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Makeshift slaughterhouse in a residential garage points to growing concerns about illicit meat sales

Inside a garage in an established Edmonton neighbourhood, animals were being slaughtered and the meat was advertised for sale to consumers, a CBC News investigation has learned.

Police entered the rented garage in the quiet residential Woodcroft community in February 2023. Images shared with CBC News show piles of goat carcasses, tubs of blood and the remains of a skinned baby goat on a makeshift slaughter table.

Neighbour John Bos told CBC News that the sounds of bleating goats first alerted him to unusual activity in the garage. 

He contacted the owner of the property when he saw goats being unloaded from a truck. Bos said he was surprised by the way the goats were handled.

“They’re using two-by-fours, prodding them along. Like, I thought that’s kind of weird,” he said.

A goat peeks over a truck tailgate. Several animals can be seen loaded into the covered back of a pickup truck.
Goats loaded into the back of a truck outside an illicit abattoir in north-central Edmonton. (Submitted)

The next morning, things got stranger when he saw several goats bolting down the back alley. Bos says he called Edmonton’s animal control officers and then stepped outside to get a closer look. 

Through the open garage door, he witnessed what he calls a shocking sight.

“What I seen almost made me throw up. There was goat parts everywhere. Blood on the wall. It was gross,” he said. 

“Like legs, heads.… There was a little one on the table, it was all skinned, but you could tell it was a little baby lamb or baby goat. It just made my heart sick.”

Edmonton animal control officers arrived and rounded up four goats that had escaped, as well as several live goats from the garage, Bos said.

A post published at the time to a Facebook group for the Edmonton Muslim community offered “young fresh goats” and beef for $6 per kilogram. “Everything is halal,” the post stated. It included a phone number and the address of the Woodcroft garage. 

The interior of a garage with a wet-dry vacuum, a garbage can and several rubber tubs. A table at the back of the garage is covered in a large top. Visible on the top are skinned pieces of an animal
Butchered meat sits on top of a tarp-covered table inside the garage. (John Bos)

The Facebook post was taken down soon after police cleared out the garage. 

CBC contacted the renter, Yusef Izairi, by phone on Wednesday. Izairi said he was slaughtering the animals for friends, given the high meat prices at commercial butchers and grocery stores. When asked several times about offering meat for purchase on social media, he repeated that he was helping to serve his community and that he was not selling it.

Izairi says between 10 and 12 goats were slaughtered in the garage. He says friends purchased the animals from farms.

Edmonton police investigated but no charges were laid, a spokesperson told CBC News in early April. The spokesperson declined to offer any further comment. 

A spokesperson for Edmonton Animal Care and Control has also confirmed the incident but referred questions to the police.

Multiple agencies investigating

The slaughter and sale of uninspected meat is a growing problem, said Ron Wiebe, an Alberta Agriculture inspection and investigations manager for southern Alberta. In an emailed statement to CBC News, Wiebe confirmed that there are ongoing investigations throughout the province.

The sale of uninspected meat has increased in recent years, he said.

Cuts of beef from illicit sources can be purchased for less than half the cost that would be paid for meat produced by a federally or provincially inspected slaughterhouse.

Last week, health inspectors ordered the closure of six Calgary halal grocers, a catering company and a provincial warehouse and distribution centre as a result of the ongoing investigation. An RCMP spokesperson said the investigation into the illegal slaughter and sale of sheep and goats began last fall.

On Tuesday, Alberta Health Services (AHS) issued a news release warning of a significant health risk associated with meat products purchased from the eight businesses. It advised anyone who purchased meat, or meat products from the establishments to dispose of it and watch for any symptoms of gastrointestinal bacterial infection.

AHS added in the statement that it is collaborating with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, RCMP, Alberta Health and Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation in the ongoing investigation into the Calgary meat shops.

Serious risk to human health

The AHS warning echoes the concerns of Lynn McMullen, a retired professor of food microbiology and food safety at the University of Alberta, who says meat produced at uninspected abattoirs poses a serious risk to human health. 

