Different areas, same challenges

By Matt McIntosh

In September, I had a chance to visit Alberta for the first time since I was a child, and while there, I visited a few farms in conjunction with the annual conference of the Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation.

I come from farm country in Southwestern Ontario, and the diversity between farms in my own province is staggering; the level of diversity between farms at home and out west is even more intriguing. The funny thing is, farmers all seem to encounter similar problems and find similar solutions despite what they produce, where they produce it and on what scale. Continue reading

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

Coded eggs stand out from most others produced in Ontario

Eggs stamped with an alphanumeric code

Eggs stamped with an alphanumeric code

By Treena Hein for Farm & Food Care

(St-Isidore) It’s easy to tell a Ferme Avicole Laviolette egg from others being sold in Ontario. Each one has an alphanumeric code that signifies the date of packaging, batch date and producer. Every time their customers see the stamp, they are reminded that Laviolettes take quality and accountability very seriously. The code is also an important food safety measure, helping make any product recall both fast and accurate. For being the first in the province to implement traceability that goes beyond the carton, Marcel Laviolette recently won a 2014 Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.

By 2012, the year Marcel implemented the automated egg stamping system, his business’s sales territory was quite large, including dozens of grocery stores, restaurants and food wholesalers in eastern Ontario and southwest Quebec. At that time, food safety and traceability were all over the media, and being discussed at dinner tables across the nation, within the government and within the food and agriculture industry. Marcel knew that his many customers would feel that much more comfortable if each egg was stamped, something that was being done in other jurisdictions. And for the local egg producers that use Laviolette’s grading station (and make up two thirds of his egg volume), stamping would provide added peace of mind. Lastly, having coded eggs should help increase sales, being a preferred product in terms of traceability and food safety concerns. “We wanted to stand out,” Marcel explained. Continue reading

What does sustainable farming mean to you?

Jean L Clavelle

Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

Free run barn

Free run barn

I was at a conference this week discussing agriculture and food production in Canada.  I must say it was a pretty exciting and motivational two days.  The first reason being that we had some progressive innovative farmers and industry people in the room.  They were excited to be there, they are passionate about farming, they want to keep improving, and they want to show Canadians what they do.  Not only that but they were asking what do consumers want from us?  The second reason is that there was some interesting, scratch that, fascinating discussion about how food is grown.

Historically debate about growing food has been a bit one dimensional.  By only looking at food safety perhaps we are neglecting to look at animal welfare.  By prioritizing environmental factors perhaps we are overlooking the affordability of food.  There was a theme running through the last few days where a more holistic approach to growing food seems to have taken root, that there is a social commitment on the part of all of us involved in agriculture and growing food to balance the five principles of sustainable food growth and farming.  These five principles include: Food Safety; Animal Health & Welfare; Environment; Economics and Food Affordability; and Health and Safety.

Continue reading

Changing perspectives in a changing world

dairy cow PICJean L Clavelle

Interesting how perspective can change.

When I was studying large animal behaviour in college a lot of the focus of our discussion and research was centred not just around behaviour but on animal welfare.   It was a natural thought progression I guess. At the time however, the word “welfare” carried with it a negative connotation within the ag community. It was associated with something on the fringe or for people who were extreme and equated with animal rights groups and activists like the PETA members who got naked on the corner of a downtown city block to protest something or other.

Now let me be clear it’s not that agriculture didn’t care about animal welfare it’s just that they didn’t necessarily have a word for it. It was more a belief system of it being the ‘right thing to do’. I’m reminded of what a family member told me when I explained I was writing a paper on feedlot animal welfare. She explained that I had better be careful before I ruined my career before it started. When I let her read the paper she said something to the effect of “well yeah, that’s just common sense”. It was simply the label of Animal Welfare that was foreign, not the concept.

Seeing the now infamous dairy footage recently was disheartening to say the least. It was simply wrong, it was disgusting and it was unacceptable. It set back everything that I and other proponents of animal welfare are trying to do not to mention cast a black cloud over the rest of animal agriculture and the good work that the majority of producers in Canada do. I am encouraged though to see that the ag community has not battened down the hatches to defend the poor decisions of a few. The agriculture community has not circled the wagons to say to the public “no, you just don’t understand”.   As a group and as individuals they have stood up and condemned that behaviour publicly. Animal abuse is Not Ok. The ag community has seemed to embrace the terminology that you the consumer can relate to – Animal Welfare.

