Delegates Attending the 2006 Banff Pork Seminar Zero in on Animal Welfare

CANADA - Farm-Scape: Episode 2039. Farm-Scape is a Wonderworks Canada production and is distributed courtesy of Manitoba Pork Council and Sask Pork.
calendar icon 23 January 2006
clock icon 7 minute read

Farm-Scape, Episode 2039

In response to an increasing level of public scrutiny, partners within the pork value chain are putting a much greater emphasis on demonstrating the care that is taken to ensure food animals are always treated in a humane manner.

Programs designed to document the animal welfare efforts being taken by both the farmers who raise the pigs that will ultimately provide the pork that ends up on the plates of consumers and the packers that process that meat were front and center this past week as about 800 delegates attended the 35th edition of the Banff Pork Seminar.

Consumer Interest in Animal Welfare Grows

“I think over the last 15 to 20 years we’ve seen increased interest in terms of animal welfare,“ states Dr. Harold Gonyou a research scientist in Ethology at the Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatoon. “We’ve seen the industry, either the retail organizations or our major customers, the packing plants and then also producer organizations themselves, become more aware of some of the things they need to do to assure the consumer that we were taking good care of the animals.“

Five years ago Canadian packing plants became the subject of third party audits designed to make sure the animals that enter their facilities are properly cared for and then more recently a new animal care assessment tool was introduced as a stand-alone component of the Canadian Quality Assurance (CQA) program, the Canadian swine industry’s on farm food safety program.

The packing plant audits introduced in Canada in 2001 came about as the result of concerns expressed by, and were conducted on behalf of, the major food service customers, specifically Burger King, McDonalds, and Wendy’s in response to growing consumer demands for accountability within the animal food industry. The audits were based on models developed by Drs. Temple Grandin, David Fraser, Harold Gonyou and other animal welfare specialists, and put an emphasis on measurable and easily observed behaviors such as squeals, slips, falls, and blinking.

Audits Prove Beneficial to Processors

Bill Ballantyne, the technical services director with Maple Leaf Pork, maintains the audits have actually proved beneficial to the Canadian meat packing industry.

“I suspect, right at the plant level, there was a certain wariness and a concern that this was going to take a lot of time.“

He continues, “At the senior level it was probably viewed in a positive way, in that the way that it was done seemed clearly thought out. It was going to be objectively done. All of the processors were going to have to bear a similar costs so it would become a cost associated with providing food in the country. At the end of the day it seemed to be a proactive way to provide some assurance to consumers.“

Ballantyne adds, “One of the relationships of good animal handling practices is actually good meat quality and so one of the outcomes has been, at times, a focus on some of the practices that may not have been as acceptable as they should be.“

Animal Care Assessment Tool Introduced as Part of CQA

More recently, the Canadian Pork Council introduced its new animal welfare assessment tool for Canada’s pork producers. The assessment tool was modeled along the lines of the Canadian Quality Assurance Program, the Canadian swine industry’s on farm food safety program and it is designed as a stand alone component of that program. While animal the assessment tool is currently voluntary, the expectation is that it will ultimately become a mandatory component of CQA.

“We have a heightened awareness that animals need to be properly cared for,“ states Florian Possberg, President and CEO of Humboldt, Saskatchewan based Big Sky Farms. “We, as an industry, have to make sure that we carry that through and make sure that the exceptions are not allowed in our business. That’s really what our animal care assessment allows us to do, bring a certain level of standards making sure it is applied across the whole industry.“

Farmers Best Positioned to Answer Consumer Animal Welfare Concerns

Possberg observes, “There’s a perception out there that at least some animals aren’t as properly cared for as they should be.“

He suggests, “If consumers have a question somebody’s got to answer that. The people that are in the retail business don’t have the answers. Really the only credible people to speak to how animals are cared for are the producers. As producers we know that a vast majority of producers do a very good job of caring for their animals. That being said there may very well be some players, some bad actors so to speak and that’s just not acceptable.“

Dr. Gonyou agrees, “It’s a large industry and they can’t cover everyone without some kind of structure and this presents a structure to how they’re going to ensure that their industry maintains adequate care across the entire industry, not just the best 95 percent of farms but across all the farms. That’s why it’s been more of an official program to apply across the entire industry.“

“It’s documentation,“ he says. “I think that it’s important for the industry, both the packing industry and the swine production industry, to be taking these kinds of steps and to be moving forward in terms of greater and greater assurance for consumers in terms of the quality of product that consumer want on their table.“

“I think today’s consumer is more separate from animal production, from food production in general than they have been in the past but they’re showing increased interest in having high quality food stuffs and animal welfare is part of that high quality that they want.“

Animal Care Assessment Offers Consumers Direct Access to Information

“Consumers are a lot different than they were years ago,“ Possberg continues. “We did a little survey in the group at the Banff Pork seminar. Out of about 50 people there a majority of them had actually milked a cow and picked up eggs on a farm. I don’t think you could go into a city classroom and probably find more than one or two children in a large city school of children that have that experience today.

“People are more urbanized. They’re more remote, more detached from where their food comes from so we have to put in place mechanisms that provide assurances to our consuming and general public that we do things properly.“

“By putting a program in place, by making it publicly accessible and making the application real, we’ve got something we can take to the general public and say this is our seal of responsibility.“

He admits, “We know that there’s radical people there that are going to dispute that we are responsible. We don’t think the extreme of the radicals we’ll be able to satisfy but there’s that huge general public that just want legitimate answers. That’s really what our exercise is all about, providing legitimate answers to legitimate questions.“

Industry Must Take the Lead in Maintaining Standards

Ballantyne believes, “There’s a very good benefit to us in feeling comfortable in dealing with the public that we’re providing a good animal welfare, that we know what our issues are and that we are addressing them. I think it’s made us, as food animal agriculture production systems, processing systems, more aware of the need to communicate, the need to have programs that are all inclusive and that in fact we do, at the end of the day, have better welfare for animals.“

He concludes, “Maintaining consumer acceptance and confidence is dependent on industry participants taking a leadership role in performing to a certain standard.“

For Farmscape.Ca, I'm Bruce Cochrane.

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