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.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on December 15th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Canada,Chickens,Consumers,Sustainability,Uncategorized
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Changing perspectives in a changing world

dairy cow PICJean L Clavelle

Interesting how perspective can change.

When I was studying large animal behaviour in college a lot of the focus of our discussion and research was centred not just around behaviour but on animal welfare.   It was a natural thought progression I guess. At the time however, the word “welfare” carried with it a negative connotation within the ag community. It was associated with something on the fringe or for people who were extreme and equated with animal rights groups and activists like the PETA members who got naked on the corner of a downtown city block to protest something or other.

Now let me be clear it’s not that agriculture didn’t care about animal welfare it’s just that they didn’t necessarily have a word for it. It was more a belief system of it being the ‘right thing to do’. I’m reminded of what a family member told me when I explained I was writing a paper on feedlot animal welfare. She explained that I had better be careful before I ruined my career before it started. When I let her read the paper she said something to the effect of “well yeah, that’s just common sense”. It was simply the label of Animal Welfare that was foreign, not the concept.

Seeing the now infamous dairy footage recently was disheartening to say the least. It was simply wrong, it was disgusting and it was unacceptable. It set back everything that I and other proponents of animal welfare are trying to do not to mention cast a black cloud over the rest of animal agriculture and the good work that the majority of producers in Canada do. I am encouraged though to see that the ag community has not battened down the hatches to defend the poor decisions of a few. The agriculture community has not circled the wagons to say to the public “no, you just don’t understand”.   As a group and as individuals they have stood up and condemned that behaviour publicly. Animal abuse is Not Ok. The ag community has seemed to embrace the terminology that you the consumer can relate to - Animal Welfare.

Ironically I feel like I’m now being reverse discriminated against for being involved in livestock. I have been called disgusting, moral-less and without ethics. I have been asked how I can be involved in a business so horrible and would I eat my dog or my horse? I’ve been told I only have my views because I live in Saskatchewan and that’s all I know. I have been told numerous times that agriculture is big business and big business is intrinsically unethical so how can animals really be cared for well. And it doesn’t seem to matter how many producers are introduced to the public or how open we are about what happens on farms the worst always seem to be believed. It used to feel like a noble profession, feeding the world. But that positivity seems to be stolen with every negative tweet.

My only hope is that the recent evolution in livestock agriculture has not come too late to keep up with the dynamic social media world. My request is that if you have questions about something that you’ve read or heard please find a producer and ask for the real answer and an honest response. Maybe hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth will change your perspective.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on July 21st, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Animal welfare,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Misconceptions,Social media
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Why I Think Dairy Supply Management is Important

Jean L Clavelle

Let me begin by saying that this is an incredibly complex issue. To be truthful I do not fully understand how supply management impacts international trade or even really the nuts and bolts of the supply manager system itself so I will not discuss that here (Dairy Farmers of Canada have produced some fantastic background information http://www.dairyfarmers.ca/content/download/1164/13161/version/2/file/Economic-Rationale2011_EN.pdf on the economics of supply management if you would like to know more). Despite my ignorance, I do think dairy supply management is incredibly important to dairy producers and Canadian consumers.  And I want to attempt an explanation of why from the perspective of a consumer not as someone with a dairy background (which I do not have).

Under this system producers are paid a fair price

Producers are paid a fair price

Many have critiqued this system but it seems they have oversimplified and under complicated the issue to the extreme.  It had been said that supply management isn’t good for the producer or for the consumer.  But I think ‘they’ are wrong.

So what is supply management?  Supply management controls the volume of milk produced on a provincial and annual basis. Provincial boards manage the milk supply to coincide with demand for their products.  By effectively controlling production, expensive and costly surpluses are avoided.  A price is then set by a federally managed board based on cost of production, consumer price index and multiple other factors.  Not just anyone can supply milk either, dairy producers purchase quota essentially for the right to sell milk. Without quota no one can legally sell milk.

