let's talk farm animals

What does sustainable farming mean to you?

Jean L Clavelle

Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

Free run barn

Free run barn

I was at a conference this week discussing agriculture and food production in Canada.  I must say it was a pretty exciting and motivational two days.  The first reason being that we had some progressive innovative farmers and industry people in the room.  They were excited to be there, they are passionate about farming, they want to keep improving, and they want to show Canadians what they do.  Not only that but they were asking what do consumers want from us?  The second reason is that there was some interesting, scratch that, fascinating discussion about how food is grown.

Historically debate about growing food has been a bit one dimensional.  By only looking at food safety perhaps we are neglecting to look at animal welfare.  By prioritizing environmental factors perhaps we are overlooking the affordability of food.  There was a theme running through the last few days where a more holistic approach to growing food seems to have taken root, that there is a social commitment on the part of all of us involved in agriculture and growing food to balance the five principles of sustainable food growth and farming.  These five principles include: Food Safety; Animal Health & Welfare; Environment; Economics and Food Affordability; and Health and Safety.

In the Real Dirt on Farming, it’s described this way.  If a farmer was asked to convert an egg barn from conventional cages for his hens to a free run (cage free) barn, all five principles should be included in decision making processes.  This would begin with the health and safety of the people who work in the barn; the safety and quality of the eggs; the health and welfare of the birds; the environmental footprint of the new barn; the economic viability of the farm and supply chain, and of course the cost of the eggs to you and your family.

Typical Cage Laying System

For the healthy and safety of employees we need to consider that several people will be required to spend a significant amount of time bending over to collect eggs not to mention constant interaction with animals that can peck and scratch them.  By moving birds out of a cage they would have more freedom to move and the ability to display more behaviours, but there are inherent challenges to raising hens in a large group - how would we protect them from aggression from other birds, ensure hens have equal access to feed, protect against broken bones to name a few.  With the new barn design we must consider how air quality will be affected and how manure will be managed.  And we cannot over look the fact that the farmer must be able to make a living.  There are significant added costs to this barn design, management of birds and egg collection, so what will that mean for the average consumer who is buying those eggs at the store?  And finally eggs will be laid in nests and maybe even on the floor, this means a greater exposure to pathogens so we must consider how those eggs will be cleaned effectively and safely so that our customers do not get sick.

This is a lot to think about isn’t it?  Each of these factors are equally important for animals, for the environment and for Canadians consumers.  I was excited to see this multi-faceted approach to farming and growing food.  It doesn’t mean that anyone has all of the answers or that we have a clear path about what is “right” but its great to see this kind of discussion within agriculture that will hopefully move towards a more open discussion with consumer.



Posted by Farm and Food Care on December 15th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Canada,Chickens,Consumers,Sustainability,Uncategorized
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