SAINT-ELZEAR | Farmers who became collateral victims of the mad deer disease crisis now fear their industry will disappear if governments don’t help them quickly.
Since the discovery of animals suffering from chronic wasting disease (CWD) on a single farm in Quebec last summer, cautious consumers are buying far less venison.
Result: its price dropped by half.
What could be seen as good news for wild meat consumers, however, is putting producers on the brink of bankruptcy.
“I have $55,000 worth of hay to buy quickly […]. My credit line is almost full,” worries Gaëtan Lehoux, a Beauce breeder who owns 600 animals.
Photo Jean-François Desgagnes
Times are so tough that he has had to find daytime forestry work in addition to night snow shoveling to support himself. He’s trying to buy time before he has to close his farm.
The deer of Mr. Lehoux appear healthy, although he is one of the few farms in quarantine.
The crisis began in August, when the first deer with CWD was discovered in a herd at Harpur Farms in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, in the Laurentians, about 400 km from its breeding.
A few weeks later, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency forced Harpur Farms to cull the 3,200 red deer on its farms. Eleven positive animals were detected. The meat of the others, negative, was sold.
Requested government help
In 30 years, the creator of Saint-Jean-de-Brébeuf in Estrie Mario Giguère has never used his line of credit. That changed in October.
“The price of meat went from US$5.50/lb to US$3/lb when we were able to sell it. It doesn’t even cover my costs,” laments Mr. Giguere. Same story for Ferme Richard Lemay in Saint-André-d’Argenteuil, in the Laurentians.
Armand Plourde of the Union des producteurs agricole specifies that only twenty breeders are not in difficulty among the roughly one hundred breeders in Quebec.
Those who do, he says, “are all small farmers who sell the meat directly from their butchers on their farms. All others are collateral victims of Harpur Farm. »
Farmers are asking for government help to avoid losing everything. For the aid announced so far, it is still unclear who will benefit and how much they will receive.
Slaughtered white-tailed deer
Hunting white-tailed deer was also banned in a territory of 400 km2, because the Quebec government feared that the disease would spread outside the enclosure. However, no cases have been detected in the wild or in other breeders since. The hunt for professionals paid by Quebec continues.
This disease is similar to mad cow disease. She can kill a beast in a few months. With the disease mutating, experts recommend that humans avoid consuming meat that could be contaminated.
America’s largest producer to close
GRENVILLE-SUR-LA-ROUGE | The breeding company Harpur Farms, where the 11 cases of mad deer disease were detected, will permanently close its doors this summer.
Due to genetics and breeding methods, the company will not be able to restart production, says breeding farm manager Denis Ferrer.
The End of Boileau’s Deer
“It would take many years to get back to the level of meat quality we had,” explains Denis Ferrer.
Harpur Farms venison was marketed under the Cerf de Boileau brand. This was a quality of meat considered red venison caviar. She was recognized worldwide.
It was also the largest farm in North America. She also had her own slaughterhouse.
Les Viandes de la Petite Nation slaughterhouse in Saint-André d’Avellin, owned by Harpur Farms, will follow soon after, says Ferrer. Twenty jobs will be lost in total.
“It’s sad, but it was the only solution to protect wild cattle,” said Boileau Municipality Mayor Robert Mayer.
As for the mayor of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, he said he was happy. “We had no choice. We don’t want any more breeding on our territory,” said Tom Harnold.
The mayor of Saint-André-Avellin was surprised by the news. He preferred not to comment before making an issue with the company.