let's talk farm animals

Ontario farmer uses barcodes to raise the bar on beef

By Jeanine Moyer

(Simcoe and Stoney Creek) - Ontario beef farmer Cory Van Groningen knows what’s important to his customers – quality

Cory Van Groningen

Cory Van Groningen

and trust. And he’s found a way to increase meat tenderness while tracing every single cut of beef from the farm, directly into the hands of his customer. All this is achieved by using barcodes and innovative tracking systems that begin at the animal’s birth, and follow right through to placing prime beef cuts in the grocery store cooler.

As co-owner of the family business, VG Meats, Van Groningen is responsible for keeping the supply chain short by raising cattle for their own processing plant and retail stores. He and his wife Heidi run a 400 cross-bred cow herd, producing beef for VG Meats and other retailers. Raising cattle directly for their own market means Van Groningen has complete control over the product through every stage, beginning at birth, to ensure health, quality and traceability.

Keeping with a 40-year family tradition of processing and retailing meat, Van Groningen also works alongside his parents and three brothers, managing and operating a processing plant and two retail locations. Selling directly to customers through two retail locations in Simcoe and Stoney Creek, ON, means Van Groningen and his family can talk directly to their customers, determining exactly what they want and what’s important to them.

“We’ve learned customers want to trust the people packaging their meat,” says Van Groningen. “They often ask questions as a way to learn more about products and test a retailer’s competency. Traceability is a way to earn their trust and help them verify they’ve made the right choice in choosing our meat products.”

As a farmer, food processor and retailer, Van Groningen knows consumer trust means the family business needs to be accountable for the products they sell. And that means product traceability right from the farm to the customer’s plate.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on December 8th, 2014 :: Filed under Beef cattle,Food safety,Innovation and technology,Meat processing,Meat/slaughter plants,Retailers,Traceability,Uncategorized
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I think we need to talk…

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Jean L Clavelle
Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

Growth hormones.  Dirty nasty words aren’t they?   I’m sorry to bring this up but I think it’s something we need to talk about.

Many of us in Canada, well North America, are so extremely fortunate we live in a place where getting enough to eat is not generally a problem and where we have the choice to make decisions on what we consume.  We have the opportunity to choose where our food comes from and how it’s produced regardless of cost.  Fortunate indeed.

And with this providence, it seems to have become almost admirable to deride those who do not choose foods of a certain variety ie “natural” “ethically raised” “antibiotic free” and  “hormone free”.   Now I would like to assure those of you who can’t or don’t make these food choices despite pressure from your peers or social media, that the food grown in Canada is safe and healthy including beef produced with the use of hormones.  Here’s my attempt at explaining why.

Beef cattle feedlot in western Canada

Beef cattle feedlot in western Canada

First what are growth hormones and how do they work?  Growth hormones are tiny pellets inserted into the back of the ear of a beef animal which slowly releases synthetic hormones over a period of several months.  These hormones mimic the natural reproductive hormones manufactured by the animal.  To make a long physiology discussion short, they encourage protein deposition and discourage fat deposition. This improves both weight gain and feed conversion (the amount of feed required to deposit muscle). Fat deposition requires more than twice as much feed as protein deposition does.  Muscle tissue contains about 70% water while fat contains less than 30% water.  This means that for every ten pounds of muscle gained, about three pounds comes from dry feed and seven pounds comes from water. This ratio is the reversed for fat growth - roughly seven pounds from dry feed and three pounds from water.   So you can see, that with slight increases in protein deposition and slight decreases in fat deposition that there are pretty big differences in the amount of feed required.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 30th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Beef cattle,Canada,Education and public awareness,Food safety,growth hormone
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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: Safe food at a low price

By Rudi Spruit, CanACT President, University of Guelph

Here in Canada, we have some of the lowest cost and safest food in the world. Canada has one of the lowest food freedom dates in the world – the date at which the average Canadian has made enough money to pay for their food for the entire year. This date, for the typical Canadian, sits around Feb. 14. That is a real testament to how well farmers and all other steps in the supply chain have worked to reduce their costs and pass that discount on to the consumer.

