White Stripes in Chicken — Should you be Worried?

By now you may have seen a few click-bait worthy articles highlighting a concern in chickens known as “white striping”, in which white lines can be observed in chicken meat purchased fresh at the grocery counter.

Farm & Food Care asked representatives from the Chicken Farmers of Canada to comment on what consumers were seeing and being told, and whether or not we might see this in Canada and if it’s of concern. Here’s what they said:

The research (in regards to white striping) in question has been conducted with birds that grow much bigger than they do here in Canada. The data references birds processed at 59, 61, and 63 days of age whereas in Canada, chickens are not grown to be as big and are most commonly processed at around 35 days of age and weigh about 2 kilograms. We do see some incidence of breast meat “striping” in Canada, but these are likely not as frequent, because our birds do not grow as big.

It’s important to note that white striping and other similar conditions present no food safety risk and chicken remains a nutritious choice. A recent nutrient analysis conducted by Silliker labs shows that chicken is a healthy, lean, source of protein.

“As part of an overall healthy diet that includes a variety of both animal and plant-based foods, Canadian chicken remains a great source of nutrition. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, not only do I recommend chicken as a healthy option, I will continue to do so and not change my advice in light of this report. All cuts of chicken, both light and dark meat, are a source of important nutrients such as protein, zinc, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and B vitamins such as B1, B2, and B12 to name a few which, are needed for health by all ages.”

Doug Cook, RDN MPH CDE

Read more here.

It’s true: Chickens grow faster today than they did in the past. However, this is due to breeding programs and feed efficiencies. In fact, the mortality rates, lameness issues, condemnation rates, and ascites concerns in chicken have all seen a marked decrease at the same time that growth rates have increased (See references below). And it’s important to note what is not making chickens grow faster: hormones or steroids. These have been illegal in chicken production in Canada since the 1960s.

Since birds are more efficient at converting feed to muscle, less land is needed, less manure is produced, fewer fossil fuels are used, and fewer emissions are generated, resulting in reduced environmental impacts.

Canada has a mandatory, enforced, and audited national animal care program, which is based on the National Farm Animal Care Council’s Code of Practice.  It was developed in consultation with over 40 stakeholders, and support for its implementation has come from animal care organizations, veterinary associations, industry professionals and more.

To learn more about how chicken is raised in Canada, talk to a farmer. Visit www.chickenfarmers.ca for all the info about production practices in Canada.

[1] National Chicken Council, “U.S. Broiler Performance,” September 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/u-s-broiler-performance/. [Accessed February 2017].
[2] D. N. Kapell, W. G. Hill, A. M. Neeteson, J. McAdam, A. N. Koerhuis and S. Avendaño, “Twenty-five years of selection for improved leg health in purebred broiler lines and underlying genetic parameters,” Poultry Science, vol. 91, pp. 3032-3043, 2012.
[3] Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, “Poultry Condemnation Report by Species for Federally Inspected Plants,” October 2016. [Online]. Available: http://aimis-simia.agr.gc.ca/rp/index-eng.cfm?menupos=1.01.04&action=pR&pdctc=&r=133&LANG=EN. [Accessed February 2017].

10 Reasons to Love (and Trust) Your Food

Guest Post by Patricia Chuey

I always embrace any opportunity to visit my home province. In addition to getting back to see family a few times each year, every so often I’m fortunate that my work also takes me there.

I recently had the opportunity to attend an agricultural tour sponsored by Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan and a number of groups representing many of the main foods grown or raised in Saskatchewan including flax, pulses, lentilsmustard (and Frenchs), barley, canola, chicken, eggs,beef, pork along with tourism Saskatchewan and Crop Life Canada. This type of tour came at a very important point in my professional life in regularly facing questions and grave concerns from consumers about quality in the food supply. I wish I could have magically had every person whose ever asked me about organic, free range, hormones, steroids, animal welfare, genetic modification and related issues by my side as our group of food writers, media dietitians and chefs from North America met many farmers on their farms, toured an egg processing plant, visited agriculture and bioresource greenhouses and the University of Saskatchewan Grains Innovation Laboratory. (We toured a prairie brewery too!) But, having them all join me wasn’t possible.

farm-collageBecause I couldn’t do that, I want to share 10 thoughts from many critical conversations on the tour. I left feeling renewed and more confident than ever in the quality of the food our Canadian farmers provide to the marketplace. Although I still feel heavy-hearted for the many people I’ve met who feel completely confused about what to eat or to safely feed their family, in many ways I felt both ‘cured’ of mass confusion and energized to continue sharing the truth of what I witnessed. Our group also left very well fed and richer in spirit for having experienced the passion and commitment these food producers put into the food they feed their families and share with Canada and the world.

