Environment
Do turkeys respond the same way as broilers to transportation? That’s the question professional engineer Trever Crowe has been investigating at the University of Saskatchewan (UofS).

“Animal welfare is the greatest impetus for our work,” Crowe told the audience at the Poultry Industry Council 2016 Research Day in Guelph, Ont., with his work focusing on the transportation of turkeys to market. The turkey industry is facing increased demands from regulatory agencies and consumers but current broiler data may not be directly applicable to turkeys.”
 
Travelling Turkeys
Crowe’s objective was to investigate the response of turkey hen and tom physiology, behaviour and meat quality to different temperatures and humidity levels during simulated transport.

Crowe, the associate dean in the College of Graduate Studies and Research at the UofS and a faculty member in the department of mechanical engineering, was the principal investigator, along with his research assistant, Catherine Vermette, graduate student Zoe Henrikson, and a platoon of other casual workers helping to collect
the data.

Environmental simulation
Researchers mimicked a typical farm-rearing environment at a barn on campus with 120 12-week old turkey hens and 120 16-week old turkey toms, growing them for a week with ad lib feed and water under 16 hours of light. After reaching market age the birds were crated and exposed to simulated transportation conditions where they were randomly assigned to one of five treatments: two warm treatments at 28 C with 30 and 80 per cent relative humidity, two moderate treatments at 20 C with 30 and 80 per cent relative humidity, and one cold treatment at -18 C, all at a stocking density of approximately 83 kg/m2. Crated birds were placed inside a pre-conditioned environmental chamber for eight hours under these experimental conditions before being processed at a mini slaughter plant set up at the university’s College of Engineering.

Experimental measures included live shrink; core body temperature; behavioural observations during exposure such as sitting, standing, huddling, shivering, panting, pecking, ptiloerection and preening; blood glucose levels before and after exposure; heterophil/lymphocyte ratio and the meat quality – the pH and colour of the breast and thigh.

Hypothesis
In terms of meat quality, Crowe hypothesized that warm exposure would result in pale, soft, exudative (PSE) meat, demonstrating a decline in pH and subsequent water holding capacity that results in tougher, paler meat. He also expected that cold exposure would result in dark, firm, dry (DFD) meat, due to an increase in muscle pH. There was the potential that meat exposed to cold would provide a larger yield, reduced drip and cook loss, with improved texture and taste scores.

Results
The results indicate that toms tolerate the cold better than hens but hens did better in the warmer conditions.

For cold transport at -18 C, hen live shrink was greater, core body temperature tended to be lower, thermo-regulatory behaviours such as huddling, shivering, ptiloerection increased, both breast and thigh pH tended to increase and became darker when compared to both treatments at 20 C. Under the same cold conditions the blood glucose of toms had a tendency to decrease, thermo-regulatory behaviours increased and thigh pH increased.

Comparing warm transport conditions, the opposite was true. Crowe found overall, that hens were less susceptible to the effects of warm transport than toms. Comparing both 28 C treatments to 20 C treatments at 30 and 80 per cent relative humidity, hen live shrink was greater and thermo-regulatory behaviours such as panting increased at 28 C. For toms live shrink increased, core body temperature increased, thermo-regulatory behaviours increased and breast pH increased under 28 C treatment compared to 20 C.

Research conditions
Crowe suggested that the exposure conditions were not extreme enough to cause consistent and widespread physiological changes but that changes in core body temperature indicate birds were possibly beginning to reach the limit of their thermal coping abilities. Crowe pointed out that the research was conducted under ideal conditions, with all birds healthy and dry.

Turkey physiology and behaviour were affected to a greater degree than meat quality measures; meat quality was not compromised and defects did not occur in cold or warm transported hens or toms.

Crowe suggested that the large size of turkeys relative to broilers and size differences between hens and toms likely account for some of the variation in results and make it difficult to extrapolate work done with broilers to turkeys. As he says, turkeys are not just big chickens.

Funding Partners
This work with turkeys was one of the Growing Forward II projects sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Canada and Agriculture Canada.  Crowe is now looking ahead to do similar work with end-of-cycle hens in a collaborative project with Karen Schwean-Lardner and he has also explored the possibility of similar work with broilers.  There are no immediate plans to extend this work on turkeys, although there are other turkey-related projects ongoing at the UofS.
Published in Meat - Turkeys
Jan. 11, 2017 - The National Chicken Council (NCC) is urging consumers, the foodservice industries and non-governmental organizations to invest in studying the impact of the growing market for "slower growing" broiler chickens in the United States (U.S). 

A study released by NCC details the environmental, economic and sustainability implications of raising slower growing chickens, revealing a sharp increase in chicken prices and the use of environmental resources - including water, air, fuel and land.  NCC is also calling for more research on the health impact of chickens' growth rates, to ensure that the future of bird health and welfare is grounded in scientific, data-backed research.   

"The National Chicken Council and its members remain committed to chicken welfare, continuous improvement and respecting consumer choice – including the growing market for a slower growing bird," says Ashley Peterson, NCC senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs. "However, these improvements must be dictated by science and data – not activists' emotional rhetoric – which is why we support further research on the topic of chicken welfare and growth rates."

Environmental implications

In assessing a transition to a slower growing breed, the environmental impact is an important component often left out of the equation.  If only one-third of broiler chicken producers switched to a slower growing breed, nearly 1.5 billion more birds would be needed annually to produce the same amount of meat currently produced – requiring a tremendous increase in water, land and fuel consumption: 
  • Additional feed needed: Enough to fill 670,000 additional tractor trailers on the road per year, using millions more gallons of fuel annually.
  • Additional land needed: The additional land needed to grow the feed (corn and soybeans) would be 7.6 million acres/year, or roughly the size of the entire state of Maryland.
  • Additional manure output: Slower growing chickens will also stay on the farm longer, producing 28.5 billion additional pounds of manure annually.  That's enough litter to create a pile on a football field that is 27 times higher than a typical NFL stadium.
  • Additional water needed: 5.1 billion additional gallons of water per year for the chickens to drink (excluding additional irrigation water that would be required to grow the additional feed).
Economic implications

If the industry did not produce the additional 1.5 billion birds to meet current demand, the supply of chicken would significantly reduce to 27.5 billion less chicken meals per year.

The additional cost of even 1/3 of the industry switching to slower growing birds would be $9 billion, which could have a notable financial impact on foodservice companies, retailers, restaurants and ultimately – consumers.  This will put a considerable percentage of the population at risk and increase food instability for those who can least afford to have changes in food prices.

A reduction in the U.S. chicken supply would also result in a decreased supply to export internationally where U.S. chicken is an important protein for families in Mexico, Cuba, Africa and 100 other countries.

NCC's commitment to welfare and consumer choice

"Slower growing," as defined by the Global Animal Partnership, is equal to or less than 50 grams of weight gained per chicken per day averaged over the growth cycle, compared to current industry average for all birds of approximately 61 grams per day. This means that in order to reach the same market weight, the birds would need to stay on the farm significantly longer.

For decades, the chicken industry has evolved its products to meet ever-changing consumer preferences.  Adapting and offering consumers more choices of what they want to eat has been the main catalyst of success for chicken producers.

"We are the first ones to know that success should not come at the expense of the health and wellbeing of the birds," said Peterson.  "Without healthy chickens, our members would not be in business."

All current measurable data – livability, disease, condemnation, digestive and leg health – reflect that the national broiler flock is as healthy as it has ever been.

"We don't know if raising chickens slower than they are today would advance our progress on health and welfare - which is why NCC has expressed its support to the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association for research funding in this area," says Peterson. "What we do know is there are tradeoffs and that it is important to take into consideration chicken welfare, sustainability, and providing safe, affordable food for consumers.  There may not be any measurable welfare benefits to the birds, despite these negative consequences.  Research will help us identify if there are additional, unforeseen consequences of raising birds for longer."

NCC in 2017 will also be updating its Broiler Welfare Guidelines, last updated in 2014, and having the guidelines certified by an independent third party.  The guidelines will be updated with assistance from an academic advisory panel consisting of poultry welfare experts and veterinarians from across the United States.

"NCC will continue to be in the business of providing and respecting consumer choice in the marketplace," Peterson concludes.  "Whether it is traditionally raised chicken, slower growing breeds, raised without antibiotics or organic, consumers have the ability to choose products that take into account many factors, including taste preference, personal values and affordability."

For additional information and resources about how chickens are raised, visit www.chickencheck.in

Study methodology

The study was conducted August-September, 2016 by Elanco Animal Health, in consultation with Express Markets, Inc., using a simulation model that estimates the impact of slow-growing broilers on feed, land, water utilization, waste/manure generated, and production cost.  The model used average values of conventional vs. slow-grow broiler for mortality, grow-out days, feed conversion, days downtime, and placement density.  A full copy of the study is available here.
Published in Production
Donald Shaver has been retired from poultry breeding since 1986, but this hasn’t diminished his passion for feeding a hungry world and promoting his vision for accomplishing it.

Shaver recently gave a keynote presentation to the 11th International Symposium on Avian Endocrinology, held in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Entitled “Mandating a sustainable economy before it’s too late”, the presentation dealt with a number of current issues critical to, in Shaver’s view, the future of humanity, as we know it.

For sustainable development, he used the United Nations 1987 definition that it “is attained when current generations could meet their needs without undermining or destroying future generations’ chances of having their needs met”.

Of course, much has changed since 1987, especially recognition of the twin challenges of climate change and the associated problem of finite water resources.

“There isn’t an alternative presently known to man that will safeguard the well-being of our grandchildren, short of immediate, co-ordinated reductions in CO2 emissions to levels that will assure human survival,” Shaver said, with regard to global warming and CO2 emissions.  “The economics of the so-called market place alone, will not be able to accomplish this, for it is a truly Churchillian undertaking.”   The consequences of existing climate change in terms of loss of ice cover and rising sea levels, increasingly volatile weather phenomena, etc. are well known.

