The real dirt on hen housing

By Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator, Farm & Food Care

The Real Dirt on Hen HousingHaving recently become a new homeowner, it’s amazing how many different housing options there are are out there. You might be a high rise condo dweller living in one of the many buildings that populate the horizon or maybe in a single detached family home that is more your style.

Townhomes, executive penthouse lofts, cottage living – the options are endless with each choice presenting different benefits and amenities. If you’re anything like me, the only restriction is your bank account!

It’s not that different when it comes to housing options for farm animals. Modern barns today offer many benefits that the traditional red bank barn of our grandparents’ age would never be able to provide. New advancements in technology have allowed the reconstruction of modern barns to provide things like climate-controlled environments, enriched amenities, access to feed and water 24 hours a day, smart phone alerts if an issue arises in the barn and much more.

But how do we know what good and what bad environments for farm animals actually are? Science helps to tell us this. There has been a lot of research around the globe on housing of farm animals and on how different environments affect them. Many researchers have dedicated their entire careers to this area of science: studying animal behaviour, environmental impacts, natural behaviours and many more aspects of how housing influences an animal’s life.

Let’s talk about laying hen housing – housing for the birds that lay the eggs that you enjoy for breakfast. Continue reading

What You Really Need to Know About the IARC Report on Red Meat and Processed Meat

Jean L Clavelle

Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

By now you’ve likely heard the news that red meats and processed meats are considered carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The IARC – the cancer agency of the World Health Organization – released its findings yesterday after evaluating the carcinogenicity of consuming red meat and processed meat.

I think many of us, on occasion, have enjoyed products in those two categories so if the news reports are true, this is quite disturbing. Scary stuff indeed. Perhaps though, we need to investigate a little further into what these classifications really mean to see how concerned we actually need to be.

The IARC classified processed meats as Group 1, carcinogenic to humans. This means that “there is convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer”. I’m not sure this is new information. If processed meats make up the bulk of the nutrients in your diet you might suffer some health issues. But you may notice that processed meats were included in the same category as tobacco smoke. This begs the question – are processed meats as carcinogenic as smoking?? The answer is absolutely not. The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence a compound or “agent” has of being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of the risk. Based on the estimates found in the report about 66 in every 1000 people who eat a lot of processed meat will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime. By comparison, 56 of every 1000 who eat very little meat will also develop colorectal cancer.

Continue reading

Local pickled bean makers snap up Premier’s Award

Product shot Extreme BeanBy Lilian Schaer

The new pickle is a bean, says pickled bean aficionado Steve McVicker.

He’s one half of Matt & Steve’s, a Mississauga-based company that just won a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation for their popular “Extreme Bean” Caesar garnish.

McVicker and business partner Matt Larochelle used to tend bar together and felt that the many Caesars they were mixing needed a better garnish than the traditional, bland celery stick that everyone was using.

Their search for a vegetable long enough to stick out the top of a 12-inch glass led them to the Kentucky Flat Bean, which is longer, sweeter, and crunchier than the average green bean. The two were also roommates at the time, and they cooked up their first batches of pickled beans in their 600 sq. ft. rented Mississauga condo using instructions provided by Larochelle’s mother.

“We were a bit like mad scientists with hand me down pots and adding various spices to jars,” laughs McVicker. “We weren’t very good at it in the beginning, but when we took some to work to try, they were pretty good so we scraped together some money to get started.” Continue reading

What about hormones and food?

What about hormones and food-The very word ‘hormones’ conjures up a lot of concern for many people. Hormones occur naturally in people, plants and animals. Here are some important facts and examples for you to consider.

1. Are there hormones in poultry?

One of the biggest myths we hear in agriculture is that of the use of hormones in poultry. No chickens, turkeys or egg-laying hens are ever fed hormones. Today’s farm animals grow faster because we’ve learned how to feed them exactly what they need and through choosing animals for their good genetics over many generations.

2. Are there growth hormones used in milk production?

Continue reading

Enjoying local food in Eastern Ontario

By Resi Walt, Farm & Food Care Ontario

A taste of local food in eastern OntarioLike most people, I enjoy day trips and exploring new places – especially when those places specialize in food! Over the course of Ontario’s Local Food Week from June 1-7, I had many opportunities to celebrate the food that is grown and produce in Ontario. One highlight from the week was the trip I took to Eastern Ontario.

