By Farmers Forum staff
PICTON — Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach wants to build a new 10,000-sq.-ft. organic beef processing facility in Prince Edward County where his son runs a beef operation.
The 87-year-old Order of Canada recipient, who built auto part giant Magna International, made his pitch to Prince Edward County agriculture advisory committee last month in a 10-minute presentation followed by almost two hours of public comments and questions. The council chamber was filled with local residents, as well as a local environmentalist group that opposes a plant on what it says are significant wetlands. Stronach said that he wants to build an abattoir, in the southernmost tip of the county, where it juts into Lake Ontario, and where animals will be slaughtered at 19 months to 24 months and feel no pain.
“Animals are subservient to mankind but that doesn’t give us the right to be cruel,” Stronach told the agricultural committee. The Austrian-born businessman added: “The way the business normally works is you have a middle man who brings trucks of cattle to feed lots nearby processing plants. If you’ve ever seen stuff like that, when you hear the cry of the animals, they know. It’s very barbaric. So, our number one principle is no pain to the animals, no stress, no hormones, no antibiotics, GMO foods, and organic food.”
Stronach, who lives part-time in Austria, and in Aurora, Ontario, is the founder of Magna International Inc., the largest auto parts manufacturer in North America, with revenues of $50 billion in 2018. The company paid him $870 million to buy him out in 2010. He is considered one of the richest people in Canada with a net worth of more than $3 billion.
In the letter to Prince Edward County, Stronach said he wanted to “work together with local farmers to produce all-natural, high-quality beef,” in a “mutually beneficial arrangement, where farmers would grow organic cattle for us.”
Stronach is no stranger to farming. He already owns about 100,000 acres of farmland in Florida where he raises at least 8,000 cattle. He also owns a Florida beef processing plant, where the public can visit once a week to ensure transparency. Stronach said the plan for Prince Edward County is to start processing 10 cattle per week, eventually moving up to a maximum of 100 cattle per week. He would also like to tie an organic supermarket chain and restaurant to the facility. He said that he could have the abattoir up and running within a year and would eventually hire about 20 people. The abattoir would also need to be federally-inspected to eventually fill the Montreal market, he said.
That is, of course, if area farmers are willing to join in this partnership. “I would only go to a place where I know I am welcome and where local farmers would see a benefit to having access to a processing plant,” Stronach said.
He told the Picton crowd: “I think I made a great contribution to the automotive industry but I think I have always been a farmer.”
He believes that too many chemicals in food are responsible for so many children with allergies. He also argued that specialized food is the future. “It is a noble thing to produce good food.”
He said that his company, Magna, became the number one company in the world. “I want to do the same thing in the food industry.” He added that Prince Edward can build its own local brand of beef but that requires two principles: transparency and traceability. He said that the processing plant would operate on the condition of having “open books” and would pay farmers 5 to 10 per cent premium for live weight cattle and pay farmers again 5 to 10 per cent of plant profits. “So farmers would rise with us,” he said.
When asked at the Picton committee meeting if had done market research or had a business plan, he replied: “I have a gut instinct and a feeling” and then explained that he has talked to many people and “I know how much this thing would cost but I don’t need to write it down. I have it in my head. I take notes. Not market research. I talk to people and about what they are feeling . . . It’s my investment. I don’t ask for anybody else to invest. I have been, call it lucky. I have done very well.”
He later stressed that he is not motivated by profit. “Why would I take a short cut? It’s not the money. I’ve got enough money. That’s not what I am driven by. I want to do what is right. Does society benefit?”
Speaking to CBC News, Prince Edward Cattlemen’s Association president John Hancock said the county currently only has one certified organic beef operation, with another working on it. Getting certified organic for a livestock operation is no easy thing, nor quick: The animals have to be fed organic feed for three years before they can be marketed as certified organic.
Stronach’s son, Andrew, moved to the county about eight years ago, where he owns several thousand acres of land and raises grass-fed Black Angus beef cattle.
Area-farmer Curtis Baitley, who runs a local beef and cash crop operation, presented the ag committee with a few concerns. Stronach had stressed having an antibiotic-free supply chain, Baitley said. “What do you do when the animals get sick? We have a pinkeye problem in cattle on pasture (in the county).”
Baitley added that finishing a grass-fed animal takes about 24 months. “It’s pretty well impossible to wait that long to make a payment to the bank. (Stronach’s) offering five per cent (premium on live weight cattle). We need at least 40 per cent to make it worthwhile.”
Stronach, who has pursued a plethora of diverse projects over the years, is in the middle of an ongoing family legal battle. Last year Stronach sued his daughter, Belinda, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, who took over management of his assets, arguing that she’d mismanaged them. She countersued in January, alleging that her father had wasted large amounts of money on pet projects, including a cattle ranch.
County Coun. Jamie Forrester told Farmers Forum that Stronach’s presentation seemed “more like a vision at this point.”
By late September, Stronach had not submitted a formal application to the municipality.
EASTERN ONTARIO: Billionaire Frank Stronach pitches no-pain slaughterhouse for Prince Edward County
By Farmers Forum staff