Many of these factors are already influencing the world’s food supply.  But it is not just climate change that is affecting food security.  Shaver quoted Mahatma Gandhi (who died in 1948) as saying that “the earth provides enough for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed”.   The West’s model for food production, Shaver stated, will fail to feed the world if adapted globally, because it destroys resources and many of the traditional farmers whose knowledge is so essential to future food security.

One of the main thrusts of the presentation was the need for governments to restore the priority of food production and agriculture in the scientific world. Apart from those involved in space or defense programs, scientists’ funding is unreliable and short term. The need for worldwide food security is paramount.  And the industrial systems now operating in the West are not only largely unsustainable in their present form, they are unsuited for exporting to Africa and other less-developed food systems. This is particularly so for animal systems which, except for ruminants, compete with the human population for food resources.

Effects of climate change
Climate change is already reducing crop yields.  Research has shown that, while corn yields in France rose by 60 per cent between 1960 and 2000 (the green revolution), they were flat for the next decade. They are predicted to fall by 12 per cent over the next twenty years.  Wheat and soya yields showed a similar pattern and are expected to fall by up to 20 per cent. In the U.S. Midwest, higher temperatures are expected to lower crop yields by up to 63 per cent by the end of this century.  Similar reductions may be expected in the Canadian prairies, and, as the world’s sixth largest agricultural economy, this can be predicted to significantly affect the world’s food supply.

The inequity in food distribution is well known.  Obesity is rampant in the West, and yet many economies are characterized by widespread malnutrition. Shaver stated, “Nor do the industrialized countries recognize that, for their own future security, they must commit to helping find an enduring solution to the chronic food shortages present in too many disadvantaged areas. Some of us are beginning to think that terrorism is not entirely based on religious differences.”

Shaver also made reference to the inequalities in income and spending power between the “one per cent” and the rest of society. In the past half-century, taxation has favoured the rich in many countries, particularly the U.S.

Finding workable solutions
“If we are to build a more sustainable economic system, we must legislate a less reckless financial sector,” he said.  “Neo-liberal capitalism may create wealth, but no attempt is made to distribute this wealth with any degree of fairness, much less honesty. We have apparently accepted a “CEO mythology” replete with excessive salary, bonuses. Even in Great Britain, CEO’s from the top 100 companies enjoyed a 10 per cent salary increase in 2015 and are now paid 129 times more than their employees. Research has shown that since 2008, 91 per cent of all financial gains in the U.S. went to the “one per cent”, and they are basically not spending the money, while many of the other 99 per cent spend all their money just to get by.  This weakens demand and suppresses growth.”

While admitting that Canada, on its own, can do little to alter the world’s CO2 levels, we have nothing to lose by establishing a sustainable food system. Shaver proposed the establishment of a “senior cabinet post, second only to the prime minister, responsible for sustainable economic development and the sciences. Shaver envisions that this person would firmly direct our national scientific activity with respect to sustainability, eliminating duplication and managing the function of bureaucracy in areas where it lacks expertise. Furthermore, he would require the creation of a sustainability commission, chaired by the chief scientist; a non-partisan group, with long-term goals. It would not only create plans for Canadian sustainability, but also liaise with similar bodies in
other countries.

Shaver sees this commission initially providing the prime minister with three 10-year plans, reviewed and if necessary updated as circumstances change. The rewards envisaged would accrue to the scientists involved with the various projects and would be a serious incentive for long-term scientific endeavour.  In many cases, the challenges we face can be solved with existing knowledge. What is needed is the will to recognize and prioritize the need for action in the field of sustainability.

In conclusion, Shaver said that “the future human reality will be centred less on technology and industrial might than on food and water security for all mankind.  An Eastern philosopher observed that knowing the facts is easy; knowing how to act based on the facts is difficult!”
Published in Emerging Trends

The swell of demand from North America’s largest food companies for cage-free eggs is a stunning example of why public trust in our country’s food system matters.

The huge number of cage-free commitments from food makers, retailers and restaurants in Canada and the U.S. stems from how these companies perceive overall consumer opinions on hen housing – the fact that consumers do not trust that farmers know best with regard to housing systems that provides the best life for hens.

While these North American food companies (see sidebar) are no doubt being influenced by cage-free commitments already made by their subsidiaries or peers in Australia, the UK and the EU, their promises to only source cage-free eggs in these other parts of the world are again based on consumer perception, largely influenced by animal activist groups.  

The united cage-free front of North American food makers, restaurants and retailers suggests that cage-free housing is inevitable in both Canada and the U.S. There are simply no major egg buyers who want anything else. “This is a done issue in the U.S.,” says Josh Balk, senior director for food policy at the Humane Society of the United States. “I can’t see the Canadian scenario being any different.”  

However, whether egg farmers in either country will be able to meet the deadlines  is far from certain.  

Eggs Farmers of Canada (EFC) has currently committed to reaching 50 per cent cage-free production within eight years (2024), 85 per cent within 15 years and to have all hens “in enriched housing, free-run, aviary or free-range by 2036, assuming the current market conditions prevail.” This does not line up with North American food industry timelines of sourcing only cage-free eggs by 2025 or sooner. For example, Retail Council of Canada members such as Loblaw and Wal-Mart have committed to 2025, and David Wilkes, Retail Council senior vice-president of government relations and grocery division, says they “will continue to work with producers and processors to transition to this housing environment.”

Burnbrae, sole egg supplier of McDonald’s Canada, is switching all its production for that customer to cage-free to meet the restaurant chain’s 2025 deadline. In the U.S., Rose Acre Farms and Rembrandt Farms, the country’s second and third largest egg producers, are already converting to cage-free barns.

A&W Canada currently stands alone among North American food industry companies in its support of enriched housing. The fast food company says it “has worked very hard to have our eggs come from hens that live in enriched cages,” and that it “will continue to serve eggs from enriched housing while we work towards better cage-free housing.” The chain recognizes that Canadians want their eggs to come from hens housed outside of cages, but adds that “there are currently no viable commercial cage-free housing options that meet our strict standards.” To that end, in March 2016 A&W announced it wants to work with Canadian charity Farm & Food Care to bring egg industry partners, retail and food service from across Canada together with the U.S. Center for Food Integrity’s Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply to discuss all issues impacting sustainable eggs (including food safety, environment, hen health, worker health and safety and food affordability), and determine areas that the Canadian egg sector feels funding would be best spent. A&W has offered a grant of $100,000 to further this research. For it’s part, EFC recognizes research that shows each production system comes with trade-offs. We asked EFC about the fact that for any Canadian egg farm to convert to enriched cages and keep the same production level, new barn(s) will likely have to be constructed because the same number of birds cannot be housed in enriched cages in a given barn as were housed in battery cages. Does EFC see this as a particular challenge for Canadian egg farmers in terms of costs and the land required? “There are many factors a farmer needs to consider when evaluating the realities of transitioning an operation,” EFC states. “What’s important to keep in mind is that every farm is different (e.g. size, location, etc.) and until farmers start working through the implications of their transition—carefully considering his/her requirements—any estimation of cost is speculative.”

While EFC is currently looking into the financial implications of various alternative housing systems, we asked also if cage-free barns are less expensive than enriched cages, taking into account the possible requirement for new barn(s). “The decision to retool an existing barn or build a new barn is an important component of each farm’s individual transition plan,” EFC states. “Shifting to a new production system with different space requirements can impact the overall size of the flock. Typically, alternative housing systems have a larger building footprint and do not contain as many birds and conventional housing systems.”

Cost is a concern for the United Egg Producers, which represents those producing almost 90 per cent of American eggs, and for the National Association of Egg Farmers (NAEF), which represents about one per cent of U.S. production. NAEF is against mandated cage-free production for other reasons as well, including increased egg prices, increased mortality due to cannibalism and other factors, increased pecking injuries, higher risk of contamination due to prolonged exposure of eggs to litter and manure in nest boxes or on the barn floor, high dust levels and ergonomic challenges in egg collection.  

Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) released the draft version of the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Layers for public comment in June. The draft does not promote any type of housing over any other, but does include new recommendations for roomier cages.

In the end however, any attempt to convince the North American foodservice industry of the merits of any other type of housing except free-run/cage-free may be a lost cause. Marion Gross, senior supply chain management vice president at McDonald’s USA, may have summed it up best in her statement in January 2016 in the Chicago Tribune: “Enriched [housing] doesn’t mean anything to our customers, but they know what cage-free means.”

Published in Housing

 

Chickens, like all vertebrates, are governed by a circadian rhythm that is governed by the natural light/dark cycle of day and night. As such, chickens mostly rest and are inactive at night, especially when it is dark.  Although they do rest during the daylight hours, most of their feeding and activity is performed during this time.   

Studies show that just as in humans, major abrupt changes to the day/night cycle of the chickens, such as waking up the chickens at night with loud noises, will lead to stressed and anxious chickens.

In addition, studies have shown that loud noises such as found near airports, rail road tracks or loud hydraulic or pneumatic equipment and machinery close to the chickens leads to lower egg production, stunted growth, higher blood pressure, stress and fatigue in the birds.  A study has shown that loud noise simulating noisy ventilation fans and operational machines found at slaughterhouses led to increased plasma corticosteroids, cholesterol and total protein.1 This study recommended the control of noise pollution near the chickens and chicks.

Other studies show that noise levels past the 85 dB level can lead to a decreased feed intake of between 15 to 25 per cent.  Lower feed intake stunts chicken growth — something the poultry farmer or processor does not want.

