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Fighting Fire With Fire

EFO turns a challenge into an opportunity


March 3, 2009
By Kristy Nudds


Topics

Last year and early 2009 have been challenging for several egg
marketing boards in Canada, as they have had to deal with an aggressive
political campaign from the Humane Society International-Canada (HSIC).

The Egg Farmers of Ontario turn an activist challenge into an
opportunity to educate and inform city councils

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Last year and early 2009 have been challenging for several egg marketing boards in Canada, as they have had to deal with an aggressive political campaign from the Humane Society International-Canada (HSIC). 

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What makes this campaign unique is that the HSIC has shifted from typical activist-like behaviour and has been lobbying municipal governments, primarily in British Columbia and Ontario, to convince councils to pass a resolution encouraging retailers and restaurant operators to highlight their preference for and provide citizens with certified organic, free-range or free-run eggs. 

The HSIC campaign first claimed success in British Columbia in 2007 when the city of Richmond passed a motion requesting the removal of eggs from caged hens from all city-run facilities. Since then 12 other cities in the province have passed similar motions, and numerous universities in Canada have followed suit. 

The Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO) found out “by accident” that HSIC was approaching municipalities in their province, says EFO Chair Carolynne Griffith. She says the EFO discovered the motion had been sent to municipalities when general manager Harry Pellissero, a former member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, received a telephone call from a confused city councillor asking whether or not the motion came from the EFO. 

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 Chair Carolynne Griffith says the EFO saw an activist threat as an opportunity to communicate with city councillors on the topic of egg procurement in a positive way while contributing to the municipal agenda.


 

Not wanting to escalate the situation, the Ontario Farm Animal Council (OFAC) continually monitored HSIC activities for the EFO, but were unable to determine how many municipalities had received a motion from the HSIC. Griffith says that EFO public affairs manager Janet Hartwick called most of the rural municipalities to see if they had received it, and many had not.

However, in December and early January three cities in Ontario passed the HSIC’s motion – Orillia, Pickering and Port Colborne – without asking the EFO for input on how laying hens are raised in the province or the care they receive.    

The EFO decided to “fight fire with fire,” says Griffith, “because our voice wasn’t being heard. We saw this as an opportunity to endorse to city councillors the topic of egg procurement in a way that is positive while contributing to their municipal agenda.”

The EFO drafted its own motion and sent it to municipalities across the province. “This motion is great chance for us to say that we do what we’ve always done – supply the local market with a local product.”  She adds that because of the supply management system, Canadian egg farmers only produce for the Canadian market. “We don’t shorten the market and we don’t dump it elsewhere.” 

OFAC executive director Crystal MacKay says that her organization is “working to support the EFO’s effort.” OFAC sent letters and copies of its resource booklet on farming facts,  The Real Dirt on Farming to 800 contacts in the “municipal world” in Ontario and offered each recipient the opportunity to tour a local egg farm.  MacKay says that so far OFAC has received numerous calls for additional copies of  The Real Dirt on Farming, and she is working with one council on setting up a farm tour.

So far, 37 municipalities have supported the EFO’s motion and the EFO anticipates more will follow. The EFO has asked that Orillia, Pickering and Port Colborne city councils reconsider their decisions.

Griffith says it is unfortunate that the HSIC has misrepresented itself by using the name “Humane Society,” which is a term most often reserved for those who help rescue neglected and battered domestic pets, such as cats and dogs.

The HSIC has taken the stance that only hens raised in certified organic free-range or free-run operations receive proper care and are assured to have the best welfare.

In the January 2009 edition of EFO’s monthly newsletter, the The Cackler, Griffith says that “neither the HSIC nor any other animal activist group has the right to claim that only egg farmers who have free-run or free-range farms properly care for their hens. To say otherwise is an insult to our egg farmers, their families and their employees.”
Griffith says it’s difficult getting yourself into the head of consumers who have no idea where their food comes from or how it is produced.
“I guess that is our ultimate goal – to educate consumers so that they can be assured that the animals are well cared for.”