“We feel it’s important to talk about farming and food production throughout the year, but we also recognize the value of having a day dedicated to coming together as an industry so our voices are unified,” said Candace Hill, manager of Agriculture More Than Ever, in announcing the date of next year’s celebration on behalf of industry representatives. “This year’s Canada’s Agriculture Day was so successful that we see an opportunity to build on our momentum for an even bigger celebration in 2018.”
“Posts celebrating Canada’s Agriculture Day were among the top five topics trending in Canada on Twitter for most of the day, while many more people engaged through a variety of events, from small community gatherings to large forums,” Hill said.
“We were thrilled by the level of participation and engagement by producers and partners of Canadian agriculture, as well as consumers – many of whom have never set foot on a farm, but want to know more about how food is produced in Canada,” she said. “Canada’s Agriculture Day is an opportunity to celebrate and be a part of the conversation about food and farming.”
Hill said the day was marked by hundreds of events and the participation of almost 500 partner groups, including industry associations, community groups, individuals and the media. Many have already expressed an interest in participating in next year’s celebration.
Agriculture More Than Ever is an industry-led initiative that has more than 480 partner organizations and 3,500 individuals committed to creating positive perceptions of agriculture. Launched almost five years ago, Agriculture More Than Ever’s goal is to encourage and support those involved in agriculture to speak up and speak positively about the industry.
To learn more about Agriculture More Than Ever, go to AgMoreThanEver.ca, or follow the conversation on Twitter @AgMoreThanEver.
According to the industry organization, Mercy for Animals, a U.S.-based activist organization, has been using sensationalized video footage and accusations implying that this is representative of Canadian chicken farms. Other groups have also been using questionable information to fuel their campaigns and push an agenda to eliminate animal agriculture and shutter Canadian farms, CFC officials added.
“These tactics are shameful, inaccurate, deliberately misleading, and undermine the hard work and animal welfare standards of local Canadian farmers throughout the country,” the organization stated in a recent press release.
"We believe that this video footage isn't from a Canadian chicken farm and appears to be recycled from previous propaganda campaigns that have taken place in other countries," said Benoît Fontaine, chair of Chicken Farmers of Canada, adding 90 per cent of the country’s poultry operations are family owned and audited for animal welfare standards.
"Canadian chicken farms are run by hardworking men and women who take to heart their responsibility to uphold animal health and welfare on their farm and share Canadian values. They are proud ambassadors in promoting and defending their good management practices, and believe that there is no defense for the mistreatment of birds."
The Chicken Farmers of Canada’s press release describes the organization’s mandatory Animal Care Program, which is administered across all 2,800 chicken farms in Canada.
The program recently completed an inaugural comprehensive third-party audit. NSF International's report concluded: "The national Animal Care Program has been implemented effectively and maintained on an on-going basis. Animal care measures have been consistently applied."
NSF is an internationally recognized, third-party certification body, accredited by the American National Standards Institute to ISO 17065.
“Animal rights groups claim that mistreatment of animals has no place in society today,” the press release stated. “We agree.”
“Farmers in Canada have a responsibility to the birds they raise, to the industry, to their fellow farmers, and to all consumers for upholding high principles of animal health and welfare on the farm.”
Using 360 cameras and virtual reality technology, the new FarmFood360° website gives Canadians the chance to tour real, working farms and food processing plants, all without putting on boots. It’s the latest version of the highly successful Virtual Farm Tours initiative, which was first launched in 2007.
“Canadians want to know more about their food, but they are also increasingly removed from its production,” says Ian McKillop, chair of Farm & Food Care Canada. “Changing technology also means they are looking for and finding information in different ways.
“FarmFood360° keeps pace with both these factors; it uses modern technology to immerse them right in the process, and address their questions in the most compelling way possible.”
Farm & Food Care partnered with Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd. and Dairy Farmers of Canada to add three new tours to the FarmFood360° website – a dairy farm with a Voluntary Milking System, as well as two individual milk and cheese processing facilities. Visitors can access these tours on tablets and desktop computers, as well as through mobile phones and VR (Virtual Reality) viewers. Interviews with the farmers and plant employees involved in each business have also been added.
Both dairy processing facility tours were created in partnership with Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd. Steve Dolson, chair of Gay Lea Foods, says “Farm & Food Care has created an accessible and practical way for us to open the doors to two of our processing facilities – locations that are usually restricted to ensure food safety and quality.”
“Gay Lea Foods is pleased to provide this unique opportunity for Canadians to see how milk from family farms is transformed into the milk, cream and cheese they know and love.”
