A turkey farmer’s voice: How much do you want to know about turkey farming?

By Clair Doan, turkey farmer

As a turkey farmer it is important to be able to share our family farm story. Talking about how we grow and care for our turkeys is important to me because I am proud of what we do and, most of all, love eating turkey with my family. With the likes of social media,  it is not hard to be a part of the conversation or see the many posts about our birds and farm. However, last night I took the opportunity to view the W5 program on CTV called “Fowl Business” where our industry has been criticized for our handling of live turkeys from the farm to plate, mostly through the shackling and live stunning process at slaughter. My initial reaction was more mixed than I had anticipated, given our industry is directly impacted by consumer perceptions and influenced by media — perhaps there was some truth to this story.

I encourage you to watch this footage where the program relies on a “whistle blower” from Mercy for Animals, an organization whose main purpose is to convert people to veganism. I could focus on the inaccuracies and clear bias presented by this organization (as there were many). W5 counterbalanced this with the famous Temple Grandin. I could focus on the food itself and how consumers connect to their meals which I think is more effective, long term. As a farmer, the company implicated in the report was Lilydale, a Sofina Foods owned company, a sister firm to the buyer of most of our birds.

To clarify a couple of points first: I take great issue with undercover employees, with direct motives to identify irregularities in meat processing systems while knowingly being supported by Mercy For Animals. As well, the Lilydale employee, who was referenced a number of times, should most certainly be reprimanded and I am sure no longer works for the firm based on his actions and general lack of concern for the animals. However, in reality, we are always looking for the exception where rules are broken and people are not respecting the care and compassion for the animals.

Photo credit: Clair Doan

Photo credit: Clair Doan

The reality is the entire meat sector suffers from a similar crisis — their business of transforming a living animal into food, which for most part, people, is not a nice process to watch! Sure, we all love the end product on the BBQ, but connecting consumers to where their food comes from stops short of the animal leaving the farm.

Even as a farmer, after my turkeys are loaded off the truck, it is truly not my responsibility to what happens to them afterwards. What I do consider is ensuring that as close to 100% of the birds and meat were of superior quality as possible. As turkey farmers, I have personally undergone safe handling and loading of turkeys. We employ on-farm food safety protocols, which include all animals be respected and those suffering must be immediately and humanly euthanized on farm.

Recently, farm commodity boards have asked farmers to share their stories, to bring consumers, the media and influencers to their farm to share real stories of the people that truly care about our food system. I truly believe that we have a great story to tell on farm, but it begs the question, how much information is enough and how much is too much?

As a farmer, my primary goal is to raise healthy and productive turkeys. I do everything possible to maintain a positive environment for them including, fine-tuned nutrition, safe housing, ample bedding and medication, if it is required. The last thing I like seeing on my farm are sick or dead birds. So when it comes to slaughtering the turkeys, it is a difficult sight to watch. I don’t like blood in general and there are different sights, smells, movement and noises that come with the slaughter and processing of livestock. So like other consumers, the slaughter part of food production is never talked about, let alone seeing video footage of this stage. To me, the “Fowl Business” highlights the fact that living animals die for us to eat them, regardless of the perceived mishandling.

This past April, I had the privilege of visiting the largest turkey processors in Germany. It is estimated that 60,000 turkeys are handled per day, which equates to the entire Canadian production in about seven months at this one facility. Through using controlled atmospheric stunning, the facilities operated with utmost efficiency. When I spoke to the marketing manager, I asked “What message do you want me leaving the visit with?” His response was simple, that we value animal welfare from farm to plate and that their facility employs the latest technology which promotes efficient output of quality meat products. The visit in Germany left me with one on the most positive feelings regarding turkey meat, in that it was not a stomach turning, ethically questioning experience!

As an industry, I am interested to learn how Lilydale/Sofina will react to this news report, at the same time look forward to an overall industry reaction as I do believe it may be turkey today, but can easily be hogs or beef or chicken tomorrow. Yet at the same time, as a farmer, I am proud of our accomplishments on farm, yet we will only be successful in the future if we are part of an entire value chain that is effective at communicating our standards and expectations to all consumers, at the same time respecting their potential views on humane treatment of animals through the entire lifecycle.

