COLUMN: There’s a solution to this ‘crappy’ crisis

I have come to realize that it is perhaps a smart idea to start saving grocery bills.

I have come to realize that it is perhaps a smart idea to start saving grocery bills. After all, I have a freezer full of (well at least six) steaks that are now the subject of a massive beef recall . . . and no record of when or where they were purchased.

I also have no idea if the store from which I purchased them would refund the money, so I’m left with two choices: toss them into the garbage or eat them anyway. And since I’ve already eaten two with no apparent ill effects, I’m leaning towards the latter option.

Then again, since I’ve been hacking and coughing through a nasty bout of pneumonia for the past 10 days perhaps any E. coli infection has been effectively masked. Additionally, since the recall affects all meat purchased between Aug. 28 and Sept. 27 from B.C.’s Costco outlets when I purchased my most recent steaks, and a number of previous packages, I’m assuming my meat wasn’t tainted.

And let’s be clear on this, the meat recall is for products sold at just about every supermarket in B.C. . . . so I’m certainly not singling out Costco.

And why is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s recall so widespread? Because XL Foods’ slaughterhouse processes vast quantities of the beef sold across the country.

To quantify “vast,” the Alberta plant kills 4,000 animals a day, a rate that would see every bull, cow and calf currently existing in B.C. slaughtered in just 131 days.

The recall affects beef into the millions of pounds, yet surprisingly every ounce of it today, tomorrow and over the past few years could be E. coli-free if the industry adopted a made-in-B.C. vaccination program.

Developed 10 years ago by a UBC microbiologist, the vaccine prevents cattle from spreading the disease. It is recognized and approved by provincial and federal governments, supported by millions of our tax dollars in research and production, yet its use is not required. And farmers and ranchers, many of whom operate on the thinnest of financial margins, are reluctant to add the $6 per cow vaccination cost to their bottom line.

Yet E. coli infections across the country cost us some $250 million a year in medical expenditures and lost work. At six bucks a pop, that money alone would vaccinate better than 41 million animals a year, though across Canada there’s only about 12 million head of cattle.

Perhaps the federal government needs to consider subsidizing the cost of vaccine to farmers and ranchers. The potential savings to the economy and our health care system indicate that might be a smart move.

Besides, ensuring our nation’s red  meat supply is safe from contaminated cow poop would also make me feel a little more comfortable when tromping about the Cariboo cabin “yard” I spend time at most Octobers during the “gather” season. That’s when the cows come off summer range and return to the ranch, to be separated from their calves which will be eventually shipped to XL Foods or other major slaughterhouses.

Since the ranch’s corrals are east of the cabin, and the pastures to the west, the 350 or so cows not only spend a few days walking back and forth in front of the cabin bawling for their lost babies, they excrete prodigious amounts of, I assume, E. coli-laced crap.

Until a mandatory vaccination program takes effect, I think I’ll be a little more circumspect when taking off my boots, and ensuring the washbasin has lots of soap.

To determine if the meat in your freezer is part of the recall, check out http://www.inspection.gc.ca

markrushton@abbynews.com