Food Bank Uses More Palatable Option

CANADA - Manitoba’s pork producers will divert as much meat as they can to the province’s food banks from hogs slaughtered under a federal swine herd reduction program.
calendar icon 3 May 2008
clock icon 6 minute read

Last month (April 14) the Federal Cull Breeding Swine program was officially launched. Just nine days later (April 23) Rosann Wowchuk, Manitoba’s Minister of Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives, announced the province will kick in $500,000 to help cover the cost of processing hogs slaughtered under that program.

The cull program offers swine producers payments of $225 per animal culled if they agree to depopulated breeding barns and leave those barns empty of breeding stock for three years. Although the program is retroactive to November 2007, hogs culled after April 14 of this year may not enter the commercial food distribution chain.

Commercial Distribution of Meat From Culled Animals Disallowed

“None of the meat from the animals is allowed to go into the human food value chain and that’s both on the export side and on the domestic side,“ explains Canadian Pork Council executive director Martin Rice. “That was something that was made very firm and clear at the beginning and is incorporated into the agreement. However, there is accommodation for meat going into food banks.“

Originally offering the meat to food banks had not been considered as an option.

“It wasn’t an allowed use,“ recalls Wowchuk. However, she notes, an appeal to Ottawa made by her government, Manitoba’s pork industry and the province’s food banks resulted in food bank use being added to the list of acceptable options.

“This is just a good news story to be able to do this and it makes sense,“ observes Manitoba Pork Council Chairman Karl Kynoch. “It didn’t take the feds very long to decide that, ‘Yes we can put that product into the food banks.’ We checked with the Americans, if they would be concerned on countervail, and they were happy with it.“

Food Bank Option Preferred by Producers

In addition to directing their hogs to processing for food bank use, other options include sending those hogs to rendering for use in pet food and, in some cases, on farm disposal through composting or through some other environmentally acceptable method in accordance with animal welfare guidelines. However, the food bank options is clearly the preference of pork producers.

“Initially it was primarily Manitoba that had an interest in this but we now see government programs to assist in food bank usage in each of the prairie provinces and quite significant amounts to allow that processing to take place. In Quebec there is a producer foundation which is a registered charity and they will cover the additional [processing] costs. In Ontario they’re still working on an arrangement and hoping for an announcement, I believe, next week.“

Rice observes, “The producers would much sooner see human consumption of the meat from these animals. I think that they would look at this as just being a more satisfactory way to see their breeding stock be utilized.“

Kynoch agrees, “I’ve got to tell you, to actually destroy the product, that just goes against everything they [producers] believe in. Producers want to do two main things and that is to provide good animal welfare and provide top quality food for people around the world.“

He describes the food bank option as a win win situation for producers and for people that use food banks.

Majority of Culled Hogs Expected to be Diverted to Food Banks

Rice believes, “There’s a very good chance that most of the animals that are culled in Alberta and Quebec and even perhaps in Saskatchewan will go that route, all of it perhaps. In Ontario and Manitoba, because of the larger numbers, it will be a minority of the culled breeding animals. The majority would be going into rendering.“

The $500,000 being made available by the Manitoba government is expected to cover the cost of processing about 150,000 kilograms of pork.

Winnipeg Harvest Appeals for Additional Public Support

Winnipeg Harvest is calling on the public to add to the pool of cash being provided by the province to widen the effort and try and cull as many sows as possible in the window of time available.

“As long as this federal program runs we want to make sure we direct as much of it to food banks as possible,“ says Winnipeg Harvest executive director David Northcott. “The task we have now is to make sure we can convert that into ground pork over the next three or four months.“

Kynoch notes producers have always hoped to direct as many of these hogs as possible through to the food banks. He estimates the money allocated by the province will, with luck, cover the cost of processing about 5,000 hogs and the number that can be accommodated beyond that will depend on how much more money can be raised by the food banks and the number of animals available.

“As far as we’re concerned as producers, we want to see all the product possible go towards food banks.“

Food Distribution Model Ensures Fair Equitable Sharing Among Food Banks

Winnipeg Harvest is taking the lead in negotiating with the various abattoirs throughout the province to arrange for the processing of the pork. “We’ve got several partners we’re working with to deliver these goods,“ says Northcott.

The first one is the Manitoba Association of Food Banks, the distribution arm that moves food throughout Manitoba. Other partners include the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, the Mennonite Central Committee and Manitoba Pork Council.

“We’ve been working together with a number of food banks for many years,“ Northcott says. “So there’s a template and a fair share model already for food. So, once the pork is processed, we’ll be able to just simply add the pork on those distribution models for food banks in Manitoba.“

“This is a very good news story,“ says Wowchuk. “The pork industry is being helped out because their numbers will be reduced, but somebody will benefit and that’s some of the many families that have to count on food banks for their protein.“

Northcott estimates upwards of 17,000 households, or approximately 40,000 people per month, use food banks in Manitoba and of that 40,000 almost half are children. Approximately 60 per cent of the people in the food bank system are people who are on social assistance, the balance of people are the working poor.

Northcott applauds the efforts of Manitoba’s agriculture minister. "I’m delighted that this province is showing this kind of leadership in Canada. This is the largest donation in Canada for returning pork to hungry families in a province. So I’m very proud of Minister Wowchuk.“

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