Michael Barrett, president and CEO of Gay Lea Foods, added “we are tremendously proud of our employees and happy to highlight the passion, care and dedication that goes into the wholesome products our company is known for.”
As an original partner in the first Virtual Farm Tours project, Dairy Farmers of Canada again worked with Farm & Food Care to film a dairy farm using Voluntary Milking System in Prince Edward Island. These tours compliment the two dairy farm tours already on the site – featuring farms that use both free stall and tie stall milking technologies.
“Using new technology to bring farm life to Canadians is both exciting and a critical part of food production,” says Wally Smith, president of Dairy Farmers of Canada. “This modern platform is a great way of doing just that. These immersive tours open barn doors to show the passion and care our farmers put into the food they produce.”
This national initiative is being launched with a newly rebranded and interactive website, www.FarmFood360.ca. The site features all 23 farms originally featured on the Virtual Farm Tour platform plus the three new virtual reality tours. Additional tours will be added later in 2017.
It’s not that he’s expecting the vending machine to be a big money maker – he needs 15 € a day in sales to make the venture work – but he’s hoping it will attract the non-farming public to his farm to learn more about how broiler chickens are raised, housed and treated in Germany.
Teepker unveiled his concept to a group of visiting international agricultural journalists who were touring northern and eastern Germany this past July.
It’s not easy being a farmer in Lower Saxony, where agriculture minister Christian Meyer represents the Green Party. Strict animal welfare rules, limitations on new barn constructions and looming new clean air laws mean farmers have a lot more to worry about than just raising healthy, quality livestock and poultry.
To Teepker’s way of thinking, that’s precisely why someone has to show people where their food comes from, and there’s nobody better to do that than farmers themselves.
“We have to show how we produce the meat people eat and with this new viewing area, people can come here any time to watch our birds,” he explained while looking into his bright, modern barn filled with healthy, contented birds. “Some farmers say we can’t do this job, someone else should – but who else would that be?”
Doing nothing is not an option as the pressure from those opposed to livestock farming is already making itself felt.
For example, even enriched poultry cages will be phased out entirely in favour of all cage-free production by 2025, beak trimming will be banned by the end of 2016, and culling of male chicks will no longer be permitted in Lower Saxony by the end of 2017.
The state has also committed to reducing antibiotic use in agriculture by 50 per cent in five years, resulting in farmers having to notify the government each time they purchase antibiotics for livestock use.
And according to Teepker, Lower Saxony is no longer issuing building permits for new livestock barns, citing environmental concerns, and that it is very difficult to even secure permission to renew existing facilities. Farmers who wish to expand their production have no choice but to buy existing farms or relocate to other parts of Germany, he said.
“We built our first barn in 2009, where we got a permit in 12 months and built in six – it was two years in total from thought to bird. Now it is up to six years,” he said.
New clean air laws from the European Union designed to reduce emissions from intensive livestock operations will mean new costs too, he added.
Teepker farms together with his younger brother Matthias near Handrup, Lower Saxony, about 360 km north of Frankfurt. He’s in charge of the broiler side of their operation, which also includes pigs, biogas production and 350 hectares (approximately 865 acres) of crops.
In 2013 he purchased the farm where he has added the viewing gallery and renovated the 10-year old facilities. And although he considered expansion into Eastern Germany several years ago, he ultimately decided against it due to the high cost of farms.
Teepker is not alone among farmers in Germany adding viewing galleries into their livestock barns, but notes that his goes above and beyond the simple window and information card that most provide.
Videos available on demand, for example, demonstrate other aspects of his farm and the life cycle of his birds. Feed samples show what birds eat and feeders and waterers are on display to demonstrate how they eat and drink.
And the vending machine, which Teepker has stocked with chicken products, can sell anything from a single egg to a five kilogram bag of potatoes. This particular farm happens to be on a busy public cycling trail, so Teepker hopes his location – and the cold drinks he is including in the vending machine – will help draw people in.
If the viewing room and vending machine are successful on the broiler barn, there are plans for a similar installation on one of their pig barns too.
Facebook is his biggest audience, where “Landwirtschaft Teepker” and regular posts of photos and updates about farm activities have garnered more than 2,100 likes, but he’s also a keen supporter of video. His most popular online video, called a look into chicken production, has logged more than 78,000 views to date.
“YouTube is the new Google so you need to have video even if it isn’t the best,” he believes.
But nothing beats a face to face connection, which is why the Teepkers have also reached out to local schools, starting about five years ago with inviting kindergarten classes out to the farm and expanding to include twice yearly classroom visits with small birds. They also sponsor children’s soccer jerseys in the community.
And those public education efforts seem to be paying off.
