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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.


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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Meeker’s Magic Mix turns fish byproduct into premium compost

By Kelly Daynard, Farm & Food Care Ontario

(Evansville) – To anyone who knew Mike Meeker as a child, there’s no surprise that he’s now a fish farmer, raising

Mike Meeker and his dog Rosco stand on the dock of his rainbow trout fish farm near Evansville on Manitoulin Island.

Mike Meeker and his dog Rosco stand on the dock of his rainbow trout fish farm near Evansville on Manitoulin Island.

rainbow trout on a pristine lakefront property on Manitoulin Island. “If there was water anywhere, I was in it,” Meeker says of his early years. “There was never any doubt in my mind as to what I wanted to do.”

After attending the University of Wisconsin where he studied Zoology, Meeker played hockey for a few years before settling on the west side of Manitoulin Island in 1984 with his family. At that time, Meeker said that there weren’t any other fish farms on the island so his plans were met with a great deal of skepticism. But, his perseverance and enthusiasm paid off and he is now one of five growers successfully raising trout in the area.

When an average rainbow trout reaches market size, it weighs between 2.5 and three pounds. Of that, though, only about half of the fish is used for human consumption. Until a few years ago, the remaining byproducts (called offal) were sent to a landfill site and farmers were required to pay a fee to dispose of it. Meeker found this frustrating. Not only was he not being paid for the entire fish but he was facing significant costs to dispose of parts of it. “It really added insult to injury,” he recalled. “I didn’t see it as a waste but as a resource.” Utilizing the fish byproducts in a product is much more environmentally responsible that adding to the pile of waste at the local landfill sites.

Meeker’s developed a reputation in his industry as being an inventor and an entrepreneur. Like many farmers, he’s determined to keep overhead expenses low and is always seeking ways to make his farming operation more efficient.

Reflecting on the costs and perceived waste of disposing of the offal, Meeker began experimenting. He sourced and retrofitted an old cement truck and used it to churn a mixture of fish byproducts with sawdust (a byproduct of the forestry industry). He then composted the material. Over a few years, he’s perfected the three-month process, studying the optimum airflow, moisture content and temperature of the mixture. A retrofitted snow blower has also been put into use to further grind up the material and lays it in wind rows for composting.


Posted by Farm and Food Care on October 21st, 2014 :: Filed under animal by-products,Environment,Innovation and technology,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.


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: There’s an App for that

Pictured is a milking parlour, showing off the electronics used by a computer system. As technology advances, farmers are utilizing these types of technologies that can work to their advantage when managing a farm. Photo by Rudi Spruit.

Pictured is a milking parlour, showing off the electronics used by a computer system. As technology advances, farmers are utilizing these types of technologies that can work to their advantage when managing a farm. Photo by Rudi Spruit.

By Rudi Spruit, CanACT President, University of Guelph
Today’s farms are more modern than ever with enough technology to care for hundreds of animals with a phone.

From GPS to weight monitoring to breeding problems out of genetics, technology has come a long way and continues to move forward at an extremely rapid pace. Every type of farm utilizes technology in some way and continues to improve to try and produce more food for less money.

If I had asked my grandfather how many cows he could milk, he would have said he could probably milk 45, although he would then be swamped with work. So, when my dad took over the farm in the 80s, he purchased his first computer and increased the herd size to 60 cows and 200 pigs. The computer allowed him to manage the animals more efficiently and decreased the amount of paperwork there was to fill out. Now, instead of using a calculator and paper, he was able to transfer all the information to a spreadsheet, completing a task that would have taken hours in just mere minutes.

In the early 2000s, we adopted a new computer program. This program allowed us to track each and every cow’s performance on an hourly basis. We can see which cow walked more or less than usual, if they lay down more than usual, if they’re not eating enough, or if they’re metabolizing too much body fat for milk output. We can also check the health of every cow by analyzing their milk as they are being milked. This kind of management level has increased our herd size to 200 milking cows, but takes less work than the 35 my grandfather was in charge of.


Posted by Farm and Food Care on May 2nd, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Dairy cattle,Innovation and technology
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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?


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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Reducing weaning stress, as simple as Two Steps!

Quiet Wean PicNot often do science and research result in real world applications with just a few studies.  Often, practical adaptations are made after years of study at multiple centers involving many scientists and dozens or hundreds of publications that have each built on the tiny steps of the one before it.

Often that is the case, but not always.  Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan were investigating behaviour of beef cows and stumbled across something quite extraordinary that resulted in a new understanding of how to wean calves.  After just a few projects, these researchers were able to offer a method of weaning that dramatically reduces stress for both the cow and calf, and results in healthier bigger calves for the producer.  Better still the idea has taken off across North America!


Posted by Farm and Food Care on August 22nd, 2013 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Animal health,Animal welfare,Beef cattle,Innovation and technology,Research,Uncategorized
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Meet the face of June in the Faces of Farming calendar

By Patricia Grotenhuis

Dancing in the barn, baking pies, catering and many great memories of farming alongside her husband Morley are just a sample of the stories Thelma Trask can tell.