But all is not lost. Below are some tips and advice to reduce the noise level to an acceptable and healthier level leading to happier and healthier chickens – both psychologically and physically.

First identify the sources of noise pollution equipment. Use a sound measuring tool if necessary.

  1. Erect sound barrier secondary glazing in windows.
  2. Establish your chicken farm in a quiet area away from airports and industrial areas and rail yards.
  3. Maintain your ventilation fans and feeding machines making sure they are not producing excess noise.
  4. Try to buy machines that produce the least noise possible.
  5. Avoid repairs and renovations with noisy equipment, especially during the rest and sleep hours of the chickens
  6. Muffle noisy equipment.
  7. Make sure that family members do not honk the car horn too often during chicken sleep hours.
  8. Investigate “active noise control” - a noise cancelation anti-noise system that produces sound waves of the same amplitude as the noise pollution, but in opposite polarity causing a cancelling of the noise pollution.
  9. Train employees and family members to respect the sleep hours of the chickens - they should not be screaming out to each other, joking etc. around sleeping chickens.

We simply see that it’s about common sense and respect. We need to respect the fact that chickens are living beings that need many of the same things that we need, including a good night’s sleep and some peace and quiet during the day. We just have to sensitize ourselves by imaging how we feel when we are woken up while we are asleep. We feel grouchy the next day and are less productive in the office. If we internalize this reality, we will treat the chickens with more respect, which not only is the proper thing to do, but it is actual good business sense.

The results will be healthier, bigger chickens.  Thus, everybody gains by respecting the chickens needs not to be exposed to high levels of noise pollution: the commercial poultry farmer, the backyard chicken farmer enthusiast, the processor and the chickens.


Ronnie P. Cons is EVP of C&C Packing Inc., a leading Canadian distributor of meat and poultry. He can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .  Visit at www.CCpacking.com

 

1Stress in Broiler Chickens Due to Acute Noise Exposure (2009) Chloupek et. Al  Acta Veterinaria Brno, 78:93-98.

 

Published in Welfare
Sept. 20, 2016 - Ontario farmers are invited to safely and responsibly dispose of their unwanted or obsolete pesticides and livestock (including equine) medications from Sept. 20-30. This collection program is offered at no cost to Ontario farmers.  

CleanFARMS, an industry-led, national not-for-profit agricultural waste management organization partnered with the Canadian Animal Health Institute (CAHI) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to co-fund the disposal program with support from CropLife Canada, Ontario Agri Business Association, Farm & Food Care Ontario, and the Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers' Association, in offering this free program.

"Ontario farmers are environmentally conscious and are pleased to partner with CleanFARMS to safely dispose of obsolete pesticides and livestock medications," says Craig Hunter from the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. "The CleanFARMS collection program provides an excellent one-stop service for Ontario farmers to continue to protect the land."

Farmers in Ontario have a long history of good stewardship practices. Since 1998, Ontario farmers have turned in more than 500,000 kilograms of obsolete pesticides.

"Ontario has a history of successful collections," says Barry Friesen, General Manager of CleanFARMS. "The participation of Ontario farmers shows they are good stewards of their land and committed to protecting the environment."

After collection, the pesticides and livestock medications are taken to a licensed waste management facility where they are disposed of through high temperature incineration.

The following locations will be accepting obsolete pesticides and livestock/equine medications from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on the dates specified:

Tuesday, Sept. 20
Brodhagen - Hoegy's Farm Supply
Guelph - Woodrill Farms
Glencoe - Parrish & Heimbecker

Wednesday, Sept. 21
Brussels - Brussels Agromart
Ailsa Craig - Hensall District Co-op
Aylmer - Max Underhill's Farm Supply

Thursday, Sept. 22
Beamsville - NM Bartlett
Forest - Lakeside Grain & Feed Ltd
Kitchener - GROWMARK Inc

Monday, Sept. 26
Bothwell - Hagerty Creek
Alliston - Alliance Agri-Turf
Tara - Sprucedale Agromart
New Hamburg - Good Crop Services
Lancaster - Munro's Agromart

Tuesday, Sept. 27
Tupperville - Agris Co-op
Wellandport - Clark AgriService
Bradford - Bradford Co-op
Walkerton - Huron Bay Co-op
Alfred - Synagri

Wednesday, Sept. 28
Paincourt - South West Ag Partners
Princeton - Cargill
Oakwood - Oakwood Ag Centre
Harriston - Cargill
Casselman - Agro Culture 2001

Thursday, Sept. 29
Blenheim - Thompsons
Bolton - Alliance Agri-Turf
Trenton - TCO Agromart
Dundalk - Huron Bay Co-op
Richmond - Synagri

Sept. 27-29
Verner - Verner Ag Centre
Gore Bay - Northland Agromart
Pembroke - M&R Feeds and Farm Supply
Arnprior - M&R Feeds and Farm Supply
Thornloe - Temiskaming Ag Centre
Thunder Bay - Thunder Bay Co-op

Friday, Sept. 30
Courtland - Cargill
Orangeville - Holmes Agro
Picton - County Farm Centre
Leamington - Agris Co-op
Chesterville - Synagri

For more information, please call CleanFARMS at 877-622-4460 or visit www.cleanfarms.ca
Published in Environment
The University of Guelph has received $76.6 million from the federal government to start a “digital revolution” in food and agriculture.

The government is investing in U of G’s Food From Thought research project, which will use high-tech information systems to help produce enough food for a growing human population while sustaining the Earth’s ecosystems.

The funding, announced by Lloyd Longfield, MP for Guelph, on behalf of Kirsty Duncan, minister of science, will come from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF), which supports world-leading research at universities and colleges.

It’s the largest single federal research investment in U of G history.

“This will position Canada as a leader in sustainable food production,” said U of G president Franco Vaccarino, adding the project will help farmers produce more food on less land using fewer inputs.

“Our faculty, staff and students will have opportunities to participate in innovative discovery and to play a role in tackling one of the world’s greatest challenges: how to sustainably feed our growing population.”

Longfield added: “The University of Guelph has a long history of collaborating across Canada and globally to contribute to understanding complex challenges. The global food supply will require the University’s unique leadership skills that bring together agricultural expertise, big data, environmental science, business and civil society. Today’s funding announcement will give Canada a huge step forward to become a global leader in food.”

Food From Thought will create novel tools for producing more and safer food while also protecting the environment.

“It is not just how much food we produce but also the way we produce it that will be key in the next century,” said Prof. Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research), who is the institutional lead for Food From Thought and a plant genomicist in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

New technology and agricultural practices must enhance biodiversity, produce safe, nutritious food, and improve animal welfare and human health, he said.

U of G is well-placed to lead this project, Campbell said. “We are Canada’s food university, with a 150-year legacy in agri-food and a reputation for innovation and commitment. We also have the capacity, with world-class researchers and facilities, and strong partnerships with government and industry.”

Geography professor Evan Fraser, scientific director of Food From Thought and director of U of G’s Food Institute, said launching a digital revolution will require improved understanding of the complex interplay between farming practices, the genetic potential of our crops and livestock, and the environment.

“This is essential if we are to realize the potential offered by our emerging ability to collect vast amounts of data and to develop information management systems,” he said.

Food From Thought will bring together experts to generate and commercialize knowledge, and to inform agri-food policy-makers and practices from farm management to global conservation planning.

The initiative will offer new teaching and research opportunities, and will focus on training the next generation of agri-food leaders through fellowships and graduate student positions.

More than $1 million will be available for annual research awards and competitions intended to develop innovations for sustainable food systems.

Within Food From Thought, researchers will work on key scientific missions including:

Expanding use of DNA barcoding technology developed at U of G to identify food fraud, food-borne ailments and invasive pests, and to improve environmental impact assessments;

Using “big data” on farms to reduce pesticide use, monitor watershed health and identify crops suited to the effects of climate change; and

Using information management systems to help track emerging infectious disease threats to livestock and control pathogens in the food supply.

Food From Thought includes partnerships with academic institutions around the globe, numerous government agencies, and industry and innovation centres.

One key partner is IBM Canada, which will be involved in everything from research collaborations to cognitive and data analytics tools and training to secure cloud-based storage.

“IBM shares the scientific vision of Food From Thought: ensuring that we sustainably, resiliently and safely increase production while enhancing ecosystem services and livestock health and welfare using data-driven approaches,” said Sanjeev Gill, research executive at IBM Canada.

Food From Thought will be one of U of G’s largest and most inclusive research projects, spanning all seven colleges. It will be led by 10 principal investigators from across campus.

This funding announcement was part of a $900-million competition lasting several months and involving a review panel of Canadian and international scientific experts. This is the second CFREF competition since 2014.

 
Published in Consumer

April 1, 201`6 - The Government of Canada is investing $27 million to help producers find ways to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their farming operations, Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister, Lawrence MacAulay announced March 30.

The investment is part of the Government of Canada’s ongoing efforts to help the sector be innovative, competitive and sustainable. The Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program (AGGP) supports research into greenhouse gas mitigation practices and technologies that can be adopted on the farm.

This new five-year investment (2016-2021) extends Canada’s existing commitment to support the objectives of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases.

The initial AGGP investment (2011-16) provided $21 million for 18 projects undertaken by universities, provincial governments, research institutions and conservation groups. These projects have resulted in innovative technologies and Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs) in four priority areas for farmers: livestock systems, cropping systems, agricultural water use efficiency, and agro-forestry.

Published in Environment

 

It’s called the Provision Coalition: a group of twelve food and beverage manufacturing organizations from across Canada that have teamed up under Growing Forward funding with the sole mandate of providing resources, programming and advocacy for sustainability.

Which leads directly to an obvious question: what does sustainability mean?