In Canada, about 12 per cent of income is spent on food, but in Egypt, that number sits up near 43 per cent. In China, the average citizen spends about 22 per cent of their income on food, and in Russia, about 31 per cent.

Not only do we have some of the lowest-cost food around the world, but it is also the safest food available. Canada continues to keep their reputation for the safest place to import food from, and passes the most stringent food safety rules, and thus the farmers in Canada are able to send food all around the globe.

There are very strict rules about food production due to a tough governing body, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The CFIA does regular inspection at processing plants, all seed plants, and even at farms. They are responsible for the food safety of Canada, from beef to dairy to honey, which may even include fining businesses for non-compliance to the laws.

Some examples of food safety are the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags in cattle. Each farmer will have a unique identification, and as the cattle go through its life, this number will stay with them forever. This way, when the animal gets processed, if there is a problem with the meat or there is a recall on the meat, it can be traced back to the farm it came from. Even in milk production there is a sample taken at every farm before the milk is picked up, so if there is ever a problem, it can be traced back to one specific farm on one specific day. A record is kept of each farm based on their quality of products and history of non-compliance, which can give a very good indicator if that farm might need more inspections to keep up the excellent reputation of Canada’s food system.

As Canadians, we should all be proud of this reputation. Most countries look to Canada to see how to develop a food safety program – they will buy food and raw materials only from Canada, and will base the success of their food programs on the Canadian food freedom date. This is an amazing fact, and due to the hard work of many Canadians, we can truly say that we have some of the safest food in the world at one of the lowest costs.

Inside Farming is a series of articles written by Canadian Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow (CanACT) members at the University of Guelph.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 13th, 2014 :: Filed under Food,Food safety,Speaking out,Uncategorized
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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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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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My meat journey

by Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator, Farm & Food Care

Over the last two years that I’ve worked with Farm & Food Care, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. Most of which have come from volunteering at public events. I’ve had great conversations with moms, kids, dads, grandparents and teachers, who all love farm animals and want to know more. Some common questions being ‘how big is that cow?’, ‘how many eggs does a chicken lay?’ and my personal favourite of ‘are you a real farmer?’

Others are more complex like ‘why are pigs kept in stalls?’

But there was one question that I will never forget . It was a question that caught me off guard and one that I have not stopped thinking about since that day. A mom approached me at the CNE and asked ‘how can you care for your animals and then eat them?’

Now that’s a tough question. She was not a vegetarian; she ate meat, but genuinely wanted to know.  I can’t remember what I said to her on that day, but on my drive home that night it kept cycling through my head. How do we justify this decision? I never really considered it that much.

As a young kid growing up on my family farm I became very familiar with life and death. I marveled at the miracle of a new calf being born and also mourned the life of a cow after she had died or been put down. Many times I watched and helped my dad put down a sick or lame cow. Life and death is part of everyday life on a farm. It was something that I never really questioned and I continued to think about this question long after.

It was not until recently on a tour of a Cargill beef plant that I had a “light bulb” moment. I began to piece together my thoughts as I walked through and watched how cattle are turned into the beef you see in the grocery store. Watching the workers do their jobs and trim a small part of the carcass at each point along the way was amazing. Very little goes to waste; even the hooves are processed into products that you buy for your dog at the pet store.

A couple of times our tour guide turned around and checked to see that I was alright. I was the only girl on the tour, but probably the one most fascinated by the whole process.

I left Cargill that afternoon with a renewed confidence in our food system. Regardless of what you read, hear or watch, I can say with firsthand experience that the animals who produce the meat we eat are raised and treated in the most humane manner, from the farm through to your plate.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to that day in August and when that mom asked me ‘how do you eat the animals that you care for?’ I would tell her the following:

We (as farmers) owe it to our animals to provide them a healthy comfortable life, but when the time comes we also owe them a quick and painless death. Farm animals are raised in Canada for food.  Whether it’s beef, chicken, pork or turkey meat that I eat, I know that the animal was well cared for and respectfully treated. I will confidently continue to eat Canadian.

 

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on March 3rd, 2014 :: Filed under Animal care,Beef cattle,Feeding the world,Food,Food safety,Meat/slaughter plants,Uncategorized
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It’s All Antibiotic Free, Baby!