So why do I think it’s important?  Well, the objective of supply management is two fold 1. to provide Canadian consumers with an adequate supply of the product at reasonable prices and 2. to provide efficient producers with fair returns.  And that is the crux of my argument.  Under this system producers are paid a fair price.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 25th, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Animal care,Consumers,Dairy cattle,Regulations,Uncategorized
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Inside Farming: Hormones Are Everywhere, Including In You

By: Chloe Gresel, CanACT member, University of Guelph

The beef with growth implants in cattle production

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

There is much buzz in today’s media about wanting hormone free meat. Can I let you in on a secret? There is no such thing. You see, just like humans, all animals have naturally occurring hormones in their bodies. What the consumer is actually trying to get when they ask for “hormone-free beef” is animals that are raised with no hormones outside of their own. Companies such as A&W are trying to scare consumers into thinking that their products are better because they are using beef that is raised without growth hormone implants.

Can I let you in on another secret? Implants are not the enemy. Growth implants are used to help beef animals convert feed more efficiently. This means the animals develop more lean meat and grow more on less feed. Beef animals that are implanted have increased weight gain from 5 to 23 per cent and convert feed to meat 3 to 11 per cent more efficiently than non-implanted cattle. By using less feed, costs are reduced for the farmer and beef is kept at a reasonable price for the consumer. There is also a smaller environmental impact when cattle are implanted, as farmers are using fewer resources to get them finished and ready for harvesting. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Animal Science stated that if we were to remove growth implants from our cattle production system, we would need 10 per cent more cattle, 10 per cent more land and feed, and 7 per cent more fuel and fertilizers to raise the same amount of beef.

You might be thinking that it’s great that implanted beef has a smaller environmental impact, but you still don’t want all those extra hormones in your own body. Well then, let me share this tidbit of information: 15 ml of soybean oil has over 28,700 nanograms of plant estrogen, while a 100 gram serving of beef raised with growth hormones has only 2.2 nanograms. Surprising, isn’t it? Studies have shown that there are greater differences in hormone levels between the different sexes of cattle then there are between cattle raised with growth hormones versus cattle raised without growth hormones.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 23rd, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal health,Beef cattle,Consumers,Feeding the world,Food,Food safety,Innovation and technology,Misconceptions,Regulations,Speaking out,Sustainability
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Inside Farming: Want Safety? Think Milk!

The process behind clean Canadian milk from the farm to the processor

By Chloe Gresel, CanACT member, University of Guelph

Many steps in place on Canadian dairy farms to ensure milk is kept clean, safe and nutritious from teat to glass.

Many steps are in place on Canadian dairy farms to ensure milk is kept clean, safe and nutritious — from teat to glass.

Every year, I visit the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair to show my heifer, and part of this experience is talking to the

cab drivers while I travel to and from the grounds and the hotel. This year, I got into a great conversation with a cabby about why he buys organic milk. He said that he feels safer giving his children organic milk to avoid the hormones and antibiotics in milk. The impression left on me from this conversation was, “how can anyone feel unsafe drinking any sort of milk in Canada?” You see, Canadian milk is one of the safest things you can buy in the stores to drink. All Canadian milk is 100 per cent free from artificial hormones and antibiotics. In fact, the only thing that is in Canadian milk (besides milk) is vitamins A and D which, by law, have to be added. So, how is milk so safe? Let me tell you!

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on May 23rd, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Consumers,Dairy cattle,Farm Safety,Food safety,Uncategorized
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The Distance from Farm to Plate

 

be Jean L Clavelle

Since becoming involved with social media over the last year I have begun to take note of people’s attitudes, opinions and knowledge as it pertains to agriculture and food production.  I grew up on a farm, attended an ag college and subsequently worked in agriculture so I’ve been surrounded by like-minded people my entire life.  However, agvocating has opened my eyes to the realization of just how little the From AgricultureMoreThanEver.cageneral public knows about where food comes from.  It is fascinating (not to mention a little scary) to delve into the general public’s belief system and knowledge base in this area.

To clarify I am pro conventional agriculture, organic farming and alternative production practices.  I believe in new technologies and in providing the consumer with what they desire and believe there is room for multiple types of systems.   It is surprising though at how little understanding there is of contemporary food production practices by the general public regardless of what type of system we discuss.