Farm & Food Care Ontario partnered with Foodland Ontario to offer a local food experience for food enthusiasts from the Ottawa-area. Farm & Food Care Ontario has been organizing these farm tours since 2006, and each year they grow in popularity. The goal is to showcase different commodities and types of farming every year, and the tour participants include chefs, recipe developers, food writers, culinary instructors, and professional home economists. The tour is always such a great learning experience and good fun too. Continue reading

A different kind of hen house

By Lisa McLean, Farm & Food Care

(Elora) It takes a few minutes for the hens at Elora-based Swan Creek Layer Farms Ltd. to adjust to visitors. They move quickly out of the way when the gate opens, fly across the aisles to new levels, and move out of reach. Eventually, their curiosity gets the best of them and they return to fill the empty spaces they abandoned just moments ago. The birds settle on their perches that are close to the visitors. A few hens walk along the ladders that connect one level to the next.

Bob (left) and Dave Ottens in their aviary-style layer barn.

Bob (left) and Dave Ottens in their aviary-style layer barn.

The hens – egg-laying “layer” birds – live in an aviary-style egg barn, which allows them free access to move through various levels of their space. Lighting helps guide them to private nesting boxes in the back of each level where they lay eggs in sheltered areas and access food and water on demand.

For Ontario egg farmers, this is a different kind of egg barn. Conventional layer barns house several hens in cages, or in newer “enriched” facilities that have built-in perches and nesting boxes. The aviary barn is designed to allow the hens to move freely in a large space.

And the new barn provides a benefit for farmers too – Dave and Bob Ottens, brothers who own the operation, can sell eggs from this barn into a certified “free run” market, which fetches them a premium on the eggs produced here.

“For us, this is a way of adding choice for consumers – the aviary gives us the opportunity to diversify by producing free-run eggs,” says Dave Ottens. “I don’t have a problem eating eggs from conventionally-raised hens, but some consumers want the option of free-run eggs, and they are willing to pay more for that choice.” Continue reading

Is our food SAFE?

Jean L Clavelle

Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

People are really asking "what makes food safe?"

People are really asking “what makes food safe?”

We are at the beginning of 2015 now, which is accompanied by the obligatory New Year’s resolution to cut back, get fit, eat healthy. But, what makes any food choice healthy? Is it non-gmo, gluten free, chemical free, antibiotic free, hormone free, eating clean? I’ve been pondering this question for some time and I’ve come to believe the underlying question people are really asking is how do we know our food is safe?

In Canada, the first place we turn to for food safety is Health Canada (HC). HC’s role is to “work with governments, industry and consumers to establish policies, regulations and standards related to the safety and nutritional quality of all food sold in Canada.” They are responsible for protecting human and animal health, and the safety of Canada’s food supply.

To begin, any person company or exporter that wishes to sell any type of chemical that will be used in part of the food production chain must submit detailed scientific information that examines the potential risks of the particular product. It often takes more than a decade to complete adequate research necessary to provide sufficient evidence to support the safety and efficacy of claims. Not surprisingly the result is thousands of pages of data at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. Over a period of several more years, HC scientists then rigorously review the information to ensure the product is not harmful to humans and the environment. They also cross check the data and compare their results with other international studies to verify that the data submitted is accurate.

Now, depending on what type of chemical is being submitted for approval, there are various regulatory branches of HC put into play. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency employs over 350 scientists with a responsibility for pesticide regulation. The term “pesticide” includes

A pesticide label is a legal document that must be followed by the user.

A pesticide label is a legal document that must be followed by the user.

herbicides (used against weeds); insecticides (used against bugs); fungicides and antimicrobials (used again fungus and other microorganisms); insect and rodent-controlling devices; and algicides (which can be used to control algae in pools). Every pesticide includes a label indicating the correct amount of the product to be used so that risks to human health and the environment are minimized. Did you know that a pesticide label (the information found on or in the container) is a legal document that must be followed? You might also be interested to know that any pesticide for sale and use in Canada (whether it be for agriculture, for use in your home, for conventional food or organic production – and yes there are chemicals used in organic production) has a unique number, called a PCP number, that any person can use to find its label instructions.

The Veterinary Drug Directorate (VDD) evaluates and monitors the safety quality and effectiveness of veterinary drugs for food producing animals like beef cattle, pigs and chickens. Once a drug has been authorized for use by the VDD it is given a Drug Identification Number (or DIN) which lets the user know that the product has undergone and passed a review of its formulation, labelling and instructions for use. A drug sold in Canada without a DIN is not in compliance with Canadian law. Regardless of whether a drug is for you or for animals it must have a DIN to be legal.

Once a compound has been shown to be safe within its intended use by HC, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for enforcing the food safety policies and standards that Health Canada sets. In my former professional life, one colleague referred to the CFIA as the most powerful government agency in Canada (much greater than even the military) because of its far-reaching and autonomous power whenever food safety might be a concern. Although CFIA can be a challenging government agency to work with, consumers should take heart at the diligence they have for food safety.

Of course this is a basic over view of one component of ensuring safe food.  It is always a good idea to use your best judgement and common sense when it comes to food safety, just please know that in Canada food production and food safety is overseen with a great amount of diligence attention and care.