“We are noticing changes in attitudes with parents and teachers – “where are the cages” is now the most asked question,” Teepker said, adding the most people don’t know that German broilers are not raised in cages. “I think and hope that we are doing a good job.”
Yet despite some success, Teepker is also a realist about the public pressures facing farmers and the challenges of reaching out to consumers who are increasingly distanced from farming and food production.
“This is a first step, but the discussion will never finish,” he believes.
Producers face a great many challenges, from increasing red tape to unaffordable land prices from market instability to climate change. But there’s one challenge that Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) CEO Tim Lambert thinks will trump the others: social license. Addressing the challenge head on, EFC created EggCentric TV, an online television network where eggs – and those who produce them – come first.
What is social license?
Generally speaking, social license refers to a community’s acceptance or approval of the businesses that operate within it. Social license sits outside of the regulatory system. It is not something that can be purchased; it is earned through transparency, solid communication, meaningful dialogue, and ethical and responsible behavior. The concept of social license isn’t new. In recent years, though, it has become increasingly important for businesses, like those operated by Canada’s farming community, to connect with the general public to establish open, genuine dialogue.
“I believe that the whole concept of social license and public trust is the next big challenge in not just agriculture, but the whole of society in business, faces,” said Lambert. Transparency is key, he continued. “More and more, we need to communicate who we are, what we do and how we’re doing it.
Control the media, control the message
For too long, mainstream media has had the cornerstone on story telling. And while farmers were in the fields or in the barns, mainstream media was working on its next big exposé.
“The problem we have is who tells our story,” said Lambert. “On the cage side of the debate, the story is told by animal welfare or animal rights activists.”
Ordinary journalists, said Lambert, have tried to put “feel good” stories out and failed. “The major newspapers choose not to cover it from our side because there’s no excitement in telling a good news story,” he said.
Lambert knew, though, that Canada’s egg farmers had plenty of good stories to tell, so instead of seeking traditional coverage he decided to sidestep it altogether. The result: EggCentric TV.
“It’s a way of bypassing traditional media who will frame the story the way they want to tell it, not the way it is,” said Lambert. “We will be able to use this platform in so many ways, across the world, to tell the story of the egg industry and what a brilliant story it is.”
TELLING THE GOOD NEWS STORIES
When Lambert first starting exploring the idea of EggCentric TV he worried that there wouldn’t be enough content to justify the project. In order for the project to be a success, he knew that content would have to be regularly updated. Once they got going, though, he and his team quickly realized that content is virtually endless. “We started by thinking in terms of all of the cooking programs, so celebrity chefs and recipes,” he said. “But there’s a much bigger opportunity. A much broader opportunity.”
Today, EggCentric TV features healthy recipes created by Canada’s top celebrity chefs. Individual programs highlight the nutritional value of eggs, and show viewers how eggs are produced. They focus on animal care, different housing systems and how eggs are produced sustainably.
“EggCentric TV is the absolute ideal platform for us to build our public trust and social license,” said Lambert. “Why? Because it’s our platform.”
Sarah Caron is the lead on the EggCentric TV project. She says that the platform allows them to reach an ever-growing population of Internet users and digital video viewers. “Households around the world with connected TVs are expected to double in the next five years,” she said. “That is a growth of 835 percent in just 10 years.
“Streaming media gives consumers more convenience, more options and better programming than traditional TV can offer,” she continued. “This gives consumers control over what they watch – whenever and wherever they want.”
EggCentric TV is available through Apple TV, as well as Roku, a streaming media player that connect your TV to your home Internet connection. Roku is available in the US, the UK, Ireland, France and Mexico. Each month, new countries are added to that list.
“Eggcentric TV has been successful on Roku from the beginning, averaging over 1,000 visits per week from global users,” said Caron. “Worldwide interest in eggs is amazing. Eggcentric TV features engaging video content from social influencers and celebrity chefs. It aims to share simple and delicious recipes, [and offers] tricks and tips that inspire consumers to create and enjoy egg dishes at home.”
To build excitement, Roku and her team load content and share it on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube. At last count, total social engagements, likes and retweets, reached over 300,000. Total impressions, the number of times an ad has been seen, reached 25.5 million.
“And we just have our own Canadian content up,” said Lambert.
While EFC is committed to new content every week, the organization hopes that egg producers from other nations will join them in sharing the message. They too, he said, should view social license as the next big thing.
Chicken of the Sea’s traceability website allows consumers to enter a 10-to-15 digit number found on the bottom of certain tuna products. In return, the consumer can read a description of the species; where the seafood was caught, including a map and a species-specific stock status report from the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation; the fishing method used; the fishing vessel; where the seafood was processed; where the seafood was canned; and general information on the company’s sustainability initiatives. The company says it will eventually expand the program to its entire shelf-stable line.