Now, at every chance available I ask questions.  Whether it is on Facebook, Twitter or in an actual real life face to face conversation (I know, how old school).  This is not to be antagonistic, just to understand an individual’s perspective - and sometimes position - on food production and possibly to dispel some misconceptions or false information that seems to be endemic in the populous.  I also ask so as to understand why and how they developed their beliefs.  Where did we fail in our society that such a basic life necessity is so distanced from that of every other day to day need?

A recent conversation of animal welfare versus animal rights included a discussion about what happens at a slaughter plant.  Surprisingly I was asked if I understood what “actually” happens there.  Now, I do not object even the slightest to someone’s choice of being vegan though I was thoroughly astounded about the question of whether or not I’d considered what happens at a slaughter plant.  We raise animals to eat and with that comes the understanding that the death of those are animals are inevitable and it is our responsibility to be respectful of and honour that animal’s life.  For this person the thought of that many animals dying on a daily basis was just too overwhelming and simply too much to bear so adopted a vegan lifestyle.  Despite the intrinsically dark nature of animal slaughter it never occurred to me that this essential step in getting meat from the farm to the plate should come as a surprise to anyone.

Stats Canada stated that almost a third of Canadians lived on farms in 1931 and in 2006 that dropped to 2%1.  How did we go in one or two generations to be intimately involved in supplying our own food to now having so little idea as to be completely oblivious.  And that is only going to become more evident in future generations.  My cousin told me a few years ago that her young daughter wanted to take the “wrapping” off of her peas – she wanted to take the shell off the pea pod.  If we are so distanced in garden vegetables how shocking must a barn filled with thousands and thousands of laying hens seem?

So in conclusion, my friends, I offer no suggestions here.  I only request that we all continue to speak out in an honest and respectful way.  To seek out what really drives a person’s belief system so that we can help to dispel those myths and to continue to keep producing food in the best way possible.   Because it is essential that our customers and our society understand what it means to do so.  That we are not forced to do it in a way that would not be beneficial for our children, environment or our future.

  1. Found at statcan.gc.ca
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Posted by Farm and Food Care on March 31st, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,AgVocacy,Canada,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Misconceptions,Social media,Speaking out
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Understanding your food choices

 

by Jean L Clavelle

Purchasing meat these days can be confusing if not overwhelming.

In the car, on the drive to the grocery store you hear ads offering specials on “grain fed” meat, then you stop at the coffee shop and see they are selling sandwiches using “all natural antibiotic free chicken”, finally at the meat counter you see packages labelled as “hormone free” and “free range” and “organic”.  What does it all mean?!  What’s the difference?!

Well Chicken Farmers of Canada was able to break it down for us.

Free Range birds must have access to the outdoors. However, since there is no legal definition of free range in Canada, this can vary from farm to farm. Be wary of “fresh” free range chicken in stores when it’s -30 degrees outside, it may have been frozen product defrosted for sale and should not be re-frozen.

Free Run is different than free range in that chickens do not necessarily need to be raised outside but they are required to be able to move around freely within the barn. Though there is no legal definition of this, all chickens raised for meat in Canada are considered free run.

Grain Fed Since all chicken in Canada is given a feed that consists of at over 88% grain, this term is typically just used for marketing. Chicken labeled as “grain fed” is stating the obvious, though some brands boast special types of grain, such as vegetarian grain.

Hormone Free and/or Steroid Free - Though it is rare, some marketers still classify their chicken as “hormone-free.” This is little more than a marketing tactic, since the use of hormones in raising poultry has been banned since the 1960s in Canada.

Kosher products refer to the content and production requirements, not necessarily to any specific cuisine. In Hebrew, kosher means “fit” or “proper,” indicating that the food products meet the dietary requirements of Jewish law. The Jewish dietary laws are collectively known as the laws of kashruth and deal with what foods may be eaten together and how those foods are to be prepared. 

During the processing stage, salt and water are used to prepare the chicken for market. The guidelines for kosher certification are strict and the product must still pass through government inspection in order to be sold in stores or shipped to restaurants. Kosher products are sold across the country and are widely available. For more information, you can visit the Kashruth Council of Canada at www.cor.ca.