This energetic mother of six and grandmother of 10 has been farming with her husband since their wedding 56 years ago, and before that, she taught school for two years.

For her long-time commitment to farming, Trask is featured as the month of June in the 2013 Faces of Farming calendar produced by Farm & Food Care Ontario.  Her page is sponsored by Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd.

Thelma Trask and one of her famous pies

Thelma Trask and one of her famous pies

Trask and her husband, who met at a corn roast during her tenure as a young teacher, have shared many good times. “When we got married, Morley couldn’t dance.  So, I taught him how to dance, during chore time, between the rows of cows in the barn,” she recalls with a laugh.


Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 10th, 2013 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Dairy cattle,Faces of Farming,Farm life,Future of Farming,Innovation and technology,Sustainability of the family farm
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Ontario egg farmer says her hens stay up all night

By Jeanine Moyer (Seaforth) - Carol Leeming is a professional egg farmer. And in addition to caring for her flock of 42,000 hens, she’s a mom, wife, career woman, motorcycle enthusiast and self-proclaimed ag-vocate (an advocate for agriculture). T

his busy woman has been involved in agriculture and poultry all her life and is proud to produce the highest quality food possible for egg-lovers to enjoy. Leeming and her husband Bob have been egg farmers near Seaforth, ON for more than 25 years.

Egg farmers Carol and Bob Leeming and their family (Photo by Angela Smith)


Posted by Farm and Food Care on March 28th, 2013 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Animal care,animal handling,Chickens,eggs,Innovation and technology,Laying hens,Poultry
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Local meat processor wins award for allergen-free meat products

By Lilian Schaer

Heidelberg - They built their business on the power of local long before it was popular and their allergen-free meat products are a life-line to many food allergy sufferers.

These efforts have won Waterloo Region’s Stemmler Meats and Cheese a Premier’s Award for Innovation and they’ve also just been named a finalist for a prestigious innovation award from the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce. “Anytime you have an honour like this, especially from your peers and in an industry that is so diverse, it is very humbling,” says Kevin Stemmler.

Photo from left, brothers Kevin (squatting), Terry and Shawn Stemmler of Stemmler Meats and Cheese in Heidelberg, ON.


Posted by Farm and Food Care on February 7th, 2013 :: Filed under Innovation and technology,Meat processing,Research,Specialty foods,Uncategorized
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The dirty side of anti-GMO activism

By Lisa McLean, Farm and Food advisor

If you haven’t noticed an increase in online dialogue about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) lately, you will. Next month, Californians will vote on Proposition 37, a controversial piece of legislation that, if passed, would require mandatory labeling on foods that contain GMOs and would influence labeling practices across North America. And as the voting deadline approaches, there’s an uncanny amount of “new information” being released about the supposed perils of consuming GMOs.

Most recently, a researcher in France managed to publish a scientific paper claiming to have discovered something that decades of private and public research has failed to produce: that GMOs cause cancer. According to the study’s researcher, rats that were fed a diet of GMO corn developed cancer and died at significantly higher rates than controls. Conveniently, the research was completed just in time for the final stretch of the Proposition 37 campaign.

The scientific community around the world has called into questionmany aspects of the study since it was released. Concerns include the conditions under which the results were released to media, the breed of rats used, the architecture of the study, and the troubling history of the lead researcher himself. And while the study’s results were quickly discredited in media outlets around the world, the damage is already done – particularly for consumers who are uninitiated to the dirty tricks used in campaigns such as this one. We can be certain anti-GMO activists will widely quote this “newly available” research. And, at least some consumers who have been safely consuming GMOs for years will buy into the fear mongering.

Anti-GMO activists use all sorts of tactics

But fights such as this one come at a hefty cost. The spending on both sides of the debate is getting out of hand, as proponents and opposition alike invest millions of dollars in campaigns around the issue. The consumer organizations and select food companies in favour of labeling are funded by a healthy dose of organic and so-called “natural” brands that stand to profit handsomely from further differentiation in the marketplace. Their opponents – large corporate food companies and suppliers – are likewise investing even larger sums of money playing defense to point out that their products have already undergone rigorous third party testing and have been proven safe for human consumption, time and again.

The truth is, most North Americans don’t give much thought to what approved scientific technologies were used to grow their safe, affordable food. And, consumers who take the time to educate themselves can opt to avoid foods containing GMOs, (if that is important to them), by choosing products that are labeled “certified organic.” But proponents of GMO labeling continue to turn up public pressure, and in all likelihood, someday soon they’ll succeed. It’s unfortunate that they feel the need to tear down trust in science simply because they don’t like what the science says. It’s unfortunate that, in an effort to scare others into agreeing with them – and in the absence of real evidence – they fabricate junk science to prove their point.

The real shame is that advocates on both sides of the issue are spending millions of dollars cancelling each other out on a noisy battleground. What if, instead of dirty tricks and PR stunts, companies on both sides pooled that campaign money and put it to better use – like investing in credible cancer research, or delivering healthy food programs to people in need?



Posted by FFC on October 22nd, 2012 :: Filed under Activism,Food,Innovation and technology,Research
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