ArchiveJanuary 27, 2001

What a waste

Many members of the farming community all over the country, as well as urban dwellers, are sickened and nauseated by the recent cull of cattle.~

The public are deeply confused as to why this seemingly barbaric exercise was necessary – Was there a suspicion that a high percentage of these cattle have BSE? If not why are so many fine grass-fed Irish cattle being wantonly slaughtered, sprayed with dye and dumped.

Over 20,000 animals have been slaughtered to date and the plan is to destroy up to 25,000 a week. Only 17,000 have been tested and none tested positive for BSE.
The truth, for those who cannot understand why perfectly good beef should be dumped, is even more difficult to stomach. Minister Joe Walsh admitted on the Pat Kenny Show recently that the cull was in fact designed as a market support measure. Recently the beef markets in Egypt and on the continent have collapsed as a result of the BSE scare, hence the EU agricultural ministers have negotiated the purchase for destruction option – Ireland is the only country that has opted to go ahead with a wholesale cull. The cull is funded 70% by EU and 30% by the Irish taxpayer. In addition, each member state was given the option of including a 5% top up payment. In Ireland this was used to increase the premium for the steers in the 30-40 month category, rather than cows. It is estimated that the whole exercise will cost the taxpayers in the region of £400 million and has already created a huge disposal problem.
In an age when approximately one third of the world’s population in starving, it is difficult to justify any waste, not to speak of wanton waste on this scale. Those who remember harder times shake their heads in disbelief and speak of their gut feeling that no luck will come from it!

In Limerick, Quaker Charles Lamb resigned from his job in a local abattoir in protest because his conscience would not allow him to condone this. He asked why the beef could not be sold or given to an entrepreneur who might can the prime beef as a strategic reserve. Norway did just this some years ago when they had a surplus of beef, It was distributed in Kosovo under the humanitarian division of the WHO where it was badly needed and greatly appreciated. If we had another nuclear disaster which we all know in our heart of hearts is not beyond the bounds of possibility, would we not be very glad of Irish canned beef?

The argument against sending the beef to the Third World seems to centre on the concern about not depressing prices in some of their markets also. Surely it should not be beyond the powers of ingenuity of the aid agencies to distribute it sagely Probably the most serious aspect of this entire episode is that the cull is taking place in the low risk group, steers of 30 months and over. No case of BSE has been recorded in Ireland in animals born since 1996. It would seem that the main problem has been found in old cows, yet few of these are being destroyed, mostly because the top-up payment is for steers. This group are the main reservoir of BSE, so they need to be excluded from the food chain without delay.
The EU has brought in a regulation that beef over 30 months must be tested before being sold for human consumption or else destroyed. This presents very little problem for local butchers and small abbatoirs who were killing mostly heifer beef around 18 months anyway. However, the market for these under 30 month animals has now increased dramatically as a result of this ruling, consequently local butchers are finding it difficult to compete with the meat factories who are buying up stocks for export to Europe. The net result is that the price of beef will increase for the consumer.
Perhaps however, the 30 month ruling will inadvertently have the beneficial side effect of increasing the popularity of the Irish traditional Irish breeds, like Hereford, Aberdeen Angus, Shorthorn and Pol Angus, breeds which mature early and can be fattened on grass, rather than the continental breeds which take longer to mature and need huge inputs of grain to fatten.
Local butchers and small abbatoirs have been having a tough time trying to cope with the tidal wave of new regulations that have engulfed them in recent years. The risk of something going wrong is much lower in an operation where the butcher knows the source of the meat and the people who produce it In 1988 there were 800 small abbatoirs, now just 350 remain in operation. These small abbatoirs supply 1,700 local butchers who provide two thirds of the meat for Irish consumers. Many hand pick their animals – they are reared locally, slaughtered locally, sold locally, eaten locally, this is the ultimate in traceability and the emphasis is on quality rather than quantity. Many of these abbatoirs kill as few as 2 to a maximum of 6 beasts a week, as opposed to approximately 100 an hour in the big abbatoirs. There is room and need for both types of operation. Small abbatoirs and butchers have the space to hang the carcasses for up to two weeks and sometimes more, a vitally important factor which affects the eating quality of the meat.
This is a forgotten sector, they receive no grants and the local authority inspectorate has been neglected. In 1999, 10 local authorities did not have a full time vet, even though this is a legal requirement.
What return is the taxpayer getting from the £400 million this purchase for destruction scheme is estimated to cost? – none. If the government is serious about protecting the health of the Irish electorate rather than an overseas market, an investment in this sector would yield returns in terms of food safety, food quality, consumer confidence, animal welfare and environmental protection.
Conscientious local butchers and small abbatoirs are an important part of our food culture and a vital link to safe food and real traceability – they desperately need our support – support them now or one of these days we will turn around and they will be gone.
While I was writing this piece, George Bush was being inaugurated as President of America – apparently Spaghetti and Meatballs are one of his favourite foods.


Spaghetti with Meatballs

Serves 6-8
8 ozs (225g) extra lean minced beef
1 egg
1 oz (25g) breadcrumbs
½ teasp. salt
¼ teasp. pepper
1 tablesp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 x 28 fl.oz (800ml) tin of plum tomatoes with juices
1 lb (450g) spaghetti
1oz (25g) grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablesp. chopped fresh basil or parsley
Combine the minced beef with egg, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Form mixture into about 24 small meatballs. Place on waxed paper-lined baking sheet and reserve.
In large, deep non-stick skillet or Dutch oven, heat oil. Add onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Cook gently for about 10 minutes.
Add tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon. Cook over a medium heat until thickened, about 10 minutes.
Add meatballs to boiling sauce. Cover, reduce heat and cook gently for 20-25 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through. Stir occasionally. (Add a little water or tomato juice at any time if the mixture seems dry.) Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add spaghetti and cook until tender but firm. Drain well and combine with sauce. Sprinkle with cheese and basil. Serve immediately.

(From Simply HeartSmart Cooking by Bonnie Stern)

Sirloin Steak Sandwich with Bonnie Stern’s Barbecued Onion Sauce

Serves 8
1½ lb (675 g) sirloin, cut into generous 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick steaks
2 tablespoon (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed

Barbecued Onion Sauce

2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) olive oil
3 large onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 ozs (110 g/½ cup) tinned tomatoes
3½ ozs (100 g/½ cup) brown sugar
4 fl ozs (120 ml/½ cup) rice vinegar or cider vinegar
4 fl ozs (120 ml/½ cup) strong coffee
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) Worcestershire sauce
2 thin French sticks cut into 24 inches (60 cm)
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Pat steak dry. Mix the balsamic vinegar, mustard, pepper and crushed garlic in a small bowl. Rub all over the meat. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the onions and chopped garlic and cook until soft but not coloured.
Add tomatoes, sugar, rice vinegar, coffee and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to boil. Simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Just before serving, barbecue or pan-grill steak, 4-6 minutes on each side for sirloin steak depending on the thickness. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Slice thinly.
Slice crusty French stick and make hot juicy sandwiches with the steak and Barbecued Onion Sauce. Sprinkle with lots of chopped parsley and eat immediately.


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