Organic Chicken- Chicken that is sold as “organic” is raised to a specific standard as laid out by the Canadian General Standards Board, in addition to the standards set by a reputable organic certification board. Since these boards vary from province to province, there are slight differences in the rules for organic farming in different areas of the country, but in general, organic chicken must be raised with at certified organic feed that contains no animal by-products or antibiotics and any supplements, such as vitamins, must be approved by a certification body.

Raised Without Antibiotics on the label means that the chicken was not treated in any way with antibiotics. For more information on the use of antibiotics in raising chicken, visit the Chicken & Antibiotics section on the Chicken Farmers of Canada website.

Vegetarian Grain Fed, on the other hand, means that the feed given to the flock contains no animal by-products, which are often added to feed as a protein source. In these cases, the feed contains only vegetable protein such as soy, which can alter the flavour and colour of the meat. While chickens are omnivores, chickens can be raised on vegetarian feed, as long as an appropriate protein level is achieved.

So now you know the real story and hopefully the next trip to the grocery store won’t be so confusing. For additional information or to see the whole article go to Chicken.ca.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on March 10th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Chickens,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Food,Food safety,Uncategorized
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Lets Get Talking!

Jean L Clavelle

Alright.  I believe it is time to dust off the old soap box and step back on.

Many organizations reporters and marketing programs recently have expressed opinions about what is the “ideal” regarding animal production in Canada.  “Better Beef” from A&W, the W5 report regarding egg layer operations, PETA, HSUS throw around ideas and words intended to pluck at the strings of the consumer’s heart to show that they are better, that they care, that they are not the enemy while big business – agriculture – is trying to simply make an extra buck.  Phrases such as environmentally friendly, sustainable, humane, antibiotic free are tossed around like so much feed in a pig barn.

Although I group these organizations together, their underlining intent is often not the same.  PETA and HSUS want to eliminate the use of animals altogether, A&W wants to drive sales, W5 well I’m not entirely sure why a “news” organization would publish such a one-sided sensationalized commentary other than to increase viewers.  The common denominator is that they are all focused on currying the favour of society and the consumer at the expense of producers and livestock.

Deep down my dirty little secret is that I truly don’t have a problem with a company creating a marketing campaign that targets the needs and wants of the consumer or when a news article provides a balanced article detailing the pitfalls of a production system.  Where I do draw the line is when an organization does not support the Canadian producers that are purchasing their product, the people that have reliably supplied them with a safe healthy food product for decades.  For example the A&W campaign that openly sourced product from suppliers outside of Canada.  I suspect that had the lines of communication been open, Canadian beef producers would have happily agreed to provide whatever beef product A&W requested.  However to imply that the beef industry is not willing to adapt or evolve or cannot supply what is needed is simply erroneous.

Now, that brings me to the point of this story.  Why are the lines of communication not open?  Why are we not telling our story?  Why are we not working with our consumers to identify new trends and supply that product?

I am at a loss as to why livestock agriculture is so afraid to seek out the needs and opinions of its consumers.  Is it because we are afraid that we will not stand up under scrutiny?  Is it because we are afraid we will have to eat humble pie and acknowledge maybe we might have to change?  Agriculture by its very nature is the epitomy of adaption and evolution.  This should be something we in livestock agriculture are excitedly engaged in!

So come on agriculture.  Step up.  Let’s figure out what consumers and society wants.  If that means seeking out consumer’s opinions, and asking questions well then lets get asking!  If that means changing then we may just have to change to meet their needs.  I fear that if we do not, we (and therefore animals and society in general) are going to lose out because the misguided and misinformed may force us to go down the wrong path.

