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Bison finds way into European dining rooms

There is already an established market for bison in parts of Europe, the United States and Canada, but the industry must make sure it can deliver on its promises with a sustainable supply. | File photo

The new trade deal with the European Union has made it easier for Canada to sell bison into that market

Canadian bison has already tickled the palates of the Swiss and now the Irish are serving up burgers.

The process of getting bison into the European Union has been eased with the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. There is a 3,000 tonne duty-free quota for bison and there is definite interest in the product. Switzerland is not an EU member and has been importing Canadian primal cuts for some time.

“We do not have to compete with the beef sector for quota,” said Terry Kremeniuk, executive director of the Canadian Bison Association.


“Based on the feedback I have received in the last few months, activity has started but it will take time for the new processes to become more efficient before we are in Europe,” he told more than 200 people at the Bison Producers of Alberta annual meeting in Ponoka March 16.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership may also offer new opportunities like delivering bison to Japan, where the red meat tariff will be reduced over 20 years to nine percent.

There is already an established market for bison in parts of Europe, the United States and Canada but the industry has to make sure it can deliver on its promises with a sustainable supply, he said.

Canadian Premium Meats at Lacombe, Alta., has made inroads, shipping about 25 percent of its boxed bison to Europe with a focus on Switzerland. Another 25 percent goes to the United States and the rest is consumed domestically.

The Swiss buyers have a strict code of principles that can be audited, said Steven Lunty of the company.

“We just put pen to paper for what most bison producers are already doing,” he said.

Producers must provide full traceability and use no antibiotics, growth hormones or beta agonists. They must follow special animal husbandry rules where the bison are raised humanely on sustainable ranches and fed no animal byproducts.

Producers are audited every year and violators can be dropped from the program.

Switzerland is the best customer for high-end primal cuts but more business is developing in Ireland and the Netherlands.

Irish buyers are already offering bison burgers in higher end restaurants.

“Traditionally, before CETA, our primary export to the European Union has been high end primal cuts but now they are starting to look at a burger program,” he said.

“A burger program is the backbone of any kind of meat industry.”

Supply and price are the two biggest obstacles for the company. Bison promotes itself as a natural red meat but it can be expensive and if people are budget conscious they are more reluctant to buy.

From 2016-18 hot hanging weight was as high as $6.50 per pound but there is pressure to drop that due to a higher than normal trim inventory.

“The marketplace will figure out when that is going to take place,” said Kremeniuk.

Herd inventory is also dropping.

In 2016, there were about 150,000 head, down from the peak years of 2006-08 when there were more than 200,000 bison in Canada.

The best year for North American slaughter was 2008, when more than 94,000 were killed.

In 2017, kill numbers dropped to 68,960. However, most were processed at federal plants as opposed to provincially inspected abattoirs.

More live exports are going to the U.S. to meet strong demand and the appreciation of the U.S. dollar moved a lot of animals south. About 20,000 head were exported in 2017.

A third of the U.S. slaughter comes from Canada.

“We are an important part of their marketplace,” Kremeniuk said.

“Growing the herd is going to be important. We have significant potential. When you talk to consumers, we have a compelling story to tell,” he said.

See the original article, courtesy of the Western Producer, Here