Saskatchewan Food Banks to Benefit from the Federal Cull Breeding Swine Program

CANADA - A grant being made available by the Province of Saskatchewan will help ensure pork from hogs slaughtered in Saskatchewan under a federal program to reduce the Canadian breeding swine herd will not be wasted.
calendar icon 26 April 2008
clock icon 7 minute read

Under the $50 million federal cull breeding swine program pork producers who agree to empty at least one barn of breeding stock for a minimum of three years are eligible to receive $225 per culled sow, bred gilt or boar. Although the program is retroactive to November 1, 2007, the meat from animals slaughtered after April 14 of this year may not enter the commercial food distribution chain. However, the meat from those animals can be directed to food bank use.

Saskatchewan Commits $440,000 for Processing

“We’re providing $440,000 and what that’s going to go for is the butchering and cutting and wrapping of the hogs that are being culled,” says Saskatchewan agriculture minister Bob Bjornerud. He says it was felt this meat could go to people that, in most cases, probably could not afford to buy it.

"We reacted very quickly to try to make a bad news story for agriculture into a good news story for the province," says social services minister Donna Harpauer.

She notes Saskatchewan is the first province to move in this direction although she is aware other provinces are also stepping up to the plate and doing the same. She considers this to be an example of making a good news story out of a bad situation for the pork industry and credits the agriculture minister for taking the lead on the issue.

Coordinated Effort Allows Food bank Initiative to Proceed

Bjornerud stresses a number of groups have helped to make this happen and the work that all of these groups have done is appreciated.

“Sask Pork is going to coordinate the project and they’re administering the dollars that we’ve put in. They're currently working with processors to find plants that will do the cutting and wrapping and all that work for us. They’ll also be working with the food banks to ensure the product gets to needy families in Saskatchewan and that's part of the good work that the food banks do.”

The minister notes several businesses have expressed a desire to be involved and he expects other businesses to come on board as the program develops.

Saskatchewan Pork Development Board general manager Neil Ketilson notes, “We estimate the number of sows to be culled out of Saskatchewan will be around two thousand over the lifespan of the project.”

Food Bank Donation Use Avoids Impacting Commercial Markets

Ketilson explains that as a result of the economic crisis facing pork producers there were larger than normal numbers of breeding sows being culled. Those who normally market those animals weren’t able to handle them in a timely fashion so there is good reason that they didn’t want that pork going back into the human food chain.

However he admits, “For us it seems a shame to not utilize very good protein so if there are people who need it, and there was an opportunity to put it in a different system, we thought it was a very worthwhile project.”

Bill Hall, the executive director of the Food Banks of Saskatchewan, estimates up to 320,000 kilograms of meat could be made available to the food banks in Saskatchewan that otherwise would have been bound for rendering. “That could work out to be a street value or a retail value of about $2 million dollars worth of meat.”

Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre CEO Paul Merriman adds, “This is enough protein meat for all of the food banks in Saskatchewan, all 17 of us, to last us for well over 12 months so it has a huge impact on our fund raising and our ability to be able to secure protein for a year.”

Food Bank Initiatives to be Coordinated Provincially

Although the cull breeding swine program is a federal government initiative, coordinating the diversion of hogs culled under the program to the food banks has been left up to each jurisdiction. At this point the governments of Saskatchewan and Manitoba have committed to the initiative and two or three other provinces are close to announcing their participation.

“Each province is looking at slightly different models,” says Katharine Schmidt, the executive Director of the Canadian Association of Food Banks.

Schmidt estimates it will cost about a dollar per pound to process the pork so it’s a matter of finding financial resources to have that product processed for human consumption.

“Once we get that in place, we’re very good at being able to store and move and handle product of this nature.”

The more than 670 food banks across Canada support about 2,300 food programs where people can go if they’re in need of food. Schmidt notes, “Those programs really vary from hamper programs where you can get enough food for three to five days to soup kitchens. And also some of the food goes to support people living in hostels and shelters so we have, unfortunately, quite a coverage both in urban and rural communities right across Canada.”

Up to One Quarter of Culled Hogs Could be Directed to Food Bank Use

Schmidt estimates up to 25 percent of the pork product from the cull program could end up in the food bank community, hopefully up to a million pounds if not more.

“Protein is something that we’re constantly looking for for families and individuals coming to the food bank so it’s not just the volume, it’s also the type of product.”

Food Bank Use Increases

Over the last ten years the Canadian Association of Food Banks has seen about an 8.5 percent increase in food bank usage.

Schmidt estimates, “Each month we have about 720,000 different individuals across Canada come in for food and many of those are families. About 39 percent of those who end up consuming food from food banks are children under the age of 18.”

Hall observes the trend is slightly different in Saskatchewan.

“Actually for us here in Saskatchewan, we’re enjoying an economic boom. By surveying the various food banks here we’ve noticed that our clientele numbers have gone down a bit. But still we’re facing a situation where those on fixed incomes or lower incomes are suffering quite a bit because of the higher costs of rent and that type of thing in our province. So, though our numbers may be down, the need is probably greater with some of our food bank clients than it was a year ago.”

Hall estimates the Food Banks of Saskatchewan help about 25,000 people each month in the local communities. “Our demographics are quite wide as far as our clientele. Most clients are recipients of social services or are on welfare, the working poor, people on unemployment. A lot of our clients are senior citizens and, within Saskatchewan itself, half of our clients are children.”

Merriman notes, “As far as distribution, we already have a very good distribution network to all of our food banks in Saskatchewan and we are going to administer that out of Saskatoon and distribute it on an as need basis. Some of our smaller food banks couldn’t take a year’s quantity of food so we’re going to store it for them and give it out to them as need be.”

Other Jurisdictions Encouraged to Take Part

Merriman encourages jurisdictions throughout the country to take a long hard look at this and see how they can help out the food banks.

“The food banks don’t just serve the people that come up to the food line. We also supply churches, schools and other community organizations. I think this is making the best out of a worst case scenario. It’s a win for the pork industry, it’s a win for the people of Saskatchewan who are in need.”

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