Islanders are finally going to be able to buy premium beef products that until now have been sold only in Ontario.

Certified Island Beef went on the market two years ago, but so far only certain stores in Ontario were interested in stocking the premium-priced meat.

Now, the five Sobeys stores in P.E.I. will carry the Certified Island Beef brand, after signing a new distribution agreement.

The AAA-grade beef is raised on 90 Island family farms, with no hormones, and using humane practices.

"What has changed is that we have more producers on the program," explained Sebastian Manago, CEO of the Island Food Partnership.


Local burgers can finally be made from Certified P.E.I. beef

"The program has gotten more attention, also more attention in Atlantic Canada, and Sobeys started to ask about it and that's how it got to be in Sobeys stores in P.E.I. now."

Farmers involved have to take courses on handling animals in more humane ways, and running farms that cause the cattle less stress. The cattle must also be kept drug-free at least 120 days before slaughter.

In exchange for the more expensive practices, there's a $110 premium paid on every animal sold. That is split between the cattle farmers, the Island beef plant and the Food Island Partnership, which markets the meat.

Brian Morrison chairs the PEI Cattle Producers Association. He believes this approach will be the turning point for an Island industry that lost half of its producers in the last decade due to low prices.

"I truly believe that producers will have the confidence to reinvest in our industry," said Morrison, "get more cattle out in the countryside, put P.E.I. on the map as the best beef in Canada."

Morrison thinks prices for Certified Island Beef will be somewhere in the middle of the available range, below the highest premium cuts offered, but more expensive than the cheapest cuts on the market.

He believes Island customers will be willing to pay a little more to support local farmers.

With files from Laura Chapin