“It is important for our customers to have an opportunity to know the story behind their fish,” said Chicken of the Sea’s director of sustainability. “Traceability is an essential step.”
Former New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman recently suggested that the long and contentious GMO labeling law debate could force a transparency revolution. There’s no doubt that farmers and food makers need to be aggressive in opening their doors and letting consumers see how food is produced, but in reality, a transparency revolution is already underway.
Chicken of the Sea’s new program is a good example, but only one of many.
Hershey’s commitment to increased transparency and move to simpler ingredients goes back to 2015. The company’s website now provides an A-to-Z glossary of all its ingredients with easy-to-understand descriptions.
Leading food, beverage and consumer products companies last December unveiled SmartLabel to empower consumers to access a myriad of information with a simple bar code scan or click of a website. The technology puts nutritional information, ingredients, allergens, third-party verifications, social compliance programs, usage instructions, advisories and safe handling instructions at consumers’ fingertips in a standardized format.
At California’s JS West and Companies, a leading egg producer, cameras in the barns allow online visitors to see what the hens are doing 24 hours a day. Visitors to the site are welcome to leave comments about what they see.
New Jersey-based Catelli Brothers has installed a 12-camera system at its veal plant that monitors the facility in real time. A third-party generates a daily report on animal treatment.
At Indiana’s Fair Oaks Farms, the doors are open for thousands of visitors every year to look through glass walls to see how real dairies produce milk and how pigs are born and cared for. The founders of the company say they have nothing to hide and want the public to see how their animals are treated.
CFI research proves that increased transparency is a powerful tool to earn consumer trust. People today expect transparency and want to see how food is produced. Consumers want the ability to engage and get questions answered promptly and in easy-to-understand language. They want to see how food is produced, who’s producing it, what’s in it and how it impacts their health.
A growing number of farms and food companies are engaged in the transparency revolution and pulling back the curtain, which should be applauded. Critics who intentionally disregard the progress toward greater transparency only serve to discourage it by refusing to give credit where credit is due. So, food system critics are encouraged to be transparent about genuine progress among food producers just as producers who have yet to embrace transparency need to be encouraged to build on the positive momentum. There is no denying the ability of transparency to increase
consumer trust. n
Reprinted with permission from the Center for Food Integrity (CFI). CFI’s vision is to lead the public discussion to build trust in today’s food system and facilitate dialog with the food system to create better alignment with consumer expectations. For more information, visit: www.foodintegrity.org
It should be evident after reading our cover feature this month that agriculture has a lot of work to do to regain the trust of Canadian consumers with respect to methods of production and the food products produced.
While it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in the agriculture business that consumers are confused about food, just how confused they really are is perhaps worse than originally thought.
In early June, Farm & Food Care Canada held a “Public Trust Summit” in Ottawa, Ont., with the intention of “encouraging continuous collaborative discussions amongst farm and food system leaders, while developing concrete actions for earning public trust.” Participants included representatives covered the gamut of food production, including all livestock sectors, crop and seed production, to government and academia.
Farm & Food Care Canada launched a new division at the event known as the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI). It’s an international affiliate of the U.S. Center for Food Integrity, which has been assisting the food system “meaningfully engage with their most important audiences on issues that matter” for nearly 10 years, and was the first organization to introduce the concept of building public trust.
Before its launch the CCFI conducted a web-based survey earlier in 2016 of approximately 2500 Canadians to get a benchmark on the trust the average Canadian has in Canadian food and food production. The respondents were then segmented into three groups - “Moms”, “Foodies”, and “Millenials” – to gain additional insight, as these groups are considered the most influential, and interested, in information about food.
93 per cent of consumers in the survey indicated they knew little, or nothing, about farming. However, compared to a similar survey conducted by Farm & Food Care in 2006, Canadians’ positive impressions of agriculture have increased by 20 per cent. This, combined with the fact that 60 per cent of respondents indicated they would like to know more about farming, is an opportunity for Canadian agriculture to make a connection with consumers, Farm & Food Care Canada CEO Crystal Mackay said at the event.
What will be the challenge moving forward is how to make this connection. The CCFI and Farm & Food Care are working on five action points, but made it clear that “re-gaining public trust must be everyone’s responsibility.”
Opportunity exists for farmers and farm organizations to help regain trust as the CCFI survey results showed that 69 per cent of respondents favourably viewed farmers as credible sources of information, and 52 per cent of respondents felt farmer associations were credible sources.