That’s where there is some confusion, said Cher Mereweather, even within their membership. As the executive director of the Provision Coalition, Mereweather addressed the 2015 Canadian Poultry Sustainability Conference in London, Ont.

She focused on the three pillars that presently define sustainability, which include economic, social and environmental considerations. That’s a good start, but from there, the discussion becomes complex.

The one common theme that she has heard so far in conversation with manufacturers and vendors is a passion in people to do the right thing. Low cost production alone isn’t enough; sustainability begins with awareness, like knowing how much water and energy you are using to make a bottle of wine. Starting with employees, it can be as simple as using one finger to turn off a light. “It’s not only an obligation but it makes good business sense,” said Mereweather. “Just start. You’ll be surprised.”

The Provision Coalition represents one tier of the farm-to-fork industry, where every segment of the chain is responsible for the links surrounding it. In this chain, transparency has become the buzzword, and one of the top issues we face.

What does transparency mean to the poultry industry? Who is responsible for it? Each link of the supply chain needs to be able to supply the answers to questions, driving the need for collaboration as we move towards a ‘clean label’ on our food, as consumers continue to ask, what’s in my food? Where is it from? What is its impact on the environment?

The impact of this consumer questioning is very real. Mereweather looked at some of the big players to show how consumers have influenced them and in turn, influenced primary production.  A common theme has emerged.

Walmart, now the world’s largest grocer, is working directly with farmers on precision agriculture. Loblaws, Canada’s largest grocer, made the sweeping statement “We will source close to home to support local, regional and national Canadian producers/growers and to give our customers fresh, wholesome food while ensuring the health and vitality of food sources, including oceans.”

A&W launched a concept but forgot to talk to the supply chain, resulting in a lot of backlash when the industry could not respond quickly enough. They are now trying to re-build those relationships.

McDonald’s has been taking a more collaborative approach, such as with their 2014 Verified Sustainable Beef program, and Mereweather expects them to take the same approach with poultry.

Driven by their need to innovate Prime Brand, Maple Leaf Foods assures consumers that they are moving to feasibly grow antibiotic free production – “Canadian Farm Raised” – with no growth hormones, like all poultry in Canada.

With this push to the holy grail of sustainability, farmers will need to be able to provide transparent and verifiable information in the move towards big data collection, certifications and auditing, as well as a global database. They can expect questions about how the farm manages people, the environment and operations. It’s a theme the food companies call ‘responsible sourcing’, looking back to the farmer to help gain the trust of the consumer. There will always be money pushing the agenda, said Mereweather, but if you’re transparent, honest and real, trust will come.

But who pays? Is this just the new cost of doing business, she asked? It’s time to look at innovation, changing our mindset to ask how we can do business differently. We may uncover opportunities.

The Provision Coalition has started the ball rolling. It’s not just farmers, said Mereweather, feeling the same pressure. In this case, the industry needs to lead but the government needs to support, quite the opposite to the usual process of having the government lead.

So far Mereweather has run into some typical roadblocks while simply searching for collaboration. Each link is protective between competitors so the discussion hasn’t been easy. She has had to focus on what she calls pre-competitive collaboration, while making sure there is government and non-government representation in the room to avoid collusion to fix prices or market share.

There is also a need to avoid redundancy. These ‘Made In Canada’ discussions may start provincially, but need to align nationally as well as speaking to a larger marketplace, and build upon current programs such as the Environmental Farm Plan.

As Merewather says, sustainability isn’t something that can be built in isolation. Right now the focus of the Provision Coalition is to focus on a harmonization of efforts and consistency of information requests; collaboration is the key. As she admits though, “We won’t get there anytime soon.”

 

 

 

Published in Emerging Trends

February 17, 2016 – New research has shown that tackling antibiotic resistance on only one front is a waste of time because resistant genes are freely crossing environmental.

Analysis of historic soil archives dating back to 1923 has revealed a clear parallel between the appearance of antibiotic resistance in medicine and similar antibiotic resistant genes detected over time in agricultural soils treated with animal manure.

Collected in Denmark – where antibiotics were banned in agriculture from the 1990s for non-therapeutic use – the soil archives provide an 'antibiotic resistance timeline' that reflects resistant genes found in the environment and the evolution of the same types of antibiotic resistance in medicine.

Led by Newcastle University, UK, the study also showed that the repeated use of animal manure and antibiotic substitutes can increase the capacity of soil bacteria to mobilize, or ready themselves, and acquire resistance genes to new antibiotics.

Publishing their findings in the academic journal Scientific Reports, the study's authors say the data highlights the importance of reducing antibiotic use across all sectors if we are to reduce global antibiotic resistance.

"The observed bridge between clinical and agricultural antibiotic resistance means we are not going to solve the resistance problem just by reducing the number of antibiotics we prescribe in our GP clinics,” said lead author David Graham, professor of ecosystems engineering at Newcastle University.

"To reduce the global rise in resistance, we need to reduce use and improve antibiotic stewardship across all sectors. If this is not done, antibiotic resistance from imprudent sectors will cross-contaminate the whole system and we will quickly find ourselves in a situation where our antibiotics are no longer effective."

Antibiotics have been used in medicine since the 1930s, saving millions of lives. Two decades later, they were introduced into agricultural practices and Denmark was among the leaders in employing antibiotics to increase agricultural productivity and animal production.

However, a growing awareness of the antibiotic resistance crisis and continued debate over who and which activities are most responsible led to the EU calling for the use of antibiotics in non-therapeutic settings to be phased out and Denmark led the way.

The Askov Long-Term Experiment station in Denmark was originally set up in 1894 to study the role of animal manure versus inorganic fertilizers on soil fertility.

Analyzing the samples, the team – involving experts from Newcastle University, the University of Strathclyde and Aarhus University – were able to measure the relative abundance of specific β-lactam antibiotic resistant genes, which can confer resistance to a class of antibiotics that are of considerable medical importance.

Prior to 1960, the team found low levels of the genes in both the manured soil and that treated with inorganic fertilizer. However, by the mid 1970s, levels of selected β-lactam genes started to increase in the manured soils, with levels peaking in the mid 1980's. No increase or change was detected in the soil treated with inorganic fertilizer.

"We chose these resistant genes because their appearance and rapid increase in hospitals from 1963 to 1989 is well-documented," explains Professor Graham.

"By comparing the two timelines, we saw the appearance of each specific gene in the soil samples was consistent with the evolution of similar types of resistance in medicine. So the question now is not which came first, clinical or environmental resistance, but what do we do about it?"

Following the ban on non-therapeutic antibiotic use in Danish agriculture, farmers substituted metals for antibiotics, such as copper, and levels of the key β-lactam genes in the manured soils declined rapidly, reaching pre-industrialization levels by 2010.

However, at the same time the team measured a 10-fold rise in Class 1 Integrons. These are gene carrier and exchange molecules – transporters that allow bacteria to readily share genes, including resistance genes.

These findings suggest the application of manure and antibiotic substitutes, such as copper, may be 'priming' the soils, readying them for increased resistance transmission in the future.

"Once antibiotics were banned, operators substituted them with copper which has natural antibiotic properties," explains Professor Graham.

"More research is needed but our findings suggest that by substituting antibiotics for metals such as copper we may have increased the potential for resistance transmission.

"Unless we reduce use and improve stewardship across all sectors – environmental, clinical and agricultural – we don't stand a chance of reducing antibiotic resistance in the future."

Published in Environment

 

December 1, 2015, Toronto, Ont – During its official launch event held recently, Safe Food Canada (SFC), a not-for-profit organization focussed on modernizing the way industry and regulatory professionals learn about food safety, featured a panel discussion addressing food safety in today’s complex global food system.

The panelists were Dr. Bruce Archibald, president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Ted Bilyea, chair of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI), Michael Burrows, CEO of Maple Lodge Farms, and Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, professor at the University of Guelph's Food Institute.

SFC announced its initial strategy and founding partnerships for what it deems as the most compelling issue in Canada’s food system: the modernization of food safety training and education.

“Because of rapidly changing consumer demands and with the Safe Food for Canadians Act, both the Canadian food industry and regulators are now at a tipping point and must shift to more consistent, competency-based food safety training," said Brian Sterling, president and CEO of SFC. "Our mandate is to modernize the design and development of food safety and food protection training; we must bring together food professionals from industry and government and help them do that.”

“The CFIA recognizes the important role that Safe Food Canada can play in reinforcing Canada's reputation as a world leader in food safety training by enhancing compliance with regulations and reducing duplicated efforts and training costs for all parties”, said Dr. Bruce Archibald, president at CFIA.

SFC recently completed an exploratory study of industry spending and return on investment on food safety training in Canada. The company expects to publish the results early in the new year. SFC is already seeking participants across North America to conduct a more comprehensive benchmark study in 2016 so that food companies can compare their performance to the rest of the industry and understand the relationship between excellence in food safety training and its financial payoffs.

As part of its work to bring uniformity and quality discipline into food safety training, SFC is collaborating with the International Food Protection Training Institute and other businesses to create a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) for training design and content. The eventual result will be a training quality standard so that more consistent and comprehensive education can be delivered to industry and regulatory professionals.

SFC also announced its first founding sponsors and contributing partners that will serve as the basis of an advisory council to the company.  These leading organizations include, the Canadian Meat Council, the US Grocers Manufacturers Association Science & Education Foundation, Maple Leaf Foods, the University of Guelph’s Department of Food Science, and the World Bank’s Global Food Safety Partnership.

 

Published in New Technology

 

Residents throughout the Northwest Territories (NWT) are flocking to the Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) in Hay River to learn how to grow crops. The challenge is finding enough productive land in their communities to pursue agricultural endeavors.

That’s where Hay River-based egg producer, Choice North Farms, and its plan to convert its poultry manure into compost could play a vital role to help develop productive soils in many northern communities.

