I was working with government, sort of / kind of, back in 2003 when the mad cow crisis struck. It was a long, complicated issue that I had to bone up on in a real hurry. Despite Manitoba having safe beef and there being a local consumer demand, (remember the rallies and bbq's at Portage and Main ?!) , the problem was that the beef we had was all still attached to cows.
Over decades Manitoba's beef processing industry had dwindled away to nothing. Other than a couple of boutique places there is no capacity and the only option is to ship them elsewhere.
The big bucks put into hog processing was not much help as you can't shove a cow into a hog-sized processing line even in an emergency. The border was closed so you couldn't ship them to the U.S., shipping to Alberta was expensive with the price of beef dropping so low and, besides, the massive feedlots out there had tens of thousands of cattle already waiting in line - enough to keep the overloaded Alberta plants busy for years.
People realized that the best solution would be a longer term one: to get a plant back in Manitoba.
Rancher's Choice were first out of the chute (no pun intended) in 2005 trying to establish a plant in Dauphin. They raised a couple of million, the province chipped in another $4m or so but in the end there was not enough money raised and the plan was shelved. I seem to recall that there was another group in the Interlake that wanted to get an old mothballed plant back in operation but it would have been just a boutique sized plant.
Today's announcement of a decent sized, 250 head per week capacity (by 2010) plant focusing on higher end and niche markets like organic, kosher, halal is good news. I look forward to digging into my first Manitoba Natural Prairie Beef steak !
UPDATE 1: Some confusion in different media reports about the capacity of the plant. I heard it from the horses' mouth that the plant is expected to handle 250 head per day with room to expand up to 500 head per day.
UPDATE 2: Company formed to run new beef plant A new company has been formed to own and operate the beef processing plant being established on the old Maple Leaf pork plant site on