Unfortunately, results indicated that animal rights organizations are also viewed with some credibility, so it will be paramount moving forward that farmers and farm groups try to engage with consumers in more effective ways. It’s the clear the old methods of reaching consumers aren’t hitting the mark, but Mackay says the entire industry needs to share successes and failures in engagement with each other and “commit to making mistakes”, reminding attendees that the whole concept of public trust is new territory.
But she stressed that fear of failure can’t hold an organization back. As she said at the Summit, “if you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not doing enough.”
However, this will be a difficult task, made more difficult by increased media interest in highlighting undercover videos taken by animal activist groups alleging neglect and abuse on Canadian farms. Such videos and allegations are visually disturbing to many and play on human emotions, which unfortunately makes for great TV and headlines.
With the decline in the quality of print media and the evolving digital media world, journalists don’t have time anymore to tell all sides of a story, or even do a simple interview. If an undercover video and/or press release arrives on their desk nicely packaged and easy to put online within a few minutes, then that’s what happens. It’s a sad reality.
Unlike the sensationalistic tactics that were once employed by animal rights groups, the use of undercover videos has resulted in changes in how farm animals will be raised for food in the future. We know first-hand that retailers and food companies have paid attention.
Animal rights groups have become much smarter in their approach – not only through the use of media but through the law as well. And it’s the latter that I think the industry needs to keep its eye on.
Remember Proposition 2? Prop 2 was one of the first successful uses of the law in North America to mandate the desire of an animal rights group (in this case, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which was the driving force behind it).
The HSUS realized too late that the wording used in Prop 2 allowed for the use of enriched colony cages, something the organization never intended. The end goal was, of course, to have hens in aviaries or free-range pasture systems. This was a bit of an “oopsie” on its part and one I’m sure it won’t make again.
In Canada, the founder of Animal Justice is a lawyer, as are its Executive Director and recently appointed Director of Farmed Animal Advocacy. This group has been successful at challenging existing laws and policies on animal and animal product use.
Earlier this year, a private member’s bill, Bill C-246 (the “Modernizing Animal Protections Act”), tabled by Ontario MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, had its first reading. Although most members’ bills are not passed, watch this one closely: if passed as written, it could have implications for slaughter, transport, research and perhaps even rearing animals. The bill can be accessed at www.openparliament.ca.
Late last year in Quebec, a bill was passed that recognizes animals as “sentient beings” rather than things. The University of Ottawa recently announced it is offering a course in animal law this fall semester. One of the instructors is a recent UOttawa law student, Justine Perron, who founded the university’s Animal Protection Association. Perron told the Ottawa Citizen in August that she formed the association after seeing videos depicting cruelty. She says one way to create change is to tackle these issues at the legal level. “I hope more lawyers will have the knowledge in that sphere of law and be more interested in that cause.”
Make no mistake, Perron and other lawyers are highly motivated to be an advocate for the welfare of animals. The poultry industry needs to gird itself and present another equally compelling voice on behalf of animals.
Over the last several years, the retail price relationship between beef, pork and chicken favoured chicken, making it an attractive and competitive protein choice for consumers.
May 25, 2016 - Recognized welfare outcome assessments within farm assurance schemes have shown a reduction in feather loss and improvement in the welfare of UK cage-free laying hens, according to the findings of a study from the AssureWel project by the University of Bristol, RSPCA and the Soil Association. READ MORE
May 14, 2016 - The trend of backyard chickens for a farm-to-table egg experience is growing, with the latest business, called Rent The Chicken, opening in Greater Victoria. Here is a list of backyard chicken regulations for some major Canadian cities:
- The City of Edmonton runs an urban hens pilot project and has
issued 50 licences. Its Community Services Committee is studying
potential issues and concerns associated with keeping urban hens and
will report back to the city next year.
- Vancouver allows a maximum of four hens per lot, but no
roosters are permitted. Residents are not allowed to slaughter the
chickens in the backyard.
- Whitehorse residents can have six hens on their urban property
as long as they apply for a permit, have the hens for personal use
only and don't sell the eggs, manure, meat or other chicken
- Victoria has no backyard chicken limits, but the numbers of
chickens must be consistent with the residents' personal egg use. No
roosters are allowed. Tips on the city's website include building a
decent coop: “Don't build a chicken coop out of three sheets of
plywood and a hockey net unless you want to meet an Animal Control
- Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto do not allow backyard chickens,
although bylaw officers in Toronto will only investigate if
- Halifax has endured numerous backyard chicken debates, but so
far the city does not permit chickens.
- In Montreal, some boroughs allow chickens, including in
Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve where chickens are allowed in pens in
eight community gardens.
News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2016
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