Chefs and restaurateurs were out to show their support for a Manitoba couple this weekend whose meat-curing business was raided by provincial inspectors who seized a large amount of meat labelling it unfit for human consumption.
In August inspectors raided Harborside Farms, owned by Clinton and Pam Cavers, and last week $8,000 worth of prosciutto was destroyed by Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.
Manitoba Agriculture said the Cavers did not keep proper records of how the prosciutto was produced.
Clinton Cavers is proud of what he calls his "happy pigs."
"None of our pigs have ever spent any time in a barn, period, from the day they're born," he said.
"They winter outside, they summer outside. They eat grass, they eat acorns; we do feed them our own ration as well."
Cavers and his wife Pam raise pastured pork and poultry as well as grass-fed lamb and beef.
"Well, the animals have a better life," he said. "For us, we're in control of every aspect of their life, right from birth right to people's dinner plates."
In 2006 the couple spent $200,000 to build a provincially-approved meat shop, where they cut and package the meat, which they get butchered at a local, government-inspected abattoir.
They sell the meat directly to about 80 families and a dozen restaurants, mostly in Winnipeg.
"We know everyone we're feeding and they know us, that's important," said Clinton.
Aside from selling steaks and pork chops, in the past few years the Cavers have been developing their own prosciutto.
The couple said they learned how to make their own prosciutto from two older, Italian men who taught them their recipes from overseas. They took the prosciutto to restaurants for tastings to see what they could improve.
The Cavers said they also looked into provincial regulations for producing prosciutto, but couldn't find any.
This past April their pastured pork prosciutto won an award in Manitoba Agriculture's Great Manitoba Food Fight. Two months later, health inspectors from the same department gave out the prize told the couple they couldn't sell the product.
Restaurateur stands by Cavers' meat
Alexander Svenne is the chef and owner of Bistro 7¼ in Winnipeg, and gets all his pork and some lamb form the Cavers. He has also tried their prosciutto.
Svenne said he hopes the fundraiser at the Harvest Moon Festival will put some pressure on Manitoba Agriculture.
"I have no concerns with their product or anything they've ever given me," said Svenne.
"I think what makes it special is the way they farm and the way they process the product. They are involved in every step from the birth of the animals to the delivery to me and I think that level of caring guarantees a good product."
He said the Cavers know their animals well, and that "level of caring guarantees a good product."
"The province could make a decision to say, 'We're gonna support artisan producers and give us a really active, vibrant food economy,'" said Svenne. "Instead, they inspect, they seize, they destroy, they shut them down."
Svenne and other local chefs held a fundraising breakfast for the Cavers over the weekend at a festival run by the Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative.
Products didn't meet standards
Glen Duizer, a veterinarian with the food safety branch of Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives said there's not enough separation in the meat shop, between the area where the meat is drying and where it's cut and packaged for sale.
"[There] has to be degree of separation from the animal to the end product to make sure there's no contamination that can happen at any point along the way," he said.
Duizer said the meat was seized and destroyed because it didn't meet some standards under the Public Health Act.
"We're looking at products that haven't met processing standards or the conditions in which they were processed were not fit, or unclean or if we don't have confidence in the management practices and production practices around the food," he said.
Duitzer added that in this case the Cavers did not keep proper records of how the prosciutto was produced.
"I hope the public views what we do as us trying to do our jobs and prevent disasters we've seen in the past," he said.