Ironically I feel like I’m now being reverse discriminated against for being involved in livestock. I have been called disgusting, moral-less and without ethics. I have been asked how I can be involved in a business so horrible and would I eat my dog or my horse? I’ve been told I only have my views because I live in Saskatchewan and that’s all I know. I have been told numerous times that agriculture is big business and big business is intrinsically unethical so how can animals really be cared for well. And it doesn’t seem to matter how many producers are introduced to the public or how open we are about what happens on farms the worst always seem to be believed. It used to feel like a noble profession, feeding the world. But that positivity seems to be stolen with every negative tweet.

My only hope is that the recent evolution in livestock agriculture has not come too late to keep up with the dynamic social media world. My request is that if you have questions about something that you’ve read or heard please find a producer and ask for the real answer and an honest response. Maybe hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth will change your perspective.

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

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

My meat journey

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

Over the last two years that I’ve worked with Farm & Food Care, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. Most of which have come from volunteering at public events. I’ve had great conversations with moms, kids, dads, grandparents and teachers, who all love farm animals and want to know more. Some common questions being ‘how big is that cow?’, ‘how many eggs does a chicken lay?’ and my personal favourite of ‘are you a real farmer?’

Others are more complex like ‘why are pigs kept in stalls?’

But there was one question that I will never forget . It was a question that caught me off guard and one that I have not stopped thinking about since that day. A mom approached me at the CNE and asked ‘how can you care for your animals and then eat them?’

Now that’s a tough question. She was not a vegetarian; she ate meat, but genuinely wanted to know.  I can’t remember what I said to her on that day, but on my drive home that night it kept cycling through my head. How do we justify this decision? I never really considered it that much.

As a young kid growing up on my family farm I became very familiar with life and death. I marveled at the miracle of a new calf being born and also mourned the life of a cow after she had died or been put down. Many times I watched and helped my dad put down a sick or lame cow. Life and death is part of everyday life on a farm. It was something that I never really questioned and I continued to think about this question long after.

It was not until recently on a tour of a Cargill beef plant that I had a “light bulb” moment. I began to piece together my thoughts as I walked through and watched how cattle are turned into the beef you see in the grocery store. Watching the workers do their jobs and trim a small part of the carcass at each point along the way was amazing. Very little goes to waste; even the hooves are processed into products that you buy for your dog at the pet store.

A couple of times our tour guide turned around and checked to see that I was alright. I was the only girl on the tour, but probably the one most fascinated by the whole process.

I left Cargill that afternoon with a renewed confidence in our food system. Regardless of what you read, hear or watch, I can say with firsthand experience that the animals who produce the meat we eat are raised and treated in the most humane manner, from the farm through to your plate.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to that day in August and when that mom asked me ‘how do you eat the animals that you care for?’ I would tell her the following:

We (as farmers) owe it to our animals to provide them a healthy comfortable life, but when the time comes we also owe them a quick and painless death. Farm animals are raised in Canada for food.  Whether it’s beef, chicken, pork or turkey meat that I eat, I know that the animal was well cared for and respectfully treated. I will confidently continue to eat Canadian.

 

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

Attack video renews call for farming advocates

By Owen Roberts

This column first appeared in the Guelph Mercury. It is reprinted with permission from the author.

A renewed call is being issued for modern-era farming advocates to stand up and be heard, following a new attack by a popular U.S.-based Mexican restaurant chain.

The company, Chipotle—with five outlets in or near Toronto—teamed up with Academy Award-winning Moonbot Studios to create a sappy but sophisticated animated video that takes an opportunistic, mean-spirited shot at commercial-scale agriculture.

The video, which has drawn more than six million views in the past couple of weeks, is heavy on generating pathos for farm animals. Among other things, it shows animated livestock getting pumped full of drugs, one of the greatest myths about farming that agriculture just can’t shake.

The approach reflects the disdain company founder Steve Ells, a chef, has for modern farming in America. On his company’s website, he says what he’s learned about the way most of the food in the United States is produced and processed is “pretty grim. Pigs are raised in stark confinement, produce is grown on vast factory farms with little or no regard for the environment, and dairy cows are confined and injected with hormones that can make them ill in an effort to increase their milk production.”

Farmers have heard all this before and try countering it with “No we don’t!” rebuttals that resonate with some people, but not with those who think they have little control over what they eat and how it’s produced. Continue reading