The CTV show W5 called “Fowl Business” continues to irritate me by relying animal rights group spies and unfortunate employees that either lack training and demonstrate unacceptable behaviours to speak about the humane issues of turkey. At the same time there are reasons we pay for Canadian Food Inspection Agency, work within organized marketing boards, and abide by every increasing animal welfare protocols on farm that must work as succinct systems. I willingly continue to share our farm story in efforts of helping connect people with their food. Unfortunately delivering the message around the transformation from alive to dead is a difficult story to comprehend, but we must remember our food story does not end at the farm nor start at the grocery store.

This blog post first appeared on www.clairdoan.com

Be Wary of People Preying on Fear

By Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care

No, this isn't how a GMO is made (and no, there are no commercially available GMO tomatoes, anyway)

No, this isn’t how a GMO is made (and no, there are no commercially available GMO tomatoes, anyway)

Do you see pictures like this from time to time? If so, do society a service and call rubbish.

Contrary to what such images imply, our food didn’t drop out of the comic book universe. It may have been produced in part with science — and some pretty incredible science at that — but such science hardly looks as controversial as sticking a tomato with a needle of malignant looking kool-aid.

I don’t know who takes the time to make these images, but the purpose behind doing so is, without a shadow of doubt, to misinform and frighten. I’d like to think that the designers genuinely don’t understand the science against which they rail, but it is perfectly plausible, of course, that they are well aware of how misleading such visual creations can be.

These pictures reduce food science technology to a level akin with antagonists from the Resident Evil franchise – you know, the Umbrella Corporation’s cronies and their zombie-spawning pharmaceuticals.

Assuming, then, that there is some kind of article or information accompanying the picture, can a person trust it? Likely not.

Here’s a typical example of something I see on an all-to-frequent basis. It’s titled “FDA finally admits 70 per cent of chicken contains arsenic,” and there are some major issues right from the start.

First, the article appears on what is, essentially, a blog site and not a legitimate news source. Second, the article features an image of a chicken being injected with some kind of tan liquid — a practice which exists solely in the mind of the image creator. Third, the very title of the article implies a distinct slant on the part of the author which, coincidently, seems to be a New York media production company with some very strong views on many science-y things.

Upon reading, we learn that a treatment for chickens produced by Pfizer – one of those pharmaceutical companies – is leaving traces of inorganic arsenic in the livers of chickens; the Food and Drug Administration in the United States has, as it says, “finally admitted” to the problem, and somehow manages to simultaneously condemn water companies by saying “the level of inorganic arsenic found in the chicken livers is equivalent to the amount of inorganic arsenic found in an eight-ounce glass of drinking water.”

The easy (and wrong) conclusion? Americans must be ingesting dangerous levels of arsenic whenever they eat chicken or drink water.

Of course, this conclusion is completely contrary to what the Food and Drug Administration said on the issue – there’s really nothing wrong with chicken, or water for that matter – but that’s almost beside the point. With so many things initially wrong with the piece – multiple misleading and fabricated pictures, a clear slant in the title, and an unaccredited information source – a person should, theoretically, never even get as far as the first paragraph.

If that were the case, though, I wouldn’t be writing this.

People read, and people listen. And not just disconnected, uneducated folks either — articles and images like this do nothing but perpetuate ignorance. Stemming the spread of this type of visual drivel comes down, at least in part, to critical thinking.

We live in a fast-paced world, and often don’t have the time or mental energy to research every issue in depth. Images of syringes sticking food products, though, should be an automatic red flag declaring “approach with caution.” They are ridiculous pictures, these things, and people employing them as fact should not be trusted.

An Open Letter and Invitation to Rachel Parent

By Lauren Benoit

Dear Rachel Parent,

My name is Lauren Benoit. I’m 21 years old and I have been following your story and your crusade against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for quite some time. You are a remarkably talented and accomplished young lady. I applaud your quest to provide people with more information about where their food comes from.

As both a farmer and someone who aspires to a career in science, I couldn’t agree more that the public deserves accurate reliable information about the products on grocery store shelves. Truthfully, the only place we disagree on is what actually qualifies as good information.