Ontario farmer uses barcodes to raise the bar on beef

By Jeanine Moyer

(Simcoe and Stoney Creek) – Ontario beef farmer Cory Van Groningen knows what’s important to his customers – quality

Cory Van Groningen

Cory Van Groningen

and trust. And he’s found a way to increase meat tenderness while tracing every single cut of beef from the farm, directly into the hands of his customer. All this is achieved by using barcodes and innovative tracking systems that begin at the animal’s birth, and follow right through to placing prime beef cuts in the grocery store cooler.

As co-owner of the family business, VG Meats, Van Groningen is responsible for keeping the supply chain short by raising cattle for their own processing plant and retail stores. He and his wife Heidi run a 400 cross-bred cow herd, producing beef for VG Meats and other retailers. Raising cattle directly for their own market means Van Groningen has complete control over the product through every stage, beginning at birth, to ensure health, quality and traceability.

Keeping with a 40-year family tradition of processing and retailing meat, Van Groningen also works alongside his parents and three brothers, managing and operating a processing plant and two retail locations. Selling directly to customers through two retail locations in Simcoe and Stoney Creek, ON, means Van Groningen and his family can talk directly to their customers, determining exactly what they want and what’s important to them.

“We’ve learned customers want to trust the people packaging their meat,” says Van Groningen. “They often ask questions as a way to learn more about products and test a retailer’s competency. Traceability is a way to earn their trust and help them verify they’ve made the right choice in choosing our meat products.”

As a farmer, food processor and retailer, Van Groningen knows consumer trust means the family business needs to be accountable for the products they sell. And that means product traceability right from the farm to the customer’s plate. Continue reading

I think we need to talk…

Jean L Clavelle
Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

Growth hormones.  Dirty nasty words aren’t they?   I’m sorry to bring this up but I think it’s something we need to talk about.

Many of us in Canada, well North America, are so extremely fortunate we live in a place where getting enough to eat is not generally a problem and where we have the choice to make decisions on what we consume.  We have the opportunity to choose where our food comes from and how it’s produced regardless of cost.  Fortunate indeed.

And with this providence, it seems to have become almost admirable to deride those who do not choose foods of a certain variety ie “natural” “ethically raised” “antibiotic free” and  “hormone free”.   Now I would like to assure those of you who can’t or don’t make these food choices despite pressure from your peers or social media, that the food grown in Canada is safe and healthy including beef produced with the use of hormones.  Here’s my attempt at explaining why.

Beef cattle feedlot in western Canada

Beef cattle feedlot in western Canada

First what are growth hormones and how do they work?  Growth hormones are tiny pellets inserted into the back of the ear of a beef animal which slowly releases synthetic hormones over a period of several months.  These hormones mimic the natural reproductive hormones manufactured by the animal.  To make a long physiology discussion short, they encourage protein deposition and discourage fat deposition. This improves both weight gain and feed conversion (the amount of feed required to deposit muscle). Fat deposition requires more than twice as much feed as protein deposition does.  Muscle tissue contains about 70% water while fat contains less than 30% water.  This means that for every ten pounds of muscle gained, about three pounds comes from dry feed and seven pounds comes from water. This ratio is the reversed for fat growth – roughly seven pounds from dry feed and three pounds from water.   So you can see, that with slight increases in protein deposition and slight decreases in fat deposition that there are pretty big differences in the amount of feed required. Continue reading

Inside Farming: Hormones Are Everywhere, Including In You

By: Chloe Gresel, CanACT member, University of Guelph

The beef with growth implants in cattle production

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

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.

Can I let you in on another secret? Implants are not the enemy. Growth implants are used to help beef animals convert feed more efficiently. This means the animals develop more lean meat and grow more on less feed. Beef animals that are implanted have increased weight gain from 5 to 23 per cent and convert feed to meat 3 to 11 per cent more efficiently than non-implanted cattle. By using less feed, costs are reduced for the farmer and beef is kept at a reasonable price for the consumer. There is also a smaller environmental impact when cattle are implanted, as farmers are using fewer resources to get them finished and ready for harvesting. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Animal Science stated that if we were to remove growth implants from our cattle production system, we would need 10 per cent more cattle, 10 per cent more land and feed, and 7 per cent more fuel and fertilizers to raise the same amount of beef.

You might be thinking that it’s great that implanted beef has a smaller environmental impact, but you still don’t want all those extra hormones in your own body. Well then, let me share this tidbit of information: 15 ml of soybean oil has over 28,700 nanograms of plant estrogen, while a 100 gram serving of beef raised with growth hormones has only 2.2 nanograms. Surprising, isn’t it? Studies have shown that there are greater differences in hormone levels between the different sexes of cattle then there are between cattle raised with growth hormones versus cattle raised without growth hormones. Continue reading