It seems the horse meat scandal has been galloping through the front pages of virtually every newspaper in the country, as well as jumping on to our television screens with every news bulletin.
But while the debate over what is actually in our burgers and meat balls seems no nearer reaching the finishing post, at least there has been some good news for the Island’s beef producers.
More and more people want to know exactly where their beef is coming from, and have taken the attitude that it is no good gambling on a no-hoper, and have decided instead that there’s no place like home.
Island Life visited Ron Holland at Kemphill Farm, Havenstreet, to discover why Island-reared beef is proving the real winner. Ron has nearly 200 head of cattle on his farm, and each week about five are slaughtered and sold to local wholesaler Island Foods for distribution to leading hotels, restaurants and other outlets.
Ron admits: “We are quietly pleased that this horse meat scandal has come to light, because there is no way some suppliers could be selling beef at the prices they were. At least on the Island everyone knows who is doing what; but in Europe it does seem there is fraud. Beef is a global commodity; there are huge amounts of horse meat out there waiting for fraudsters to use. It is unforgiveable, but the good thing is that no one is going to die from eating a horse.”
Since the horse meat scandal began virtually every Island supplier has been sourcing their beef from the Island. Ron is one of a handful of main graziers and cattle fatteners on the Island and he explained that there are strict rules to beef producing, with cattle even having their own passports. They are bar-coded and show everyone, especially the Government, all their movements.
Ron attends Frome market about every three weeks to buy his cattle, and brings them back to the Island to fatten – a process that takes about 18 months. He said: “I only go for quality because that is the market I am in. When they are sold on they are graded on their quality and fat cover – grade one is anorexic and five is obese, so everyone wants grade three, or low four.”
As there is no slaughterhouse on the Island, they go to the mainland to be slaughtered, but Ron knows they are his cattle that are brought back, thanks to a number of tests he carries out, including weighing, grading, as well as the ear numbers that all cattle carry. There is also the passport!
Ron has 40 years’ experience in the cattle trade, hence his expertise. Cattle feed is analysed by computer, although for seven months in the summer they eat nothing but grass. For the other five months the diet is silage, topped up with wheat or oats, as well as vitamins and minerals. Feeding them a good diet is an exact science, and it is during the winter months that the fattening process really takes shape.
The breed of cattle is also important, according to Ron, who normally opts for the Continentals of Blonde d’Aquitaine – his favourite – Charolais, Limousin, Simmental and Belgian Blue.
So what makes a good steak? Ron revealed: “It’s all down to the age of the animal and how long it is cured after slaughter. I will not let any of my meat be sold until it has been hung for three weeks at five degrees centigrade. All cattle should taste the same if they are handled and slaughtered in the same way.”
Ron likes his beef rare, and if he has to choose his favourite cut he goes for sirloin, closely followed by a rump. But whatever your own particular favourite, it seems the Island meat trade has really been beefed up since the outbreak of the horse meat scandal!