There were countless reminders of the conscientious commitment farmers make to providing safe food to consumers and the challenges they face from often misinformed, yet vocal, adversaries. Here are few points I encourage thinking about:

  1. Less than 2% of Canadians are directly involved in farming to provide food for the remaining 98%. Typically, the more removed a person is from the farm, the more critical they are of farming. So unfortunate and a source of mass confusion and misinformation. It’s worth finding out the farm experience and background from the person who may be criticizing farming. Asking questions is great and very strongly encouraged. Unqualified folks scaring people about farm-raised food, isn’t.
  2. Canadian farmers are very open to talking about their operations and have nothing to hide. The industry is strictly regulated and uses the latest SAFE technology to produce food that is nutritious and affordable. Big corporations have NOT taken over Canadian farms. More than 97% of Canadian farms are family owned and operated.
  3. There is zero difference nutritionally between white and brown eggs. The difference lies in the feather colour of the hens they come from. Brown are perceived as healthier. What applies to brown bread or brown rice versus white with fibre content, is NOT relevant to eggs. If you buy free range or free run eggs and the shells happen to be brown, know that isn’t a characteristic indicating a free range egg, but simply a brown-feathered hen. Free range eggs also come in white shells. There’s actually more risk of contamination in free range eggs as the conditions in which the chickens are raised can’t be monitored quite as carefully as indoor operations. Egg farmers are committed to providing a variety of egg choices in the marketplace in response to consumer demand. I suggested the egg producers start selling a dozen odd-shaped or non-uniform eggs if we really want to see “natural” eggs. Consumers want ‘natural’ yet also want 12 eggs that look the same. Go figure?! Maybe someday NUeggs (Non-uniform eggs) will be a thing! #HeardItHereFirst
  4. Egg yolk colour is determined by the type of feed a hen eats. Wheat-based diets produce pale yolks while corn or alfalfa-based produce darker yellow. Yolk colour is not an indication of freshness or nutritional value. Organic eggs are fed certified organic grains which cost more.
  5. It is ILLEGAL in Canada to use hormones or antibiotics in chickens. “Ads promoting hormone-free chicken are like adds promoting water that is wet”. No pigs, chickens, turkeys or egg-laying hens in our country are fed hormones. It has been illegal for decades. And they’re not used in milk production in Canada either. Some beef farmers do use approved hormones in cattle. Hormone levels in beef from cattle treated with hormones are virtually the same as beef from untreated cattle once in the food system. Any hormones are administered to cattle in safe time before they are made available for food. Calves are immunized for the same reasons we immunize children – to keep them healthy.
  6. Why the heck don’t we eat even more lentils and other pulses? If we are truly serious about food sustainability let’s eat more of these affordable, nutritious legumes from our home country – the world’s largest EXPORTER of pulses!
  7. Farmers follow strict federal laws for humane animal treatment. A Canadian farmer is not keeping you out of his or her egg operation housing 60,000 hens because anything controversial is going on, but rather for strict biosecurity to protect the chickens. Farmers are as shocked and enraged as everyone else, if not more so, when situations of animal cruelty happen. I chatted with passionate, professional egg farmers who are considering taking on the expense of having large viewing windows and video cameras in the next barns they build to reassure consumers. These kind of measures becoming standard will increase egg prices. (I don’t require a web cam on my dentist’s office or other professional I trust.)
  8. Farmers are the original active environmentalists. Their livelihood depends on healthy soil, water and air to grow crops and raise livestock. We met sixth generation farmers, farmers whose healthy 87 and 91 year old parents still live and work on the farm, rugged male farmers who tear up when talking about the damage misinformation is doing to food security in Canada, strong, young female farmers who wrangle cattle and much more. The common thread: a deep commitment to the environment, passion, hard work ethic and a safe, healthy food supply for all. We were humbled when the combine drivers actually stopped during active harvest to talk to us (VERY expensive to their operation to do so) and saddened to hear farmers say that MISINFORMATION IS MORE OF A THREAT and worry to today’s farmers than crop-destruction from pests or the weather conditions. Crazy and very disturbing. We should all be concerned about that.
  9. Canadians pay a mere 10% of their available income for food, one of the lowest percentages in the world yet for top quality domestic food. Without the use of APPROVED pesticides to prevent complete crop destruction we’d risk complete crop devastation and food shortages. If no approved, regulated pesticides and GMOs were ever used, Canadian farmers would need 37 million more acres to grow the same amount of food as today.
  10. There is more risk in food raised by people who “dabble” in farming as a sideline than food produced on regulated, inspected large farm operations. That said, farmers are very happy to share gardening tips and encourage us to use any available land to grow at least some of our own food.