Kim Rapati, NFTI Operations Manager and former Hay River Regional Manager for an environmental advocacy group called Ecology North says that compost is a highly valued commodity in the North because there is so little arable land available in the region to pursue farming ventures in or near the region’s many small communities. Addition of compost to what she described as ‘young soils’ will provide community members with the opportunity to establish and develop their farming skills.

“The composting venture was initiated by us,” says Kevin Wallington, Choice North Farms sales and marketing representative. “In past years, there had been studies done on old poultry sites to see if there was any feasibility in it. But I don’t think there was really a will on the industry side. It really has to be championed by industry to participate in a venture
like this.”

The farm houses about 117,000 laying hens producing about 37 million eggs and 3500 tonnes of manure per year near Hay River. It is working with Ecology North, the NWT government, federal government, NFTI and Town of Hay River on its composting venture. The plan is to start with a 160 cubic metre pilot scale site involving the use of about nine tonnes of manure this summer to test various mixing methods and outcomes, with the goal of developing a full scale site consisting of an area of about 18,000 cubic metres as a commercial composting operation hopefully by next summer.

Choice North Farms is owned and managed by Glen Wallington, and his son, Michael. They own part of the operation, and manage another part for a separate egg producer, but all under one roof. They started producing eggs under the Choice North Farms label about three years ago and are among the largest egg producers in NWT as well as being a supporter of the ‘Polar Egg’ initiative. Since 2012, the Polar Egg Company has been certified to grade eggs locally so that not all eggs are shipped to southern markets but also supplied for human consumption in retail stores in the North. Kevin Wallington is also Glen’s son, as well as sales and marketing director for Polar Egg.

At present, their raw manure is collected on plastic conveyor belts and removed from the barns daily, representing about one dump truck load per day that is transported to a designated landfill area 22 kilometers from the barns.

The objective of the composting project is to mix raw poultry manure with waste paper and wood. The paper and wood are necessary as part of the conversion process to produce compost. Because of that, Kevin says they are in discussions with governments such as the City of Yellowknife and Town of Hay River, as well as industries dealing with waste paper, such as paper shredding companies and the Yellowknife newspaper, to discuss possible alliances in the composting venture.

The concept is to establish an open-turned windrow system where the manure, paper and wood are piled into five metre wide by three metre tall windrows. At full scale operation, 3420 tonnes of poultry manure generated by the egg farm will be combined with 2800 tonnes of paper and 500 tonnes of wood to produce about 3400 cubic metres of compost annually. One of the benefits of composting is that through biological activity, it reduces the volume of the raw materials, and produces a marketable, pathogen and weed-free compost that can be used as a soil amendment in a variety of growing environments.

Either a wheel loader or pile turner could be used to turn the piles as needed to improve air flow and encourage the conversion process. Not only does Choice North Farms want to convert their current production of manure, but also to use the thousands of tonnes of poultry manure that they have accumulated in their nearby landfill over the past 15 years.

“This project is a benefit to us because if we didn’t compost, then effectively the landfill becomes a liability for us,” says Kevin. “Some of those pits are fairly deep and I don’t think you’d have to dig too low below the surface to find that it is fairly fresh after it’s been there for some time.” He adds that there are no issues with the landfill currently, “but I know that the government is excited about our project because the North is full of stories where people just walked away
from things.”

Wallington says that the egg producer had no experience with composting and that is a major benefit that Ecology North has brought to the partnership, providing the technical know-how needed to launch a composting venture.

Savings in diverting paper waste from the Hay River landfill to the poultry farm composting site is estimated at almost 14,000 cubic metres of space, and at $150 per cubic metre, that is a savings of just over $2 million per year. The project costs of establishing the site were estimated at about $350,000, with additional capital costs of $459,000 and annual operating costs of nearly $136,000. To recover those costs, it is estimated that there is the potential to generate just over $235,000 per year in compost sales at $70 per tonne, with the sales and marketing handled by Choice North Farms.

The egg producer has been speaking to the NWT government for a couple of years about acquiring a fresh parcel of land for the composting site, separate from its existing manure management landfill. It is located about 300 metres from the stockpiled manure in the landfill for easy access.

From a technical standpoint, poultry manure is high in nitrogen and phosphorus and requires the addition of carbon for the overall composting process to work. Choice North Farms is relying on the mentorship and experience provided by Ecology North and is also working with a laboratory in Yellowknife to establish the proper mix to produce high quality compost as an end product. Rapati says that despite the sub-arctic temperatures in northern Canada, it is possible to produce high quality compost, but it takes longer because the air temperature does not stay warm for as long as areas further south. The temperature in the windrows is required to achieve at least 55 degrees Celsius for 15 days and turned five times to ensure that the conversion is complete. Producing compost is more of a time management process in the North adapted to suit local conditions. Rapati says the conversion to marketable compost could probably be managed in one season. The frequency of turning and adding moisture to the piles depends on air temperature, airflow and moisture content readings to encourage uniform conversion is taking place within the piles. One advantage of composting in the North is that it has the space to conduct open-windrow composting and because of its sparse population, there are few if any odor complaints.

Kevin says Choice North Farms is excited about the opportunity and eager to get started.

“This is going to be business-driven, probably supported by various organizations, including the government,” says Kevin. “At the end of the day we would like to have a product that we can sell and use in the North for everything ranging from expansion of agriculture to reclamation and for municipal uses as well.”

 

 

 

Published in Manure Management

 

September 1, 2015 - Egg Farmers of Alberta (EFA) hosted an Environmental Stewardship Workshop in Edmonton August 26-27, 2015 that brought together a diverse mix of influencers and decision-makers from across the egg supply chain, including farmers, graders, retailers and restaurants, as well as industry, government and non-governmental organizations.  Participants shared their ideas and provided strategic insights about the past, present and future of sustainable egg production in Alberta.

Susan Gal, General Manager of EFA said in a release that her takeaway from the workshop “is that all stakeholders have a desire to support one another as we work together to build a sustainable egg industry in Alberta, and across Canada.”

For Alberta egg farmers, sustainable egg production is socially responsible, environmentally sound and economically viable.  The workshop enabled EFA to share past and present environmental initiatives in Alberta, including the launch of the Producer Environmental Egg Program – the Canadian egg industry’s first on-farm environmental program – and the publication of EFA’s inaugural Sustainability Report.  More importantly, the workshop allowed other stakeholders to explain their views and expectations for the future around sustainability, as it relates to the egg industry and food production.

The workshop also included a tour of STS Farms, which is one of the more than 160 registered egg farms in Alberta.  Susan Schafers, chair of the EFA and her family were gracious hosts, leading the more than 30 attendees through the pullet barn, layer barn and egg collection room.  It was an enjoyable and educational experience, especially for those guests that had never been on an egg farm.

EFA says it will take the next step with these stakeholders and others on its journey of continuous improvement.  Options are being considered to expand on these existing relationships and engage with additional stakeholders regarding the past, present and future of other important topics.  “Even though we were focused on the topic of environmental stewardship, it was great to see and hear the stakeholders ask questions and offer opinions about the trade-offs between environmental stewardship, hen housing, animal welfare, food safety, economics and other factors,” said Gal.  

 

Published in Environment

 

For each issue of Canadian Poultry magazine, I give our production team several pictures that relate to the cover story and we sit down and discuss the photo options and the article. It’s often not easy to find photos that convey the story perfectly, but we try to have something relevant.

Taking photos inside of commercial poultry barns is tricky and requires a lot of equipment that I don’t have, and let’s face it there are only so many ways to photograph chickens in a barn. So, often I rely on stock photography.

Stock photography websites offer plenty of different options. In addition to photos of chickens, there are many photo options available to show a “concept” if you dig deep enough. For this month’s cover story (see page 10) I tried to show “growth” in the poultry industry in a generic form, without focusing on one specific driver. I gave the production team photos of a car dashboard (to show “driving”) and arrows on a graph to show growth. A bit of a stretch maybe, but I thought it could work with the right image.

Well my first attempt didn’t hit the mark but it brought up an interesting point about consumer perception.

Since the cover story discusses not only what’s driving growth, but how these drivers will allow growth to be sustainable, one of our production artists suggested a photo of chickens in loose housing or in a group outside, because in her mind, this type of production is “more sustainable.”

This was an innocent comment from someone who hasn’t had to sit through a multitude of cover meetings with me explaining why these types of photos are often inappropriate for many articles (she’s fairly new to the publishing company). Yet, her innocence is very telling of how an average consumer envisions what poultry production should look like.

This is matched by a recent survey reported by the Western Producer. Commissioned by Alberta Farm Animal Care, the survey asked more than 750 people about their knowledge of farm practices and how it might affect their eating habits. While it’s not surprising the market research firm found that [people] are “fundamentally ignorant about farming practices and what goes into what they are eating,” it also identified the term “super farms” emerged in the survey, which respondents used to refer to “large corporate industrial farms.”

It’s not clear if a typical poultry operation where chickens are housed in a barn would be considered a “super farm,” but respondents felt these types of operations should be monitored for their effect on the environment, animal welfare and human health. Concern over how “industrial” farms could be impacting health was identified as an emerging issue, and that women were more likely to believe confinement housing had detrimental health effects.

This shows that in addition to animal welfare – the key focus area for consumer engagement efforts as of late – consumers are worried about environmental effects, and how they could affect their own health.

If poultry is going to continue in a sustainable manner, it’s not going to be achieved solely on the type of operation envisioned by our production artist. The industry needs to consider how to address the “look” of confinement housing from an environmental, and animal welfare point of view.

