What, you may wonder, are the government folks up to now. What do they spend their money and time on, when they’re not looking into how to help aspiring raw milk farmers roll out product for a growing niche market? Well, this could be part of the answer. After all, why should airports and the Olympics get all of our security dollars. Obviously someone sees a market for security down on the farm. Here’s an excerpt from the story in today’s Toronto Star, by Joanna Smith, of the Star’s Ottawa Bureau:
“OTTAWA–The Canadian Food Inspection Agency hopes to persuade dairy farmers to adopt new standards to protect cows from disease by appealing to their bottom line.
That could mean showing consumers would be willing to pay more for yogurt or milk if it meant having more confidence in the health of the animal it came from.
There are no national standards for what is called biosecurity on dairy farms in Canada, but the food safety watchdog is developing a set it hopes to have ready by the end of next year.
That would essentially mean publishing guidelines farmers could voluntarily follow to minimize the risk of introducing disease to their herds or transmitting disease between animals or farms.
The agency expects to spend up to $100,000 on a nine-month study on the economic impact of the voluntary standards.
“If you do things to make animals healthier, to prevent disease … those animals should be more productive and that should translate into economic well-being for the producer,” said Dr. Keith Campbell, national manager of biosecurity at the food inspection agency.
That would make regulation unnecessary, he said.
“The government is quite committed to decreasing the regulatory burden of all of the citizens of Canada, so it would really be only a last-ditch effort that would result in regulation of biosecurity,” Campbell said.
Poultry and pork producers have boosted biosecurity practices in response to outbreaks of influenza and other potentially catastrophic diseases, but dairy farmers have had less motivation to standardize how they protect cows because those animals tend to get sick in less devastating ways….”
So how is this biosecurity stuff working out in other fields of agriculture?
Well, it was biosecurity that was the core concern in the recently waived requirement that organic turkeys not be allowed to roam outdoors. According to the Biosecurity experts, they’d have been more “biosecure” if they’d spent their whole lives indoors. Here’s are some excerpts from an earlier Toronto Star story on “Turkey Wars” by Margaret Webb, October 10, 2009:
“If you’re eating organic turkey this weekend, savour it, because by next Thanksgiving it may be easier to buy crack cocaine in Ontario than a drug-free bird.
Here’s why: While the turkey industry marketing board tells growers to confine their turkeys indoors to reduce the chance of transmission of viruses from wild birds, new organics standards administered by the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency mandate raising organic birds outdoors.
Caught in this Catch-22 are turkey farmers Matthew and Janice Dick – organic farmers who wanted their birds to roam free outside. They recently took on the Turkey Farmers of Ontario at an appeals tribunal in what amounted to a battle between antibiotic-free, open-air, small-scale farming and drug-intensive, confinement, factory farming. The organic farmers lost.
The Dicks raise birds on an 80-hectare certified organic farm in Markdale, about two hours northwest of Toronto, along with pigs, cattle, chickens and about a half-dozen organic crops. Their farm looks, well, a lot like the way farms used to look in Ontario.
Organic turkeys get about 25 per cent more space than in the industrial system and take 14 weeks to grow to about 10 or 12 pounds, compared with 10 weeks in a factory barn. They’re also fed an organic vegetarian diet, with no genetically modified crops, antibiotics or animal by-products such as pig fat, blood or bone meal. Many organic livestock farmers also try to raise heritage breeds to increase genetic diversity, hardiness and flavour.
Perhaps most important, the birds have full access to pasture so they can live a relatively natural life basking in fresh air and sunlight.
“You’ll get a more natural taste with a bird on grass,” Matthew says of the birds. “There’s certainly more flavour to it.”
He also argues access to outdoors is crucial for the health of the birds. “You give the turkey everything it requires: fresh air, outdoor exercise and no stress. If they run into a problem, they’re going to have the immune system to deal with it. You just have to look at human flus. When you’re in a confined situation, you’re under more stress and things spread easier.”
The Turkey Farmers of Ontario – an industry marketing board of 192 Ontario producers who control nearly half of Canada’s annual quota production – introduced a rule last year that forces all quota holders to confine turkeys indoors, under a solid roof.
Turkey marketing boards, issuing quota to individual producers, were created to protect domestic farmers from imports. With this system, producers can also negotiate a fair price with processors.
Members of Turkey Farmers of Ontario produce more than 60 million kilograms of turkeys a year. The smallest of these confinement barns produce about 35,000 turkeys a year. The sector links an entire supply chain from Maple Leaf Foods, which processes 49 per cent of turkeys in Ontario, to Ontario-based Hybrid Turkeys, the only primary breeder in Canada and one of two major breeding companies worldwide.
The marketing board says raising turkeys indoors is one biosecure measure that prevents the transmission of avian influenza between turkeys and wild birds.
Ingrid DeVisser, chair of the board, said: “I don’t think there is any foolproof method” of preventing transmission of avian flu. “But we’re doing what we can to protect the industry.” She pointed out that the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency is in conflict with itself: It advises, as a cautionary measure, raising birds indoors, but the agency-administered national organics standards, introduced in June, mandate raising organic birds outdoors.
The marketing board rule places organic turkey farmers in an impossible situation: To raise more than a backyard flock of 50 birds, farmers must hold board-regulated quota; but farmers cannot adhere to the regulations and keep organic certification. The rule change affects the Dicks and just one other organic turkey farmer in Ontario but it severely restricts the supply of certified organic birds, one reason they cost about twice as much as industrially raised turkeys.
The Organic Council of Ontario supported the Dicks’ appeal at a tribunal of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, concerned that the turkey board ruling would set a precedent for provincial marketing boards across Canada to introduce regulations for milk, egg and poultry production that would curtail organic production.
Already, the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council has requested that all quota poultry be confined.
Ted Zettel, chair of the Organic Council, called the appeal hearing a “pathetic fiasco.” Zettel said the Turkey Farmers of Ontario failed to present evidence of avian flu as a public health threat. “It’s really clear that the problem that they have (with organics) is it’s presented as a superior alternative and it makes them very vulnerable. They see no problem with trampling on the rights of a few farmers. It will be a pattern if they get away with it.”
David Waltner-Toews, a professor at the University of Guelph’s veterinary college, appeared as the only scientific witness at the hearing. The author of Food, Sex and Salmonella: Why Our Food is Making Us Sick is an international expert on food-borne diseases as well as diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans, such as avian influenza and swine flu.
He said the hearing was about the turkey board “protecting its commercial production units” rather than a “discussion about how we manage the system overall.”
In its written decision, the tribunal said it recognized “the importance of the organic poultry industry and the high public demand for its product.” However, it added: “It is our determination that the added cost of providing a covered structure for turkeys is far outweighed by the additional safety the TFO has put in place for the industry with the implementation of this regulation.”
I visited a confinement barn, arranged by the Turkey Farmers of Ontario, to see how turkeys are raised in a biosecure setting. I’ve been to such biosecure barns before, and my first summer job was in an industrial barn, grading eggs and counting newly hatched chicks.
To protect flocks, biosecure confinement operations attempt to create a barrier between outside pathogens and livestock, or, as is the turkey board’s chief concern, between wild birds potentially carrying avian flu and domestic turkeys. Toews told me earlier that there is no evidence such biosecurity works; indeed, the two previous cases of avian flu in Canada both broke out in confinement systems.
He said that once disease gets into densely stocked barns, it can run rampant, and sooner or later something always gets in. “Economies of scale are economies of disaster.”…”