Reprinted with permission from Hurdhealth.com

 

It’s All Antibiotic Free, Baby!

Posted by
After all of the recent Panera and Chipotle hype about antibiotic free production, I decided to look at the data. This is also a follow up to my previous blog about antibiotic free (ABF) meat; I am going to present some data to back up my claim that there is very little difference between conventional and ABF – in other words, it’s all antibiotic free, baby! #ItsAllABF!

Due to farmers following appropriate withdrawal times, there are very few violations. In fact in the last three years of USDA testing no broiler chickens have been found with violative residues for the scheduled (random) sampling. For beef only 2 violations out of 1,600 samples were found and only 3 out of 2,200 from market hogs.  Note that antibiotics are not toxins, there are useful and very safe products used by us all.

The Bottom Line

The residue detection levels in the 3 classifications that I analyzed (beef cattle, market hogs, and broilers) are extremely small and well below the levels that would cause adverse effects to a human eating the meat. In addition, if an animal tests positive for residues, it does not enter the food supply.

Meat from an ABF farm would supposedly have zero levels of residues – but, if you aren’t going to get sick or be affected by the perfectly healthy, wholesome conventional meat, why should you pay more for something that potentially carries more foodborne illness?

From a veterinary perspective, I am concerned with the internal struggle that the ABF farmer must face. Most farmers get some premium for raising ABF meat, so if the animals get sick does the farmer treat and lose the financial benefits of ABF or wait a day or two? Waiting can increase mortality and spread of infectious disease significantly. What about the veterinarian, who has taken an oath to prevent animal suffering, but management will only let him treat a small percentage of the barns? Can these restaurateurs really argue their ABF meat provides a better “conscience choice,” if it comes at the cost of additional mortality and animal suffering?

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 6th, 2013 :: Filed under Animal care,Animal health,Animal welfare,Consumers,Economics,Food safety,Innovation and technology,Media,Regulations,Research,Social media,Speaking out,Traceability
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Accessorized

by Kim Waalderbos

Mooove on over, ladies. There’s a new diva on the block, and she’s…accessorized. Her momma too.

Cows and calves on Canadian dairy and beef farms are all sporting a pair of ‘earrings’ or ear tags that are unique to them. The cool part about these ear tags is not only are they stylish, but they serve an important purpose too — traceability.

A young dairy calf sports her Canadian national identification ear tag (the round button in her right ear).

These ear tags are part of an industry initiated, industry-led program called the Canadian Cattle Identification Program (http://CanadaID.com). Participants in Canada’s beef, dairy and bison sectors established the program January 1, 2001, with full enforcement (including fines and penalties) since July 1, 2002.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on May 21st, 2013 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Beef cattle,Dairy cattle,Food safety,Traceability
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Your Burger is Done at 71: Food Safety on the Homefront

Guest blog by Lyndsey Smith

Lyndsey Smith is the editor of RealAgriculture.com, and based at Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I had a Twitter conversation yesterday, regarding E. coli contamination, that got me rather riled up. Because Twitter allows me to interact with so many people, it really does open my eyes to some of the major knowledge gaps the public has on food safety. As we discussed the XL Foods beef recall, some tweeted that they were safe because they bought their beef from a neighbour.

While not eating meat contained on the recall list is the right call, buying local will not protect you from E. coli. And that was just the beginning of the other ways people were “protecting” themselves from E. coli: others pledged to buy only organic beef, still more claimed being vegetarian would keep them safe.

To clear the air on a few points:

- E. coli can and is carried on vegetables as well as meat. Eating vegan or vegetarian alone will not protect you from the bacteria.

- Buying local will not protect from E. coli contamination. There is nothing wrong with supporting your neighbour’s beef farm but bacteria don’t care where you live. E. coli contamination may happen wherever slaughter occurs.

- Ditto for buying organically or naturally raised beef. Organically raised cattle still poop; there is still a risk.

Read the rest of the blog at http://www.realagriculture.com/2012/10/your-burger-is-done-at-71-food-safety-on-the-homefront/

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Posted by FFC on October 5th, 2012 :: Filed under Beef cattle,Canada,Consumers,E. coli,Food,Food safety,Misconceptions,Uncategorized
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