By Cam Dahl
Editor’s note: Cam Dahl is the General Manager of Manitoba Pork. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I find that many farmers react to the words ‘public trust’ like a cat running across hot pavement. The subject is often viewed as a threat, seen by some as rhetorical cover for those who want to dismantle modern agriculture.
While I understand the reaction, I have a different response. I see public questions on food production as an opportunity. Addressing consumers’ questions will help enhance the connection and relationship between farmers and the public. This will also differentiate Canada’s farmers – and the food they produce – in both domestic and international markets. It is a key tool to secure sustainable and long-term consumer demand.
Until relatively recently, Canadian agriculture did not have to consider questions from consumers on how their food is produced. Governments established food safety standards, registered farm input products and set environmental regulations. This provided the assurances that consumers were seeking – at least most of them. That has changed. Nowadays, farmers, processors and everyone involved in supporting agriculture production is required to actively engage in telling the story of modern farming.
Answering questions about the origins of food is not a fad that will be gone tomorrow like the latest internet diet. The growing focus by many consumers on food production practices is a true trend that agriculture needs to be ready to meet head-on. Consumer interest will only continue to grow for years to come.
Rather than responding to questions from consumers with skepticism, farmers can embrace them with optimism. That is because, when it comes to tending to the environment in a sustainable way, and caring for animals humanely, our farmers are world leaders.
We need to do a much better job of telling the good news story of modern agriculture. Decades of land and water stewardship have proven that farming can be considered the oldest ‘green job’ in many jurisdictions, which is certainly true for Manitoba. For example, pork producers create more food today with less environmental impact than even 10 or 20 years ago.
Over the last 50 years, hog farms have significantly reduced their carbon footprint. Manure that was once thought of as a waste product is now viewed as a valuable organic nutrient. Using new technology, farmers inject manure below the soil so that it is efficiently taken up by crops. The modern practices that have made environmental gains possible are the result of years of investment by farmers, governments and industry.
The same progress has been made in ensuring animals are raised in appropriate housing, that they receive well-balanced and nutritious feed, that diseases are prevented where possible and judiciously treated when not, and that hogs are handled humanely at all stages of their lives. Animal welfare is assured through a combination of rigorous provincial animal welfare regulations and industry standards.
An important component of the standard for animal care is the science-based National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs that all Canadian hog farmers are required to follow. The code is backed up by requirements for engagement with a veterinarian, including on-site visits. Adherence to the code is supported by audits, and farmers cannot deliver to federally inspected processing plants unless they are part of a national quality assurance program, like Canadian Quality Assurance (CQA) or Canadian Pork Excellence (CPE). Animal care requirements are regularly revised if scientific research demonstrates that changes in practices are warranted. Consumers can be confident that hogs in Canada are ethically raised.
Modern Canadian hog farmers take pride in their record on mitigating environmental issues and upholding animal care standards. It is also a record that should be a source of pride for consumers. Nutritious, high-quality Canadian pork is raised in a sustainable way that will help ensure the industry’s ongoing contributions to our economy and job creation in our local communities. Telling this story consistently and more frequently will help reinforce demand for Canadian pork everywhere.