 

 

 

Published in Environment

 

The realization that the food and farming sectors need to better communicate with the public has been growing for some time, and a lot of discussion has taken place on how best to achieve this. Some very creative and effective campaigns to engage consumers have been emerging — the Chicken Squad campaign by the B.C. Chicken Growers Association and the B.C. Chicken Marketing Board, plus the “Our Food, Your Questions,®” are good examples.

Individual farmers and farm groups have taken on the task directly on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, where they engage directly with potential customers and suppliers while dispelling myths, sharing facts, finding market information and sharing the ups and downs of farming life.  Social media has become a powerful and highly valuable tool for sharing information in real-time.  And it’s also brought farmers from across the country together on common issues. If you don’t already, follow the hashtag #plant15 this spring and you’ll get a good idea of the camaraderie that exists.

But I have yet to see a hashtag related to farming cause such a firestorm right out of the gate as #farm365 has.

Created by southwestern Ontario dairy and cash crop farmer Andrew Campbell (@FreshAirFarmer), the hashtag has certainly achieved the goal of bridging the gap between consumers and agriculture, albeit with some unintended consequences.

The hashtag accompanies a photo taken on Campbell’s farm that he posts on Twitter each day, beginning on New Year’s Day.  Inspired by other photo-a-day challenges on Twitter, Campbell wanted to show what goes on a typical farm, and hopefully start some conversations.  His seemingly innocent attempt has done just that — and then some.  

Writing in his blog “The Highs and Lows of Week One on #farm365” for Letstalkfarmanimals.ca, Campbell said he knew animal rights activism was powerful, but “this has been a new lesson in experiencing it.”  He says media attention about the hashtag made a few activists very angry and they banded together to “hijack” #farm365 to show people their views on animal agriculture. Advocates for veganism have been posting disturbing photos and anti-animal agriculture messages with the hashtag right from the start, and are still going strong more than a month since Campbell launched it.

But Campbell and other farmers from around the globe are rallying back.  As Campbell writes: “It’s turned into a great force of farmers sticking up for themselves and consumers getting a better idea of what it takes to send food out of the driveway.” It’s also creating conversations with a curious public, who don’t understand what takes place on farms, and have a healthy bout of skepticism not to be easily swayed by activists and need to get reassurances right from the perceived villains.  

In his blog, Campbell tells a great story of how answering questions about veal from a woman in Toronto put her at ease.  The woman, who had heard negative things about veal production, wanted to hear from a farmer, to search “for information with substance and fact.”

Campbell tweeted this message February 9: “I’ve got to thank my fellow farmers again. They continue to open their barn doors and farm gates to the public through #farm365. Thank you!”

 

 

 

Published in Emerging Trends

February 25, 2014 - The Egg Farmers of Alberta (EFA) launched news of the publication of its inaugural Sustainability Report at its recent annual meeting in Red Deer, Alberta.  The report is the first of its kind for Canada’s egg industry. The report is the culmination of EFA’s efforts throughout 2014 to develop a comprehensive sustainability strategy, which was done in collaboration with The Prasino Group and Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. 

Sustainable egg production is at the heart of EFA’s sustainability strategy, which Alberta’s egg farmers have defined as being socially responsible, environmentally sound and economically viable. To better tell the EFA story, key pillars emerged from the sustainability strategy: healthy birds, healthy eggs, and healthy farms & communities. The pillars encompass all that EFA does as an organization and as the Alberta egg industry. 

“It’s not just what we’re saying, it’s what egg farmers do every day,” says EFA General Manager Susan Gal. “Healthy Birds reflects our animal care program, Healthy Eggs relates to our food safety program and Healthy Farms & Communities highlights our important environmental program and the work we do to support communities.” 

A successful and sustainable Alberta egg industry is dedicated to the triple-bottom-line and is committed to continuous improvement. EFA is proud to unveil the Sustainability Report, which celebrates EFA’s pioneering spirit by highlighting the many historic achievements and milestones that have helped shape the Canadian egg industry. It also reports on a variety of metrics for each pillar, with some showcasing the progress EFA has made over the past few years, while others establish new benchmarks that will enable EFA to track progress in the years to come. EFA’s Sustainability Report is intended to be an annual report card for the organization, the farmers, the industry and consumers. 

Susan Schafers, Chair of EFA’s Board of Directors, summarized the importance of EFA’s sustainability strategy and motivation for developing the Sustainability Report. “Consumers want to know where their food comes from, and it’s up to us as farmers to engage with them.” 

 

Published in Eggs - Layers

January 29, 2015 - With significant increases in food production needed over the next few decades to support the growing population, agricultural industries must learn to communicate more specifically and unambiguously with stakeholders, customers, and others about their sustainability programs, observed Dr. Marty Matlock, executive director, University of Arkansas Office for Sustainability, at the Animal Agriculture Sustainability Summit held during the 2015 International Production & Processing Expo.

“When we talk in big, glib, hand waving ways, it does not help us to communicate to our constituents what we are doing. When people ask what sustainability is, I want you to say that sustainability is good for business. It increases efficiency, and it drives down negative things. The second thing you need to say is that sustainability is about continuous improvement,” Dr. Matlock said. He emphasized that continuous improvement means defining and identifying key performance indicators, measuring and benchmarking them, and implementing goals and strategies to achieve them.

Elaborating on the benchmarking aspect of sustainability initiatives, Dr. Greg Thoma, Ralph E. Martin professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Arkansas, reviewed case studies remarking that sustainability initiatives often rely heavily on life cycle assessment (LCA). A LCA is a technique to assess the environmental aspects and potential impacts associated with a product, process or service and are used to quantify inputs and outputs in terms of a standardized unit of measure. Important characteristics of a LCA include that it be grounded in scientific methodologies, the data should be transparent, validated, widely available and inexpensive, and the same data and models should be used by producers, retailers, policymakers, nongovernmental organizations and consumers. “The process of developing and working with a LCA should be largely by consensus, and the guidelines should be pragmatic,” Dr. Thoma said.

Results of a 50-year review of the U.S. egg industry indicate production advanced dramatically between 1960 and 2010 while the environmental footprint declined, according to Dr. Hongwei Xin, director of the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. Dr. Xin is also a distinguished professor and chair for research in the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department.

The work was published in the February 2014 issue of Poultry Science. The objectives were to quantify what in production has changed over 50 years, characterize the supply chain footprint and identify hot spots for further improvement. The data obtained from sources, such as books and publications from 50 years ago and an elaborate survey system for 2010 data, yielded data on 57.1 million pullets and 92.5 million laying hens, representing about one-third of the total national inventory in each industry. The research found that comparing production performance levels to 1960 birds, 2010 hens have 26 percent lower feed intake26 percent lower feed intake27 percent higher egg production rate42 percent better feed conversion57 percent lower mortality and 32 percent lower water use.

A poultry industry sustainability program is in its early stages following two meetings last fall and formation of a workgroup of representatives from the broiler and turkey industries tasked with defining the mission and goals of the program and subsequently developing it. Workgroup members Lankford Ruffin, corporate environmental manager for Butterball LLC; Paul Helgeson, sustainability manager at GNP Company; Cameron Bruett, head of corporate affairs and sustainability at JBS USA; and Jamie Burr, environmental health and safety manager at Tyson Foods, discussed their progress and their plans during the Animal Agriculture Sustainability Summit as part of a panel.

Responding to questions from the audience, the panel concurred that interest in establishing sustainability programs at individual facilities extends throughout the supply chain, including the farm level. “The interest goes to where the risk is, to where the vulnerability is,” Bruett said. “Today it is on farms; it is on animal welfare. That does not mean that is necessarily where it is going to reside 10 years from now. Sustainability is basically an analysis of what the hotspots are in the entire value chain, including the ultimate consumption and disposition of the product.”

 

Published in New Technology

 Looking at a retailer’s view on sustainability, how to start the  conversation and its complexities

Farmers already know what sustainability is. They live it every day, using practices that ensure the land is there for the future. But now they have to define and defend what it means, to put sustainability into words so their customer can understand, while those customers in turn define their own role in practicing and encouraging sustainable production.

The Canadian Poultry Sustainability Symposium, held October 29, 2014 in Guelph, Ont., was an opportunity for all stakeholders in the poultry industry to add to the sustainability discussion. What are the components of sustainability? What have we been doing already? How do we engage people in the conversation?

THE COMPLEXITY OF SUSTAINABILITY
Al Mussell, Senior Research Associate with Agri-Food Economic Systems, recognizes sustainability in the farming industry as steeped in culture. During his tenure at the George Morris Centre, an agricultural “think-tank”, and now as an independent consultant, the agricultural economist has gained a broad view of the complexity of sustainability, encompassing environmental, economic and social traits.

Mussell asked: What does farming look like? There are several descriptors. It’s complex. By design, farm policy supports farmers as citizens and farms as small business. There are very few corporate entities in primary agriculture; the social organization of agriculture is unique.

Land is scarce. The best farmland is already in use; there is an inherent advantage in using our farmland more intensively than converting new land into production. Since the 1960’s the only increase in production in Canada has been through increases in yield or food efficiency. Back in his grandfather’s era, people talked a lot about “wasteland” – “now it all has a use,” said Mussell.

Agriculture also has to overcome a lot of uncertainty, from both Mother Nature and the marketplace. In 2012, a pronounced warm spell in Southern Ontario forced the budding of tender fruits that were then wiped out by frost. In 2001 it was aphids that came to eat the soybeans, followed by Asian ladybugs. These weren’t gradual changes, they were episodic, leaving an agricultural production base that Mussell could only describe as “evolving” — sometimes gradually, sometimes not. All of this is happening while serving a trend-following consumer.

As for the consumer, advances in agriculture have benefitted all aspects of society, said Mussell. As farming has specialized and become more efficient, people have been allowed to do other things besides just producing food. We have leisure time and careers, things we simply did not have time for when sustenance was the focus of our daily lives.