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Posted by FACS on February 17th, 2014 :: Filed under Activism,Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Animal care,Canada,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Future of Farming,Misconceptions,Speaking out
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David and Goliath - Guest blog

In this post, we’re pleased to feature a blog written by Ontario farmer Sandi Brock. You can follow Sandi’s posts at http://staffachickfarmer.blogspot.ca/

Guest blog by Sandi Brock (Reprinted with permission)

Hard to put into writing what we sometimes feel. Farming lately has felt like a David vs. Goliath type of battle. I’m growing weary of this fight. We (farmers) are being targeted by media. Media likes a story, the worse it is, the better for them. Unfortunately, it leaves our consumers confused, scared and ultimately turned off. Gone are the days when we were all reliant on our land, our animals and our hands to feed our families. Let’s face it, the majority of our friends, neighbors and families do not farm. In fact, they may have a hard time remembering even being to a farm that was maybe a grand-parent’s or great grand-parent’s.

This then becomes our lop-sided battle.

There are just not enough of us to overpower the damage the media is doing. Farming to them is a story. To us, it is our life. It is our blood, sweat and tears. It is our income, our pride, and our contribution to a huge sector of our community and country. We don’t do this to become millionaires. We are happy to get one good year in five. We live at the mercy of the weather, the consumer, and the lenders. If any one of these are not in sync, we don’t meet our goals.

We do this because it’s in our bones. We do this because we love it. We do this because, ultimately, we all like to eat.

So that’s my side. But, it’s not enough. We need to educate. Not the other farmers, which we often find ourselves doing. It’s comfortable to talk to others that do what you do. But, that’s easy. The harder conversations need to be had with your friends in town, your neighbors, your kid’s teachers. We need to be honest and open about what we do, how we do it and most importantly, why we farm. This is the message that needs to be spread like wildfire. The problem is, we don’t take the time. I know while struggling through this fall, the last thing I feel like doing is justifying my farming practices. We are tired, stressed and feeling a bit discouraged. Day after day is another damaging story about our industry. Are they true? Likely not, but does it matter? No. It has made people hesitate. Even me, seeing stories that are edited to create fear, have made me just a little more on edge.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on November 22nd, 2013 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Animal care,Chickens,Consumers,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Misconceptions
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A farmer responds to Chipotle’s “fiction and fear” ad campaign

Guest blog by Andrew Campbell

Have you seen the YouTube video getting rave reviews for Chipotle Mexican Grill? AdWeek says, “Branded entertainment goes doesn’t get much more well rounded or better executed than this.” I’m not quite as impressed.

Chipotle is trying to take on Big Food with the idea that a small, independent scarecrow is more sustainable than a large company. This is problem number one for me. Chipotle implies that big is bad, and small is good (which is strange for a company that had sales of 2.7 billion dollars in 2012).

Problem number two are the production practices it implies. As you can see from the video, a chicken gets a needle that instantly doubles the size of the bird. To me, I get the idea that growth hormones are juicing up the bird. The problem is that hormones are not given to chickens in Canada or the United States. They’ve been illegal for years. So is Chipotle only using fear to mislead consumers?

The third problem, and the one I take personally, is the image of the cows – locked in boxes and piled high, in what looks to be a dark milking machine. It disgusts me to think a company that pushes the idea of integrity, is low enough to mislead consumers again with simple lies. Cows aren’t locked up in boxes and kept in the dark. A picture of our farm shows a completely different sight, yet somehow gets knocked down by a company that only appears to be a big bully.

Because Chipotle clearly is making its name slamming other groups with fiction and fear, I’m going to be filing a complaint with Advertising Standards Canada.

According to the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, “advertisements must not contain inaccurate, deceptive or otherwise misleading claims, statements, illustrations or representations, either direct or implied, with regard to any identified or identifiable product(s) or service(s).” Clearly these two images are that.

I also feel that Chipotle is breaking a second standard of that code that states, “Advertisements must not exploit superstitions or play upon fears to mislead the consumer.”

Farmers are working hard to produce high-quality, safe and nutritious foods, and frankly, I’m tired of being bullied around by groups that only try to use fear, guilt, misconceptions or outright lies to get you to change your mind in what you eat.

I hope instead you get the real story, from a real farmer. After all, we are proud of the role we play at bringing food to your table.

Andrew Campbell farms in Middlesex County, raising dairy cows and crops on his family farm.

 

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 26th, 2013 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Animal care,Consumers,Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,Farm life,Speaking out
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