We have a WORLD CLASS food system that is envied around the world. We need to understand it, celebrate and support it. Absolutely learn and make informed decisions about crop spraying, GMOs, organic vs conventional and where food comes from but avoid information from unreliable, misinformed people that is negatively impacting the very food system that feeds us and many others on our planet.  I remain 100% confident that it makes more sense to question unrecognizable ingredients in packaged food (even the organic ones) with lengthy ingredients lists and long shelf lives than the wholesome home grown WHOLE food from Canadian farms.

Thank you Saskatchewan!

(Sincere thanks also to the chefs and hosts at the Delta Bessborough, Wilbar Farms, Wilbar Cattle Company, Agar’s Corner, Riverside Country Club, Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Boffins Public House and the University of Saskatchewan)

Reference: The Real Dirt on Farming

 

This post first appeared on Patricia Chuey’s blog, and is used with permission.

A Canadian Rancher’s Take on Earls’ Beef Campaign

Adrienne Ivey is a Canadian rancher, blogger, and mother. This post originally appeared on her blog The View from the Ranch Porch

Earls Kitchen and Bar has set the Canadian farming world all a-twitter.  The restaurant chain has recently launched a new marketing campaign promoting their latest development in beef  — “Certified Humane” raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones and steroids.

I don’t (didn’t) mind Earls as a dining option. Up until now, they sourced their beef for their 56 Canadian restaurants here, in Canada. They have great summertime patios, and they make fantastic Caesars. Their head office is in Vancouver, and their first ever location was started in 1982 in Edmonton, Alberta. Sounds good, right? Then suddenly their marketing took a turn that just doesn’t sit right with me.

EArl's ad

Earls Restaurant’s marketing campaign

Their first words of their sourcing strategy label their beef as “Certified Humane,” which struck immediate warning bells for me. As a beef producer, I have had the opportunity to visit and tour MANY cattle farms. I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the vast majority of Canadian Beef farms and ranches are raising their cattle in a humane way.

We are ranchers for a reason. We like working with animals every day. I have no issue with weeding out the “bad apples” that are bound to turn up in any industry, but these bad farmers are so uncommon, I cannot imagine the need to base your entire purchasing decision around them. I visited the label’s website and most specifically their producer page. On the page directed towards the farmers who would use their certification process, there was zero information on what they considered “humane”, zero mention of how becoming certified humane would benefit a farmer’s animals, zero mention of ways to make a farm more humane for its animals.

So what was the producer page for? Sales. It was touted as a way to sell more product. End of story. Andrew Campbell wrote an article for Real Agriculture about what exactly certified humane means… not much. To top this one off, Canada already has steps to make sure our animals are raised humanely. The Canadian Beef Code of Practices is something each and every one of us take pride in, something we follow because it is the right thing to do, not because we get paid more money for it.

So there’s that. I moved on a few words to “without the use of antibiotics”. This is perhaps the most terrifying marketing catch phrase in my mind. Why? Because this directly impacts animal welfare. I fully believe that healthy animals begin with prevention. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is completely true. The problem is that all sickness cannot be eradicated with prevention alone. Just like people, animals get sick sometimes — it’s a fact of life.

Finally, to the point of “no added hormones or steroids”. This I have spoken about many times. With the use of proven  safe methods, including hormones, Canadian farmers are now able produce MORE beef (32% more), while using significantly fewer resources (24% less land and 29% less breeding stock), and creating a significantly SMALLER environmental footprint (producing 15% less greenhouse gasses). I wrote about this HERE. Can we produce beef without hormone implants? Sure. But why choose to do less with more if it is a proven, safe, efficient method? To learn more about hormone use in beef read here or here.

To read the rest of this blog entry, which includes a discussion on Earls sourcing beef from outside of the country, click here.

Some thoughts on the Food “Free” Frenzy

By Crystal Mackay, CEO Farm & Food Care Canada

Trends continue to snowball with labels about what’s in a food product being expanded to how that food was grown or processed. Gluten-free, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, cage-free, everything-else-free labels are multiplying. It seems almost every day I see a new announcement from a company or a grocery store ad or a label on something I go to buy that has a claim like this.

With so much noise, how does one cut through the clutter and make an informed decision about what to buy and eat? Here are a few principles I feel that need some attention:

1. Isn’t choice awesome?
Let’s start here. I think we are extremely fortunate in Canada with so much food that we can have all these choices. For example, the fact that the egg counter at the grocery store can be a 10 minute experience reading about all the options for types of eggs is awesome. Some people in other countries might be happy to have one egg. Continue reading

Wondering about antibiotics in cattle feed?