So how do these factors matter to sustainability? We need to understand this complexity when making changes to agricultural practices in answer to market signals.

“People have choices; farmers have rights,” said Mussell. “No one can just be told what to do.” What if consumers decide that restricting use of certain agricultural technologies fits into their definition of sustainable?

No one can go in with certainty and insist that elements be added or removed from a system, said Mussell. Take cage-free laying hens, for example. Can we do that? Sure. The birds are able to perform more natural behaviours, but now they fight. Can we accommodate this? Yes, with perches that allow less dominant birds to escape, or baffles to limit the size of the group. Then what about ventilation? Do the birds need different nutrition? Does exposure to litter create pest control issues? All of these factors can lead to higher mortality and we need to account for all of this, said Mussell. We can’t do everything the same and just take out the cages.

Is new technology part of sustainable agriculture? Mussell said his dad probably started scuffling corn with horses, so when a product like atrazine came along, “It was a miracle product.” Was it used too much? “We got resistance — we should have known, but now we do know.” If we take Round up Ready technology out of the production chain, what have we accomplished if higher toxicity products are then needed?

Innovation is more than just duct tape and baler twine. Technology is linked to sustainability but the benefits of technology erode over time. As far as Mussell is concerned, “We absolutely must be developing new technology in anticipation of this.”

Everything is connected; change is not always gradual, nor is it always linear. Sustainability is more that just claims on a package: it must be rooted in the agricultural system we already have, allowing for the continuation of farmers’ rights, adaptation of science in agricultural systems, and the food preferences and cultural shifts of the consumer.

SUSTAINABLE SOURCING – A RETAILER’S VIEW
McDonald’s purchases 52 million pounds of chicken and 76,000,000 eggs every year from Canadian farmers. As Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stillwell, their Senior Manager of Sustainability in Canada explained, seventy per cent of their carbon footprint is in the supply chain: are there changes we need to make or encourage to become more sustainable?

That is just one of the questions that has been asked during “a lot of conference calls” as executives try to define what sustainable sourcing will mean to the retailer, said Fitzpatrick-Stillwell. If you think it’s difficult to define sustainable on a farm, try defining it across 121 different countries and cultures around the world.

While they have not yet formulated a plan for poultry, McDonald’s has committed to begin the purchase of Verified Sustainable Beef in 2016. Canada was selected for the beef pilot project that will guide their global commitment; Cargill and Loblaw are partners in the collaborative project that will be used as a learning opportunity to measure, verify and communicate baseline sustainability criteria.

So far they have looked at over 70 potential indicators but will only use approximately 25 for the pilot project, ranging from demonstrating stewardship of natural resources and the environment to supporting animal care, people and communities, as well as improving efficiency and innovation in the production chain.

In 2016, the restaurant will review its sustainable beef goals for 2020 as they travel a journey of continuous improvement. “The rest of our 2020 commitments are firm,” said Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, but they are awaiting the outcomes of the pilot project and several other initiatives globally before determining a 2020 goal for sourcing beef from verified sustainable producers.

All of their espresso-based coffee and a growing portion of their drip coffee is already Rainfall Alliance Certified; fish has been sustainable since 2001, but McDonald’s didn’t leverage that commitment.

McDonald’s wants to maintain significant brand trust with the consumer but they also know that consumer ideals can switch overnight. On the supply side, the restaurant also recognizes the importance of maintaining brand trust with their producers. As a whole, global companies are not trusted, so McDonald’s does look to the credibility of others to say they’re doing the right thing.

An on-line forum called Our Food, Your Questions started a “powerful” conversation with McDonald’s customers, said Fitzpatrick-Stillwell. From the comments they receive, it’s plain to see that their customers don’t always understand more complex issues (“Why are the eggs in the Egg McMuffin all circular?”) but they do understand the power the chain possesses (“You as an industry leader have the power to effect change.”)

“It’s an opportunity and an obligation,” said Fitzpatrick-Stillwell, but the bottom line remains economic as the retail giant tries to stay in what he described as the ‘smart zone’: just ahead of the public – but not too far ahead –while staying profitable.

The Egg Farmers of Alberta are already celebrating the success they’ve had so far in demonstrating sustainability. As Jenna Griffin, Industry Development Officer for the organization explained, they are in the first stage of a journey that started in 2011 when the board began looking at gaps and challenges in the sustainability of their provincial production.

First they went to farmers, and then to consumers, said Griffin, asking them what was important. Farmers wanted less regulatory risks, increased public confidence that would require a strong program to speak out for them, and a good fit with retailer strategies. Consumers wanted freshness and value, animal welfare, and food safety. These factors were already strong.

A SUSTAINABLE PEEP
The sustainability program that has been developed as a result, known as PEEP (Producer Environmental Egg Program), is based on the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP). As an organization they needed a program that was based on education and gradual improvement, with incentive through funding, and one that could meet the needs of the retailer. With regard to the on-farm administration of the program, Egg Farmers didn’t have the resources to engage one-on-one with the producer, explained Griffin, and took advantage of services already in place with the EFP.

There were some gaps that had to be addressed when piggy-backing on the EFP, such as how to segment poultry on multi-commodity farms and the need to use the information that was gathered to speak out to retailers and consumers when the EFP information was voluntary and confidential.

PEEP is still entirely voluntary and takes field staff about half an hour to complete the required assessment. The program has four key components: a producer manual, an assessment form with ten questions and a risk rating, on-farm delivery and a follow up letter or certificate or, if the score is low, recommendations for improvement.

As of October 2014, ninety-five of 155 producers in Alberta have participated – not one has declined so far – and their average score has been 60.39. “We’re in a good spot,” said Griffin. “It’s a good starting point. There’s room for improvement.”

Griffin reports that so far their producers are doing well on the subject of water conservation and bird disposal. The key challenges have been manure storage and energy monitoring. Farms are meeting their requirement of nine months of manure storage but when that storage is too close to the barn they don’t want to use it for flock health reasons. Also, dry manure is being taken from the barns and put outside where it is uncovered, losing nutrients and influencing water quality. As for energy, sub-meters would allow a closer monitoring of usage and spikes.

A perfect score may not be possible, admits Griffin. A 60 is considered a pass, with farmers encouraged to aim for a 70 score. Over time they will be able to use these scores to chart the progress of producers.

In 2015, the Egg Farmers of Alberta will sit down and evaluate what is working and what is not working in PEEP. Are the right questions being asked? Are the questions being correctly weighted? Are there any missing areas? Is more field staff needed? And as Griffin said, sustainability has to meet the needs of consumers as well, with healthy hens, healthy eggs, and healthy farms and communities.

Creating A Better Conversation
What is agri-food anyway, asked Crystal MacKay, Executive Director of Farm & Food Care (FFC) in Ontario? Is it a discussion with farming on one side, food on the other and a mountain in between?

Our basic needs have been met in developed countries, she explained, and now we can have social discussions, but have we gone wrong in our communication efforts?

“We need to have a better conversation,” she declared.

Right now MacKay is hearing a discussion in Canada similar to one in the UK twenty years ago. Back then, UK agriculture was arrogant, thinking that everyone needs to eat and everyone likes farmers. Labeling schemes ran rampant, with marketers wrestling to out-label each other, while their efforts were not actually improving animal welfare at all.

The role of FFC is to foster the spirit of sharing the conversation with all agricultural commodities, taking a whole sector approach with a common goal of trust. That conversation is a huge challenge because it’s so big, but so is eating an elephant, said MacKay – just do it one bite at a time.

The FFC strategy to advance the discussion has three components. First, play defense. Second, do the right thing (“We’re comfortable here,” said MacKay). Third, public outreach: let’s talk about farming.

Farming has critics, said MacKay, and that can be seen as a good thing. To her the pressure of environmental and animal welfare activists is a sign that we have so much food we can take time to protest, in some cases even break the law.

What are some of their issues? Take sow stalls, for example. Sows were put in stalls for a reason: so they don’t harm their piglets. While agriculture was developing a Code of Conduct – a plan of continual improvement in the industry – business pressure drove retailers to action without that industry input. Regulations are now in place, but just because you have regulation, it doesn’t mean you have better welfare.

In California, people said ‘no’ to layer cages. Now what happens? The environmental footprint is larger with free range, food becomes more expensive, and workers are in worse conditions. What is the right way?

Through their polls, MacKay knows that two-thirds of Canadians want to know more. That means that we can have a good national conversation, one that includes affordability and economics. Ultimately, the public wants safe, healthy, affordable food before animal welfare but as it turns out, when a cost is put on change, the public doesn’t want to pay. You want dairy cows to graze? In Denmark, a price was put on this practice and the public said ‘no’.

So how do we engage people in this conversation? FFC has several points of contact. They are taking the public to see farms through highly successful initiatives like the ‘Open Barn Door Program’ in Ontario, where visitors have breakfast on the farm and children will have their first chance to hold a chick or touch a cow.

The FFC booklet The Dirt on Farming started out as a print run of 15,000 copies in 2006. The next edition will have 100,000 copies pre-ordered, with grocery chain Leaders in PEI already speaking up for 20,000 copies.

In June of 2014 the Ontario government, locked in election mode, asked FFC to promote Local Food Week. FFC acted as the catalyst to combine food, farming and fun. The celebration saw media tours for ‘foodies’, farmers in Nathan Phillips Square handing out apples, and partners such as Sick Kids Hospital, the Greenbelt Foundation, and Steam Whistle Brewery enthusiastically climbing on board. The twitter hashtag #loveONTfood has been used every day since June. The goal was to reach one million people in one week; even with a small budget and a short time it reached 25 million people.

All of these strategies are helping to draw the public into the food and farming conversation.

