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What's coming in the New Year

The calendar has turned and with it comes the opportunity for new thinking and progress

Posted: January 9, 2014


Birth of a new year is a time of blue sky thinking. What does the future hold?

What does 2014 hold for farm animal care? It's a question ripe with possibilities. With livestock welfare gaining more of the spotlight on a range of stages both domestically and internationally, from the farm to the marketplace, one thing for certain is a pivotal year ahead for Canadian livestock producers and their industries.

Four key trends important to watch for 2014

Here are a few of the developments to keep an eye on:


Photo credit: Canada Beef

1. Delivering assurance

Canada has made a lot of progress on updated Codes of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals. Now the focus is shifting strongly to assessment models. How do producers and industry provide proof that the Codes and / or other animal care standards are being followed? Different commodity groups are looking into options, some already have programs in place, and all are aiming to answer this question.

The word "assurance" has become the rallying cry behind this push, which brings a range of key considerations for both producers and industry to grapple with.

"If we want to maintain and grow our industry, we need to understand what our customer wants," says industry leader John Kolk. "We need to make sure we are up to date in meeting expectations in order to be as competitive as we can be. It's not good enough to say, hey I'm a farmer, trust me. Those days are gone. We're in a new space now. We need to communicate better. We need to listen. We need to provide the assurances the marketplace is asking for." (Read more insights from Kolk here.)

2. Finding 'win-wins'


Photo credit: Alberta Milk

Updated standards are one thing, but will producers buy in and implement key changes? No doubt the easiest options to get traction on are those that not only benefit the animals but also show clear economic advantages. This principle of seeking out 'win-win' options will continue to be a major focus at all levels of industry, as well as in the science arena where Canada has the advantage of several leading farm animal care researchers focused on helping industry adapt to change and address challenges.

The dairy industry is one sector that has clearly rallied around this way of thinking as it has considered different options. "This is not only what's right for the animals but it's important to the success of the farm, because healthy, comfortable cows produce more milk and of higher quality," says Ron Maynard, a P.E.I. dairy farmer and vice president, Dairy Farmers of Canada.

3. Retailers cooperating with producers

The pressure to manage farm animal care expectations is also felt strongly on the retail end of the value chain. NewStream Farm Animal Care and others have well documented how key players such as McDonald's, Sobey's, Tim Hortons and others are approaching this demand.

An encouraging sign for producers are the indications from many of the Canadian players of a willingness to work closely with them to address the range of practical and economic challenges some of the new demands represent.

"I'm confident we will be there and we will do the right thing," says Tim Faveri, Director of Sustainability & Responsibility with Tim Hortons.

4. Rise of certification programs

The word certification is fast becoming a lightning rod as the animal care agenda advances. Does the concept make sense? What options are available? What is the right balance to provide proof of responsible farm animal care practices while also being workable for producers?

Canadian producers can expect to hear more in the year ahead about specific programs gaining momentum both domestically and around the world.

"How do we engage farmers and get them to want to do this?" says Adele Douglas, Executive Director of Certified Humane, a third-party certification program which recently partnered with Sobey's and key suppliers as part of a 'Fresh Foods Initiative' campaign featuring celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. "This question that has been an important driver of the approach we have taken working with our partners. Any successful program needs to work well for farmers and be seen as something that benefits their operations."

Among leading Canadian operations already using Certified Humane are Alberta's own Spring Creek Ranch and Aspen Ridge Premium Beef.


Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.


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