 

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

 

There has been much discussion on antibiotics that go into livestock production and their influence on antibiotic resistance.  Antibiotic resistance is so incredibly complex that not even the scientific community fully understands all of the causative factors.  We don’t have the space to tackle that topic here but I would like to chat about antimicrobial use in cattle production – in particular a group of medications called ionophores – as they are a widely used tool by cattle producers and wildly misunderstood by the general public.

Rumen diagram

The rumen is the main digestive center.

So let’s start from the beginning.  Cattle are considered “ruminants”, a class of animals which have not just one stomach but four (yes you read that right – 4 stomachs!).  Of the four compartments, the Rumen is the first and largest, and the main digestive centre.  The rumen is filled with billions of bacteria that are able to break down grass and other coarse fibrous materials (such as hay and straw) that animals with only one stomach (including humans, chickens and pigs) simply cannot digest. Continue reading

Conventional versus Organic Milk Production – Do you know the difference?

Organic Milk PIC

In the 2011/12 dairy year 1.19% of total Canadian dairy production was organic

Jean L Clavelle

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.

As previously mentioned I am in support of organic food production even though I do not purchase organic products for myself or my family.  There is obviously a desire on the part of the consumer for organics and so it is important for Canadian producers to meet those needs.  I think there are pros and cons to both production streams and a fit for both in our society.  This post is not written to encourage you to support one or the other only to share information on both types.

For a little background on organic milk in Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimated that as of 2012 dairy made up 11% of all organic sales in Canada.  And in the 2011/12 dairy year 218 farms produced 937,137 hectolitres of organic milk which represents 1.19% of total Canadian dairy production.  Significant numbers for sure and one can only assume they will increase.

The first basic difference between organic and conventional production is that all organic dairies must meet the requirements of the Canadian Organic Standards.  Just as in conventional production organic dairies require a balanced feed ration which include substances that are necessary and essential for maintaining the cows’ health, including large amounts of high-quality roughage.  In organic production however all ingredients must also be certified as organic and approved for use by an accredited certifying body. Organic dairy rations can not include GMO feed sources, and must be free of any synthetic herbicides, pesticides fungicides or fertilizers.

No dairy is legally allowed to use artificial hormones to increase milk production in Canada regardless of whether it is organic or conventional.  Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in cattle which regulates growth and lactation.  BST has no effect on humans.  Recombinant bST (rbST) is a commercially produced version of the natural hormone and it can increase milk production by 10% to 15% but it has also been related to an increase in the risk of mastitis and infertility and cause lameness in cows, which is why Health Canada has not approved it’s use.  It is important to note that rbST has not been shown to have a negative effect on human health and its use is permitted in other countries (such as the United States), where it is considered safe.

Antibiotics can be used only when a cow is sick. When a cow receives antibiotics, she must be clearly identified and her milk properly discarded for a mandatory withdrawal period (based on veterinary label instructions) until the medication has cleared the cow’s system.  In organic production cows given antibiotics are required to have a longer withdrawal time above that required in conventional production.  Its important to note that each load of milk is tested for the presence of antibiotics prior to it being added to the milk supply regardless of its production method and any violation to this would result in severe fines for both conventional and organic producers.  I would like to note that using antibiotics is important for the welfare of dairy cows regardless of whether it is a conventional or organic operation.  No matter how good the care, some animals will get sick and it is imperative they be treated.

Nutritionally, dieticians say organic milk is not significantly different than conventional milk.  Interestingly enough the nutritional profile of dairy products for both organic and conventional can vary with season, genetics and feed source however all Canadian milk will meet the minimum nutritional profile guaranteed on each carton.

So! I hope this info helps you to understand some of the differences in how organic milk is produced compared to conventional milk.  But whatever you decide to purchase just know that our Canadian milk supply is healthy safe and tasty.

Denmark shows effect of banning growth promoting antimicrobial use in cattle

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of the Beef Cattle Research Council. To see the full article and others go to BeefResearch.ca

Jean L Clavelle

 

Denmark shows effect of banning growth promoting antimicrobial use in cattle

Antimicrobial resistance has become a highly charged issue.  Headlines appear in the news on a regular basis suggesting that antibiotics are becoming less effective in humans and farmers are to blame.

Some concerns have been raised that antimicrobial use in livestock leads to antimicrobial resistance and that some of the products used in food animals are closely related to antimicrobials that are important in human health. It’s also been questioned whether antimicrobial resistance can be transferred among bacteria, which may reduce effectiveness of drugs used in human medicine.