“We need to build a bridge and seriously use it between agriculture and food,” said MacKay. “We need to be at the table for this sustainability conversation. Why wouldn’t we be?”

 

 

 

Published in Emerging Trends

Although the Canadian poultry industry doesn’t have a formal sustainability plan, existing on-farm programs and planning speak to sustainability 

Sustainability is simply long-term thinking, making sure we look after tomorrow while we look after today. Farmers already know this: unless farming is balanced on the three pillars of sustainability — looking after the environmental, economic and social needs of production — long-term viability will not be ensured.

But to consumers, sustainability has now become a buzzword. They are starting to realize that at our current global population growth rate we’re faced with a potential need to feed 9 billion people by 2050. At the rate we’re going, we will eat our planet. Water, soil, energy, all can be easily depleted but not so easily replaced. While farming practices and scientific advances will contribute to higher production, we will end up bankrupt if we don’t plan to use our natural resources wisely.

Under increasing consumer pressure it may no longer be good enough to just practice sustainable production — you may have to prove it. Is this an opportunity or a restriction? What does the actual word “sustainability” mean to the future of farming?

A CASE STUDY: ONTARIO AQUACULTURE
For fish farmers, sustainability is already a household word. By the mid-1990s, aquaculture was already implementing world-class standards. Fish farmers realized early that demonstrating sustainability would be critical to their industry, not only to maintaining and growing their market, but also to look after their natural and social resources.

While farm-raised fish now supply half of our global demand for human consumption, Karen Tracey, Executive Director of the Northern Ontario Aquaculture Association, told the audience at the 2014 Farm & Food Care Conference in Milton, Ont., that the demand for farmed fish will rise to 70 per cent of global market share by 2030.

The media assault that resulted from heightened food safety fears was the original driver of sustainability in aquaculture, said Tracey. While food scares were easily fuelled, they were not so easily corrected. Food retailers became the target of a strategic focus on the marketplace, where groups such as Greenpeace rated retailers according to their sustainability practices. Like it or not, this pressure can close doors in a hurry.

Certification Jungle
Retailers, not wanting to be shamed, fed into what Tracey called a “seafood certification jungle” of more than 30 fishery and aquaculture labeling programs worldwide, which led to great confusion in the marketplace. Seventy to eighty per cent of these accredited standards contain the same criteria, but the confusion arose within the remaining twenty to thirty per cent — and this is where the labels tried to differentiate themselves. Tracey said when you meet one certification standard it’s not so hard to meet the others, but it causes a lot of confusion for all stakeholders — farmers, consumers, processors and retailers.

Fish farmers knew that more regulations were not the answer. In Ontario, aquaculture is covered by more than 20 acts of legislation. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources issues the fish-farming license but then defers regulation to others, such as the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Canadian Food Inspection Agency for fish health, or Transport Canada for farm siting in relation to navigation of waterways.

In the marketplace, producers knew that a solid production framework had to be in place in order to compete globally. Pressure to become more sustainable wasn’t going to go away; it was only going to intensify. The best answer would be third-party audits and certification.

At first the industry didn’t understand the rationale or cost surrounding this new word, sustainability. Surprisingly though, while certification was not initially embraced, it has turned out to be a positive experience.

Facing Challenges
“The biggest challenge for farmers was recording data,” said Tracey, “but once you get your mindset into it (third party certification), (farmers) found greater efficiencies at the farm level that they didn’t embrace before.”

On the farm, underwater cameras now monitor feed consumption, reducing the amount of waste feed that supplies the benthic community of bugs and worms and wild fish that feast under the nets. In ocean fisheries, three-bay management is now standard, allowing for site recovery. Fallowing sites has been the subject of research by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, showing that site recovery occurs within a few months with absolutely no trace left after seven years. Technical improvements in containment pens have significantly reduced escapes, and fish health is increasing through the use of vaccines and brood stock screening, reducing the need for antibiotic use. The future will also embrace innovation and research into novel feeds and nutrient recycling.

Tracey acknowledged that even though sustainability has become a part of everyday aquaculture there are still a lot of challenges ahead. She would like to reduce unnecessary duplication of efforts and conflicting requirements as well as increase buyer and consumer confidence through more consistent messaging. And in some cases, refute expectations of certain standards that are unreasonable.

At a minimum, certification has maintained or increased market access, providing worldwide consumer assurance. Within the next three years a new Global Seafood Sustainability Initiative will attempt to assimilate the smorgasbord of sustainability certification into two or three global standards.  

So if Tracey hit rewind, what would she say now? “Just jump right in and do it. If consumers are demanding it, be pro-active.”

What about Poultry?
Just jump in and do what? Fish can’t fly and poultry can’t swim. Does a consumer push for sustainability mean the same thing to aquaculture as it does to feather culture? Are there lessons to be learned?

“We don’t talk about sustainability the same as aquaculture,” answered Lisa Bishop-Spencer, Communications Manager at the Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC), “it’s an unspoken rule already.”

In general comparison, farming implies some sort of intervention in a production cycle, allowing improvements such as feeding and predator protection for the stock or product being raised and ownership of the product. So in this context, fish and poultry are both farmed. In terms of market access, there isn’t the same international pressure on Canadian poultry that there is on fish. And for poultry, under supply management it’s the poultry farmers themselves, not the consumers, that have been leading the way.

Strategic Plan
The CFC has a five-year strategic plan in place that looks at responsible stewardship, risk management, consumer-driven growth, value-chain efficiency, competitiveness and system management. The current evolutionary document covers 2014 through 2018, helping to identify and respond to the needs of consumers and producers.

While the central thrust of the document does not include the word sustainability, it covers everything else from providing profitable industry growth, managing markets, and eliminating the preventive use of Class 1 antimicrobials to addressing media myths and public concerns.

The strategic plan also includes moving forward with the On Farm Food Safety Assurance Program (OFFSAP), which has received full government recognition in compliance with HACCP rules. While there are variations among the provinces, at present, 95 per cent of poultry farmers meet compliance in Canada: they’ve passed the third party audit.

“We are extremely good planners,” said Bishop-Spencer. There is a lot of protocol already in place. Over her 14 years with CFC, she is noticing that the government wants to regulate less, but someone has to take charge; the feather industry has taken a lead role rather than being told what to do.

Having a strategic plan not only drives increased efficiency in the industry, but the plan also serves consumers, to offer them a wide choice of different brands and feeding protocols. “Whatever they want they can find it,” said Bishop-Spencer, although they may have to pay a premium. New labeling, set to launch this month, will brand fresh chicken, letting consumers know that a Canadian farmer raised it.  This designation will either appear as a label or be integrated into an existing label.

That Word
But what about that word “sustainability”? How can poultry farmers prove to the consumer that their industry is looking after the future? It’s not enough to say “trust me” when the consumer is saying “show me.”

Poultry farmers already have incredibly stringent record keeping with strong repercussions for non-compliance, Bishop-Spencer explained. “We don’t have a sustainability plan but I think it’s all there.”

Ask any farmer and they’ll tell you they’re responsible to their land, their birds, their customers, the system that allows them to grow their birds, and ultimately, to their children, says Bishop-Spencer. “Sustainability means leaving a positive legacy and frankly, that’s something that just makes sense.”

 

Published in Manure Management

The USDA definition of sustainability applies the following five principles to an integrated system of plant and animal production practices: human and fibre needs are satisfied, the environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends is enhanced, nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources are used most efficiently, the economic viability of farm operations is sustained, and the quality of life for society as a whole is enhanced.  

Crystal McKay, executive director of Food and Farm Care, recently wrote an excellent opinion piece entitled “The Sustainable Food, Animal Welfare Balance” that appeared in the  Grimsby Lincoln News where she says, “when having a discussion or considering making changes to any food production or farm practices, all five principles need to be given fair and practical consideration.”

However, the average Canadian (who has limited, if any knowledge of farming practices) often tends to focus on the information provided by those not involved in the business of farming.  As McKay points out, “one of the biggest challenges with having a conversation with the average Canadian about farming is their perceptions or questions are often based on issues, what’s been in the media or what they’ve ‘heard’ somewhere.”

Although animal welfare is not mentioned directly in the USDA’s definition of sustainability, it is an integral part as it is related to the economic viability of a farm. Special interest anti-agriculture groups use strong, emotionally charged visuals to get their anti-confinement message instant news coverage.  Unfortunately, this is a great influence on consumers’ perception of farming and is in large part driving retailers to demand that rearing practices change.

But the big question that looms in the welfare-retail situation is are consumers willing to pay for the changes that they are driving indirectly?  Our cover story (page 12) details a University of Guelph study that tries to tackle this question and gain more understanding of consumer behavior.  

The results are very interesting.  Although respondents’ knowledge of animal production was limited, consumers “are sensitive to information about housing systems” and believe that scientific evidence should be used when determining how farm animals are raised.  While the respondents valued the presence of dust baths, nest boxes and perches, they are also sensitive to the word “cage”, indicating that this word should be avoided when explaining enriched colony housing, often referred to in the industry as “enriched cages”.  

As concluded in the study, it’s therefore important for egg producers (and industry) to communicate well with consumers.  Retailers need this information as well.  As McKay says, “it’s not normal practice for the animal welfare specialist to consult with the food affordability or food safety experts when making recommendations on what’s best for hen welfare. Individual companies make announcements or use one of the principles in the spectrum as a short-term marketing advantage.”

She concludes by emphasizing that such practice needs to change in order “to truly embrace sustainable food and farming in Canada.”

Sustainability is more than just a buzzword, and it’s important that one of its principles doesn’t take precedence over another. As McKay correctly points out, “it is important to emphasize that the five principles are all linked together and changing one can have either a positive or negative influence on the other four.”

Published in Emerging Trends
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