I am firmly in the pro-GMO camp. Biotechnology is a valuable tool for farmers that allows us to grow the abundance of safe and affordable food that we are privileged to here in Canada. The use of GM technology has several benefits, including reducing the need for tillage (which can cause soil erosion) and reducing the amount of fossil fuel burned on farm (and thus GHG emissions). More recent genetically-modified innovations, such as non-browning apples or bruise-resistant potatoes, are new options to help significantly reduce food waste.

The National Academy of Science recently released a report supporting the safety of GMO foods and cited no risk to the environment or humans — the future of science and biotechnology is bright.

Right now, you are choosing to continue your anti-GMO crusade despite overwhelming evidence that your information is flawed. I don’t know if this is because you distrust the more than 270 scientific bodies standing behind the safety of GMOs or because of the financial gain and social status that you gain from it. Either way, I feel for you. The empire that you have built on pseudoscience and fear seems to be crumbling.

For someone at the age where they are just beginning a career, I could understand if you’re afraid of what this means for you. Being 19 years old is hard enough as it is, and you have a lot of added weight on your shoulders right now. You started Kids Right to Know when you were 11 years old. You’ve spent 8 years — almost half your life — working on this cause, and as we continue to learn about GM technology, the facts are not in your favour. 

Even though we disagree on a topic very near to both our hearts, I do respect your drive and, if armed with accurate information, I think you have potential to become one of the great scientific communicators of our generation. I truly hope that you will listen to the science before it is too late and we see what could have become a wonderful career communicating science-based information disintegrate.

I would very much like to meet you and hear more of your story, if you’d be willing to meet — the coffee’s on me.

Yours truly,

Lauren Benoit

Lauren BenoitLauren Benoit is a 2016 BSc. (Agr) graduate from the University of Guelph who was raised on a grain farm just outside of Kirkton, ON. Lauren is currently working in crop protection research and has plans to begin an MSc. Degree in weed science at the University of Guelph in January 2017.

Activists bring devastation and death to Ontario mink farm

By Kelly Daynard

Kirk Rankin can well remember an early morning last summer when he walked out to his barns in the morning and discovered that they’d been broken into overnight. “I felt anger and an incredible sick feeling in my stomach knowing the mess that was waiting for me inside.”

And a mess it was — 6,300 minks released from their cages from two of Rankin’s barns. There were many casualties both related to the animals being let out and then a subsequent bout of pneumonia that went through the surviving animals as a result of the incredible stress on the barn’s inhabitants.

Fast forward nine months to last weekend when another 500 mink were released from a farm in Brant County. That makes four break ins/releases in Ontario in the last year accounting for about 8,000 animals.

Rankin, who is a past president of the Canadian Mink Breeders Association and one of 300 Canadian mink farmers, is emotional when he talks about the impact on his animals and on the industry. “We’re an industry under attack,” he says, adding, “The people who do this call themselves animal activists but they’re killing — not helping — the animals.”

image1In the most recent case, the barn was filled with litters of newborn kits (baby mink) who were between one and 10 days of age. These babies are no bigger than your finger, in most cases. “Their mothers provide all their warmth and all their food,” Rankin says.

He explained that it’s almost impossible for humans to tell one kit from another. As a result, after a break in, it’s virtually impossible to reconnect the babies with their real mothers and mother animals are far less likely to nurse kits that aren’t their own.

The adults, he said, are also ill prepared to handle life outside of the barn. “They’ve never had to hunt for food,” Rankin says, “they’ll starve on their own.”

In the latest case, activists gained entry by cutting through the side of the barn before unhooking security cameras and opening 500 pens to release the mink.

Rankin is a fourth generation Canadian mink farm. It was started by his grandfather Dow in 1937 and continued by his father Jim when he came home from college in 1949 to farm. Today, Kirk is assisted by his sons Jamie and Curtis and nephew Steve who are the fourth generation of the family to raise mink.