Even with Canada’s inspection system, meat tainted with E.coli, listeria or other bacteria that have health implications for humans can make it to market. In the absence of inspections,  the risk rises, she said.

And once a pathogen enters the consumer food chain, it is difficult to detect and nearly impossible to trace back to the source, she said.

A large saw mounted on a stainless steel table, on which bits of blood and flesh can be seen.
A bandsaw inside the garage where a slaughterhouse was operating in February 2023. (Submitted)

“When they inspect restaurants, for example, they inspect once or twice a year. That’s a snapshot,” McMullen said. 

“How do we know that the rest of the time they’re doing things accordingly and doing things safely? We don’t.”

Similarly, if an establishment — for example, a butcher, restaurant, caterer or wholesaler — is supplementing inspected meat with other sources, inspectors can have a hard time detecting it.

“If there’s meat in a cooler, how does the inspector know where it came from? Unless they can show them their receipts and purchase requisitions, that sort of thing. But that’s today. What happens tomorrow could be very different.”

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, food-borne bacteria, parasites and viruses cause about four million illnesses, 11,600 hospitalizations and 238 deaths per year. In 60 per cent of cases, the source of the food poisoning is never traced.

In the case of meat that comes from an uninspected source, there is no information tracking where it has been sold. This makes it difficult for health officials to prove whether uninspected meat is the source of an outbreak, she said.

“A lot of these cases are sporadic, so they don’t get linked to something. It’s very, very difficult to say that this organism came from this food source, from this person, unless we have that food source.”

Other charges laid for illegal slaughter and sale

There are several ongoing court cases in Alberta over the slaughter and sale of uninspected meat. 

Two men from central Alberta, near the town of Didsbury, Alta., are facing charges of illegal slaughter, and selling, transporting and delivering uninspected meat. They made their first court appearance on March 25.

In March 2023, RCMP said it investigated the sale of meat coming from sick and injured cattle. Officers found 36 dead calves, more than 100 tags from slaughtered cows and discarded livestock body parts outside a facility located in Wheatland County in southern Alberta. RCMP photos show discarded body parts piled in a snow-covered heap.

Peter Wiebe is charged with causing unnecessary suffering to animals and selling uninspected meat.

A mound of dirty snow in which parts of animals are visible.
A photo taken by RCMP livestock investigators shows cattle carcasses discarded in the snow. The photo was taken during a 2023 investigation into an illegal slaughter operation. ( Alberta RCMP)

Wiebe’s operation had an on-farm slaughter permit, RCMP said, but Alberta’s meat inspection act does not permit uninspected meat to be sold to the public.

Specific regulations vary from province to province, but all meat entering the consumer system must be inspected either federally or provincially.

‘A very serious big deal’

Risk management consultant Neil LeMay, a former RCMP officer and deputy chief of Alberta Sheriffs, said he believes stolen animals are part of the underground illicit meat supply chain. He recently conducted an investigation for a client into Alberta’s red meat industry, which did not include the cases described in this story. 

He described the conclusions of his investigation as “troubling.”

LeMay began looking into criminal activity in the meat industry following a CBC News report last year into cattle thefts in Alberta.

LeMay says the co-ordination it takes to steal, transport, slaughter and then sell stolen livestock has all the hallmarks of organized crime, in that it requires a sophisticated network to make it happen.

“I think it’s a very serious big deal,” LeMay said. 

In 2023, the Alberta RCMP’s livestock division investigated about 50 cattle thefts, including one case where 85 cattle were taken from a remote field.

The RCMP in Saskatchewan investigated 34 cattle thefts last year, for a total of 148 cases since 2020. Cattle thefts are not specifically tracked by RCMP in British Columbia.

The Alberta RCMP employs two livestock investigators. B.C. and Saskatchewan have one each. 

“We have all the laws we need on the books,” LeMay said. 

“We need investment in enforcement. We need boots on the ground … on the cattle rustling side and on the meat processing side, to enforce those laws.”

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