Business & Policy
How Times Have Changed
By Kristy Nudds
While I was putting this issue together I couldn’t help but wonder what the founders of the Canadian Poultry industry would think about how far the industry has come in terms of production efficiency and organized marketing.
Even if you’re not a turkey farmer, I encourage you to read our cover story (page 11) as it’s an excellent reminder to all producers and those working in the industry just how advancements in scientific knowledge and technology have allowed the industry to progress from a “sideline” to the success it is today — not only in terms of production efficiencies, but also with its popularity with consumers and, most importantly, its development into a stable market for farmers.
Our cover story also provides readership with a little “refresher” course on the history of supply management, something I feel everyone involved in supply-managed commodities needs to be reminded of from time to time. As Eugene Whalen, esteemed former federal agriculture minister, famously said, “supply management is always under attack.” Indeed, as I write this, U.S. trade representative Michael Froman and four cabinet secretaries, including Secretary of State John Kerry, are travelling across Canada telling audiences that Canada’s (and Japan’s) farm protections, are “a remaining hurdle to a major trade deal,” referencing the desire of the U.S. to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and, indirectly, access our market.
Mr. Whalen is correct; history has shown that the poultry industry needs to constantly be on watch for threats to the supply management system. But like its fellow supply-managed and non supply-managed commodities, the greatest attacks at the moment are not those based on trade deals, but those based on trying to affect public opinion on how food is produced.
I’m not overly concerned that tactics by animal rights activists are going to persuade a significant number of consumers into vegetarians or vegans, but I’ve been with this magazine long enough now to see a definite trend in how much more media-savvy and educated these groups are getting.
A decade ago, activist groups, for the most part, were using shock tactics and graphic images to try and get their messages in the faces of consumers. But then, for example, the Humane Society of the United States began utilizing the democratic system to evoke change (think of Proposition 2). Although not a new tactic, Mercy for Animals has been utilizing undercover videos to its advantage. The difference is the group has been working with national media groups to disseminate the videos, which helps to sensationalize and has a much further reach (and unfortunately credibility) than it could on its own.
The result is that companies that produce food and buy from farmers are under the microscope. No one wants to be portrayed in a negative light and in some cases the videos have made companies re-visit existing animal care policies or implement new ones — that is never a bad thing (see page 38).
But the worry is that producers and companies will face a myriad of rules and regulations set by retailers out of fear of losing consumers, and that is a bad thing.
I bet having farming practices questioned was not something that even crossed our ancestors’ minds. Looking after animals was just good practice and farmers and their neighbours alike were just happy to have food on the table. ■