Kirk has a passion for animal welfare and sits on a number of national organizations. In 2013, he led a committee responsible for updating the Code of Practice for Farmed Mink.  Codes of Practice are the national guidelines that farmers follow when caring for farm animals. The 60 page document covers all aspects of mink care — housing requirements, feed and water, floor space, air quality, veterinary care, transportation and more.

Work on the document was done by a committee of experts from across the country representing many areas of interest from government and farmers to humane societies, veterinarians and researchers. Kirk said that the process was a rewarding one and one that will benefit all mink raised in Canada and all mink farmers. He said that that document has led to significant animal welfare improvements on mink farms — including bigger pens and fewer animals in each pen. “We’ve done so much work to improve animal welfare in our industry,” says Rankin, “but these activists are still coming in and doing terrific damage.” If they want to make a difference, he suggests that they try to work with the industry on animal welfare initiatives instead of killing animals through their actions.

The only good outcome resulting from the break-ins may be the show of support that the farmers experienced from those outraged by the acts of cruelty. More than 40 neighbours and other mink farmers showed up to the latest farm to offer help in catching and saving the animals.

Last summer, the Canadian Mink Breeders Association offered a $75,000 reward for information leading to charges against those responsible. As of yet, that reward has been unclaimed.

Meatless Mondays are a new campaign – Fact or Fiction?

FactFictonFICTION: Meatless Mondays date back to World Wars I and II. At that time, Meatless Mondays were part of U.S. government efforts to encourage consumers to do their part on the home front by rationing and reducing consumption of certain food items. It was a patriotic way for those at home to support the war effort and the troops fighting overseas by ensuring our soldiers had access to all the nutritious food they needed. Continue reading

There’s a new void to fill in science communication

By Dr. Maria Trainer, Managing director, science and regulatory affairs, chemistry, CropLife Canada

Maria-Trainer-768x1024As scientists we generally aren’t renowned for our communications prowess, particularly communications with the public. Many of us would rather work away in our laboratories and communicate with our peers than actively seek out opportunities to talk to the public about our work. Particularly when our work is in the field of, to use the vernacular, “genetic engineering”.

Dr. Kevin Folta ─ Professor and Chairman of the Horticultural Sciences department at the University of Florida ─ is different. A geneticist by trade, Kevin has dedicated a huge amount of his own time and energy to educating the public about the science of biotechnology and so-called “GMOs”. He’s good at it too, as you can see here in a recent address he gave to a public audience at McGill University during the 2015 Trottier Science Symposium.

The downside to being good ─ really good actually ─ at talking about the science of biotechnology is that it annoys people. Specifically it annoys those people whose cause is served by preserving and promoting widespread ignorance on the topic of GMOs. These people, and the groups they represent, depend on the public not really knowing what GMOs are but being “fairly sure they’re a bad thing”.

Since the scientific consensus on the safety of currently deployed biotechnology applications is solid, these groups have had to resort to personal attacks on the handful of scientists, like Kevin, who have been brave enough to speak up.

Read more here about how Kevin became a lightning rod for the anti-science community and the breaking point, which has left a big void to fill in science communication.

Re-posted with permission.

The Highs & Lows of Week One On #Farm365

January 7, 2015

By Andrew Campbell, Ontario dairy farmer

Who knew so many people would want to look in on the farm?

What started as a simple idea on New Year’s Day based on other photo-a-day challenges, #farm365 on Twitter has turned into something far greater than a few pictures of corn or cows. It’s turned into a great force of farmers sticking up for themselves and consumers getting a better idea of what it takes to send food out of the driveway. I wanted to share a few highs and lows about the first week. Let’s get the lows out of the way. Continue reading

Be positive when responding to critics in social media

By Brent Royce, Ontario farmer

As I’ve watched Twitter over the last week I’ve been both surprised and disappointed by how those in Ontario agriculture have reacted to the point that for a few days I didn’t even know what to say or how to say it.

With the New Year, a new hashtag has emerged: #farm365 is the brain child of a very good agriculture spokesman – @FreshAirFarmer. The uptake of this has been amazing to say the least; agriculture has grabbed hold of this and have run to open their farm doors virtually to help connect with the urban public. Continue reading

New Year’s Roundup: The Top 5 in 2014

On the last day of 2014, we thought it would be fun to look back at the most popular posts on Let’s Talk Farm Animals this year. Here’s how they stacked up in popularity with you, our readers.

