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The University of Guelph is home to the only federally licensed university abattoir in Canada. The almost 50-year-old facility recently underwent a $2.5 million overhaul, re-opening last year as a modern meat science laboratory.

Why it matters: Large commercial abattoirs find it difficult to accommodate small pilot projects and most smaller plants lack the necessary federal licensing from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to export meat products out of Ontario.

“We gutted the existing facility and added about 1,000 sq. feet of space and all new systems,” says Jim Squires, chair of the Animal Biosciences Department at the Ontario Agricultural College, which oversees the facility.

The renovated meat science laboratory features new processing equipment, an industrial smokehouse, freezers, kitchen and a spice room, as well as an updated chill cooler, handling pens to accommodate large numbers of cattle, pigs, and sheep and a carbon dioxide stunning system for humane euthanasia of pigs.

Teaching areas include a carcass dissection classroom where students can observe or participate in meat cutting; a glass-fronted display cooler where carcasses or meat cuts relevant to current classes can be displayed; and a 99-seat lecture theatre that can accommodate formal lectures, as well as carcass and meat-cutting demonstrations.

Faculty and students from the departments of Animal Biosciences and Food Science along with the Ontario Veterinary College use the facilities for training and research to improve food safety and animal welfare, productivity and health.

“We use the University of Guelph research stations for livestock research, and animals that are part of meat quality studies are processed through this facility,” says Squires, who is currently hiring a new meat scientist, who will conduct research in meat quality and muscle biology issues related to slaughter processes.

As well, the new smokehouse and the CFIA licence for ready-to-eat products means collaboration with industry partners on projects like new product development is possible.

True Foods, a division of Grand Valley Fortifiers responsible for value-added programs, is one of those partners. The company provides nutrition programs and third party verification for farmers raising livestock for value-added meat programs, such as organic or raised without antibiotics.

“When you add value through a program like organic, what the animal ate is the biggest factor in the label claims,” says Ashley Delarge, value chain governance manager with True Foods. “We want to be that liaison between farm level and retail and make sure that the claims made on the label are true.”

One of their customers who is producing Omega-3 pork had an opportunity to explore shipping to Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China. The challenge was the potential buyer wanted a small test shipment of pork to sample and test with retailers in Asia.

This required segregated slaughter and processing facilities to ensure the meat met ractopamine free, raised without antibiotics and Omega-3 standards, which isn’t possible on a small scale at large commercial processors.

While small Ontario plants could handle the requirements, most lacked the federal inspection requirements and certifications needed for exporting outside Canada.

“This is where the University of Guelph lab was a huge help. They’re federally licensed and do small quantities, which is ideal for these types of product testing scenarios,” Delarge says, adding Guelph’s abattoir manager Brian McDougall and his staff provided the proper cutting, labelling and packaging so product specifications guaranteed meat quality and were compliant with CFIA regulations.

“The level of consolidation (in the packing industry) makes it a hard market if you want to get something new like this going, so being able to access this type of service from the University of Guelph is a real benefit to industry,” she says.

The facility expansion was funded by the University of Guelph’s Food From Thought program, the Strategic Investment Fund, the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario and the Ontario Agricultural College’s Class of 1977.

This article is provided by Livestock Research Innovation Corporation as part of its ongoing efforts to drive innovation in the livestock sector.

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