Of course the Canadian beef industry is also concerned about antimicrobial resistance.  Cattlemen depend on the effectiveness of animal health products, and on consumers’ confidence in how beef is raised and the safety of the beef they consume.  And just like the rest of the society, farmers need human drugs to be effective too.

We’re all in agreement on the seriousness of antimicrobial use and resistance.

Several nations around the world have surveillance programs in place to monitor trends in antimicrobial use and resistance.  In Canada, this is led by the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS). In the United States, surveillance is conducted by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS).  These programs test for antimicrobial resistance in healthy animals arriving at slaughter plants as well as retail meat samples. In addition, various groups including the Beef Cattle Research Council and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada collect more detailed antimicrobial use and resistance information in a broader range of microbes and locations (e.g. feedlots, manure, soil, water).

To date, scientific surveillance has indicated that:graph 1 antibiotic resistance PIC

  • Resistance to antimicrobials that are most important in human health is extremely uncommon in healthy North American cattle and beef.
  • Multi-drug resistance is similarly low, and is not increasing.
  • In cattle, the vast majority of antimicrobials used are not used in human health at all.

Let’s look more closely at the last point. The vast majority of antimicrobials used in cattle are ionophores.   Ionophores act on rumen microbes; they selectively inhibit methanogenic bacteria and allow beneficial rumen bacteria to make more feed energy available to the animal, thereby improving feed efficiency and weight gain.  Ionophores also prevent diseases like coccidiosis.

Ionophores have no benefit to, nor are they licensed for use in humans. Even if microbes developed resistance to ionophores, this would not make them resistant to classes of antimicrobials that are used in human medicine.

Eliminating antimicrobial growth promotants, including ionophores, in cattle production would substantially reduce the overall use of antimicrobials, but would that reduce concerns about antimicrobial resistance?

Denmark phased out the use of those products in livestock production between 1994 and 1999.  Since 2001, we can see a clear trend of increased use of prescribed veterinary antimicrobials. The decrease in antimicrobial use has happened in the “medium importance” category, antimicrobials rarely used in human medicine anymore.  Without the use of growth promoting antimicrobials, the need for antimicrobials that are important to human health increased. In addition, there has been no clear trend towards decreased antimicrobial resistance in Danish cattle or beef.

Canadian research has repeatedly shown that antimicrobials are used responsibly by Canadian beef producers, and resistance to the most important classes of antibiotics in human medicine remains extremely rare in beef cattle. Antimicrobial resistance will continue to be a research priority in Canada’s beef industry to maintain or improve current prudence.

Continued use of antimicrobials of no importance to human health in Canadian beef production will be critical to the future competitiveness of and reduced environmental impacts by Canada’s beef sector due to improved feed efficiency and reduced animal disease.  Furthermore, the consequences of a ban on ionophores in Denmark suggest that discontinuing the use of such products would not lead to lower antimicrobial resistance, and may increase the use of antimicrobials that are important in human medicine.

To learn more about antimicrobial use and resistance in Canadian cattle and beef, visit http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/antimicrobial-resistance-11

Perceptions of Antibiotic Free Meat

By Jean L Clavelle

There has been much discussion lately on social media sites regarding marketing and how perceptions can be easily manipulated.  One such topic is that of antibiotic free meat (AFM) where animals produced for food are never treated with antibiotics.  It involves consumer health, animal health, medical drug prescriptions, animal management and more – all highly charged emotional topics.

Much of this discussion revolves around the concern for human health and that antibiotic use in livestock may result in a public health risk due to increased antimicrobial resistance in humans.   The implication being that AFM is a healthier option for humans.  The scientific component is a complicated one and has been debated at length in scientific journals and trade publications not to mention social media.  I won’t discuss it here as its more than one blog can adequately cover in a sitting.

One element that is often overlooked is that of animal welfare and the moral issue of raising AFM although I have seen it used as a marketing (dare I say) gimmick by many retail and food services organizations.  Antibiotics are products used by both humans and animals to prevent and treat disease illness and suffering.  We had previously discussed the definition of animal welfare (http://www.realdirtblog.ca/2013/07/25/do-you-know-what-animal-welfare-really-means/) and an important element of welfare is freedom from pain injury or disease by rapid diagnosis and treatment.  If we examine the exact nature of an AFM production system would it be considered inhumane?  Under this system animals cannot be treated for illness or disease if they are to be sold into this market.  Which is fine.  Until an animal falls ill.  And it will happen just as you or I might succumb to an illness despite our best efforts which can only be treated with antibiotics.  Good animal welfare and animal management dictates that sick animals be treated or if that’s not possible euthanized.  Just like we would want ourselves and our loved ones to receive treatment.

Continue reading