#5: Let’s get talking! 

Alright.  I believe it is time to dust off the old soap box and step back on…
Many organizations reporters and marketing programs recently have expressed opinions about what is the “ideal” regarding animal production in Canada.  “Better Beef” from A&W, the W5 report regarding egg layer operations, PETA, HSUS throw around ideas and words intended to pluck at the strings of the consumer’s heart to show that they are better, that they care, that they are not the enemy while big business – agriculture – is trying to simply make an extra buck.  Phrases such as environmentally friendly, sustainable, humane, antibiotic free are tossed around like so much feed in a pig barn. Although I group these organizations together, their underlining intent is often not the same. READ MORE

#4: Conventional versus organic milk production – do you know the difference?

This weekend an interesting conversation came up about organic milk production.  And it’s shameful to admit but I realized just how little I know about it!  So this started me on a quest to learn more about the differences between organic and conventional milk and thought I would share some of my findings with you. READ MORE

#3: Animals are animals, not people

A few weeks ago we were sitting around watching a Disney cartoon with our two young children before bedtime activities started. One of the more senior members of our family who happened to be in the room with us (a recent retiree from farming) made a comment that went something like “Disney has ruined society’s perception of animal agriculture”. At first, I brushed it off with a laugh but have been thinking that perhaps that statement holds more truth than I first thought. READ MORE

#2: Inside Farming: Hormones are everywhere, including in you

There is much buzz in today’s media about wanting hormone-free meat. Can I let you in on a secret? There is no such thing. You see, just like humans, all animals have naturally occurring hormones in their bodies. What the consumer is actually trying to get when they ask for “hormone-free beef” is animals that are raised with no hormones outside of their own. Companies such as A&W are trying to scare consumers into thinking that their products are better because they are using beef that is raised without growth hormone implants. READ MORE

#1: Kids in the barn

Over the past few months, as people hear I’m now working in the barn alongside my husband, there’s one question that we commonly get asked. “What do you do with the kids while you’re in the barn?” READ MORE

 

 

Seth loves helping in the barn

Seth loves helping in the barn

Happy New Year!

 

 

Dear Wayne Pacelle

Guest blog by Carrie Mess, Wisconsin Dairy Farmer (www.dairycarrie.com)

Reprinted with permission

Dear Wayne,

I hope you’re not offended by my calling you Wayne. You don’t know me but my name is Carrie Mess and I am a Wisconsin Dairy Farmer. A few weeks ago you posted an open letter to Agriculture Journalists and Leaders. While I’m just a blogger and don’t consider myself anywhere near a journalist, I do think of myself as a leader in my community, so I am taking your letter to be directed towards me and my peers.

After reading your open letter, I had a few thoughts that I wanted to share in response. I like your format so I figured an open letter back would work well. Your letter is pretty long winded so I’m just going to pull out a few bullet points to discuss.

  • It’s quite obvious that you don’t care for Rick Berman and Humane Watch. If I was in your current  position after years of being fast and loose with the facts and I suddenly had a group calling my organization out, I wouldn’t like them much either.  I find it funny that you call out Rick Berman for being a lobbyist when HSUS spends millions on lobbying each year.
  • You state that the HSUS is governed by a 27 person board of directors and that those  directors are unpaid volunteers. That sounds about right for a nonprofit  organization to me. However, according to the HSUS      2012 tax filing you make $347,000 a year. Your organization has  another 38 people making over $100,000 a year. I know that my local human society  would be able to make a world of difference with just a fraction of your  salary. How many animals would be helped if you took a pay cut and sent that money on to local shelters?
  • You claim that HSUS has the highest charity rating from the Better Business Bureau  and Charity Navigator. Never mind that the Better Business Bureau is Pass/Fail and seems      to have serious issues with your organization. In the last 12 years, HSUS has only been ranked at the top of Charity Navigator’s scale 50% of time. You also leave out your D grade from Charity Watch.

To read the rest visit http://dairycarrie.com/2014/02/10/dear-wayne-pacelle/