abattoir processes beef and lamb, it doesn’t handle pork. Neither will other slaughterhouses that have recently been bought by Muslims in Eastern Ontario. That creates a puzzle for this area’s pig farmers.”

Ottawa Citizen

Tom Spears: Nov. 16th, 2010

OTTAWA — Religion and Ontario’s strict new food laws are changing the face of livestock farming and meat packing in Eastern Ontario, in a way no one saw coming.

Up and down the Valley, small packing plants that serve nearby farmers are being bought by Muslims. It’s the only way they can carry on the ancient tradition of killing lambs for Eid al-Adha.

This shift in the meat business affects farmers like Tom Black, who raises lambs; and Bruce Hudson, who raises pigs; and slaughterhouses like Rideau Meats in Smiths Falls, which has not changed ownership.

But for now it affects the Abufarha family most of all — Palestinian farmers who came to Canada and have now returned to their rural roots in Pakenham, buying the slaughterhouse formerly run by the Scheel family.

Here’s why:

Eid is approaching, a Muslim festival when pilgrims go on the hajj, the trip to Mecca. An Eid tradition involves killing a lamb and distributing the meat to one’s family, and to poorer families. (The ritual is based on the story of Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his own son, but ends up sacrificing a ram instead.)

But the tradition involves killing the lamb oneself, not getting the slaughterhouse to do it.

For years, Muslim customers would go to the Black family’s farm on Fallowfield Road to do this. Italian and Greek families have done the same with Black’s lambs or chickens, at different times of the year and for different celebrations, particularly Easter.

“We’ve been allowing people to kill animals on our farm since time began,” Tom Black said.

But in 2005 Ontario decided this was dangerous and banned the practice. Black kept allowing it at first — until provincial inspectors parked just outside his gate last year on slaughtering day, watching dozens of customers come and go.

The Ontario Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs will investigate if there are complaints. The maximum fine is $25,000.

Eventually they warned Black that he was running an illegal slaughterhouse, and he has reluctantly stopped.

“So it’s taking away my heritage and the heritage of people immigrating here,” he said. “And without cause. I have no problem if there’s a cause,” but no one was getting sick. (He has bitter words for a government that shuts down small businesses, while allowing Maple Leaf Meats to keep operating after its fatal listeria outbreak.)

Abed Abufarha used to be an electrical engineer for Telus in Calgary.

“It was a really good job,” he said. Then his brother in Ottawa started talking to him about possibilities in the meat business. He came east, scouted it out, and was convinced.

He has bought the former Milton Scheel meat business in Pakenham, and re-named it Mr. Beef.

“We’re going to focus on the Muslim community a bit, but it’s not going to be our whole business,” he said.

Since Abufarha is running a licensed slaughterhouse and not a farm, he can allow customers to kill the animals themselves, under supervision.

It’s not only Eid, he explains. There are other occasions when Muslims have a lamb as well, such as the birth of a baby. And apart from special occasions, many people of Middle Eastern origin prefer lamb to beef.

But, says Abufarha, “Eid is going to be the busiest time of the year.” He has between 50 and 100 people coming to slaughter on that day; he has even booked two inspectors for the rush.

“It’s part of the religion that you pray, and you slaughter. You eat a third of it, and give a third to family and friends, and a third goes to poor people.”

Some customers will kill the lambs themselves, but only if they have experience, he said. If not, the slaughterhouse workers will do it for them. No one wants the animal to suffer, or the customer to be hurt.

“Some people like to do this. As long as they are experienced, we are fine with it (and) the inspectors are fine with it.”

The plant will prepare the carcass afterwards.

While the Pakenham abattoir processes beef and lamb, it doesn’t handle pork. Neither will other slaughterhouses that have recently been bought by Muslims in Eastern Ontario. That creates a puzzle for this area’s pig farmers.

Bruce Hudson of Kinburn markets 3,000 to 4,000 sows a year, mostly to a big meat packer north of Montreal, but in recent years a growing number locally — about 10 to 20 per cent of the total.

He had been dealing with the Pakenham abattoir. Now he can’t.

It isn’t putting him out of business; he can go to a slaughterhouse in Pembroke, or one in Smiths Falls — farther from his farm. But he says it’s odd that the government is pushing the idea of eating food produced close to home, while throwing obstacles in the way of people who try to do this.

Besides, he says, the remaining non-Muslim business in Smiths Falls — Rideau Meats — won’t be able to take all the pigs from all the area’s farms, unless it expands.

At Rideau Meats, Jason Miskelly is in fact already expanding.

“We are able to handle some of the supply. Now, how many hogs are out there, I don’t know. We’ve just recently made arrangements to purchase some new equipment to handle the pigs, which will not be up and running until probably February.”

In fact there are fewer hogs being produced, he says. Prices have collapsed a couple of times in recent years, and farmers were reluctant to invest in pigs again.

For farmers with pigs, it will mean having to truck them farther to find a slaughterhouse, but he says it wouldn’t be a disaster.

“It’s an adjustment, that’s all.”

See original here.