Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Kill and Chill: Restructuring Canada's Beef Commodity Chain

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Kill and Chill: Restructuring Canada's Beef Commodity Chain

Article excerpt

I. MacLachlan, Kill and Chill: Restructuring Canada's Beef Commodity Chain (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), xiv + xviii photographs + 378pp. Cloth. $70.00. ISBN 0-8020-0847-X. Paper. $27-95. ISBN 0-8020-7832-X.

Ian MacLachlan's book represents something of a tour de force on Canada's meat packing industry. He follows the industry chain through from the 'grass roots' of calf-raising in Alberta to packaged beef in major supermarkets. The impetus for the book came from a visit to a packing plant by Ian MacLachlan and his students. This fascinated but horrified him and encouraged him to write a history and economic geography book on Canada's meat-packing industry.

The book is structured in three broad and interrelated parts: producing cattle, processing beef, and marketing beef. The detailed history of the industry from the mid-nineteenth century follows through to production systems founded around assembly-line methods and conceptualised by the author under Fordist principles. As an economic geographer, Ian MacLaclan emphasises the spatial shifts in meat packing originally based on cattle stockyards in eastern cities which have been replaced by vast packing plants in Alberta. For many decades the western-raised cattle were subject to movement eastwards which 'lost' value-added for the west's natural resource wealth. Perishability of the product as value was added to the beef was for many years a constraint for localization of the packing industry. Gradual improvements in refrigeration, freight transportation, and meat-packaging technology led to raw material orientation as the inertia of big investment in existing packing plants was overcome.

The historiography of the industry concentrates on the emergence of the big- three Canadian meat packers in the twentieth century. When these companies broke the power of the unions that afflicted the industry in the 1970s, companies from the US, such as Cargill Foods and IBP, bought out the domestic enterprises. This documents the transference of a Canadian controlled enterprise to the current continentalised industry dominated by American firms. …

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