Attendees of the Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) Annual General Meeting, which was held in mid-March, took a break to celebrate a milestone achievement.
With about 150 in attendance and a cake-cutting ceremony, CFC became the first commodity organization in Canada to be recognized by Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) for effective and consistent implementation of its On-Farm Food Safety Assurance Program (OFFSAP). Funding for the development of this program was provided under AAFC’s Canadian Integrated Food Safety Initiative.
Thanks to committee work 17 years ago, which studied other industry food safety programs and adapted aspects of them into the current framework, followed by pilot testing, incorporation of feedback and industry-wide education, CFC was able to realize a mandatory enforcement of OFFSAP in each province from coast to coast.
“Chicken farmers know that this [achievement] was a long time in coming, but it was well worth it,” says Adrian Rehorst, an Ontario chicken farmer who also serves as CFC’s first-vice chair and chair of the CFC Consumer Relations Committee. Rehorst has been a board member of Chicken Farmers of Ontario since 2005.
“When you think that we can now say we are producing what is probably the safest chicken on the planet, all the hard work along the way was very much worth it,” he notes.
“On the Consumer Relations Committee, the theme that we are working with is that we require the confidence of consumers, and this milestone will help us maintain that confidence. This recognition is the highest standard possible to achieve.”
A LONG ROAD
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) facilitated development of OFFSAP through its own On-Farm Food Safety Recognition Program (OFFSRP), an initiative that asks national food industry organizations to create food safety systems that are in line with Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP). CFIA states that for any industry program to be recognized through OFFSRP, each organization must assess its food safety practices against the current HACCP principles.
The finished program is then submitted to the CFIA for technical review, and the program must be implemented, audited and assessed before the CFIA grants the recognition.
Ontario was the first province to make OFFSAP mandatory, and is Canada’s largest chicken-producing province, with 1,026 farmers who collectively add approximately $2.39 million to Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In its Annual Report, CFC states that on a national level, Canada has 2,682 chicken farmers and 185 processors, which collectively support over 23,500 direct jobs and almost 56,000 total jobs, and which add $6.5 billion to Canada’s GDP. As well, the CFC states that 96 per cent of Canadian chicken farmers currently are OFFSAP-certified.
A JOURNEY BEGINS
CFC initially started the OFFSAP development process back in 1997 with an eight-member committee that began to put together a definitive instructional manual that would lay out the new program from start to finish, says Marty Brett, CFC senior communications officer.
“This committee became the Food Safety Committee and continued to work on OFFSAP while studying programs used by other commodities,” he notes. “The program was tested in 1998 using farms in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. It was then rolled out to all farmers and the final touches were put on it in 1999. The program was developed for farmers, by farmers.”
CFC’s OFFSAP was the first commodity program in Canada to receive CFIA Phase I technical recognition in 2002, and the second commodity program to receive CFIA Phase 2 technical recognition of its management system in 2006.
BRINGING THE BEST
At the farm level, OFFSAP brought a heightened awareness to biosecurity on the farm, says Murray Opsteen, a broiler producer near Flamborough, Ont. “We were already doing many of the standard operating procedures required under the program, but during the process of implementation, we took a closer look and it focused us on the food safety reasons behind why we do them,” he says.
“We were already doing best practices such as regular water sampling, and now added documenting of those activities. Overall, minor changes were made but the biggest change between before and after having OFFSAP in place was the documentation.”
“All of this work goes a long way to maintaining our hard-earned consumer trust,” said CFC Chair Dave Janzen at the CFC AGM in mid-March. “[With this recognition in place], no one has to take our word for it anymore – we can prove that we are delivering on consumer expectations for safe, quality, Canadian food.
“We are great farmers, we have a great product, and we’re starting to let more and more people know about it,” Janzen continued.
“Through our branding strategy, people will be able to see that their chicken contributes to a healthier diet for themselves and their families. Through our public relations strategy, people will be able to see that their chicken farmers contribute to Canada and make a real difference when it comes to the Canadian economy. Both these things tell people that we’re important and that we work hard to deliver. I believe we are, and we do.”
“My request to you, and to all chicken farmers, is to reflect and think about how we can come together and continue this fantastic success story that is the Canadian chicken industry,” he said.