Friday, April 29, 2016

Farmer knows best.....?

Once upon a time it used to be said that consumers drive the markets, and that farmers will grow whatever there is demand for. 
In recent years, this seems to have turned on its head and now farmers are spending a lot of time 'educating' consumers on what it is they want.  There's a lot more talking than listening going on and it's going to be the downfall of any sort of economically sustainable agriculture in Canada. 
The recent decision by the restaurant chain, Earl's, to source Certified Humane beef has my social media feeds all fired up and full of furious tirades and accusations from farmers angered by the move away from Canadian beef.
I've read the statements from Earl's and I've read the criticisms from Canadian cattlemen and I continue to be stunned by the ignorance and defensiveness that seems to be growing rather than fading, despite more information being made available each day.
Earl's was pretty darn clear that they made the decision based on the demand FROM THEIR CUSTOMERS.  And that they only went to the US because they couldn't source enough Certified Humane meat from Canada. 
If I were a beef farmer, rather than tearing apart the Certified Humane label, I would very quickly be organizing a delegation and representative to approach Earl's and other higher end restaurants to see if there could be some assurance that if Certified Humane beef was available in volume in Canada, they would buy it (as they have said publicly, they would). 

This is a textbook case of consumers asking for something and instead of farmers seizing the opportunity, shouting back at the consumers that they are clearly idiots and "YOU WILL LIKE WHAT WE GIVE YOU!"

I can't help but compare it to the situation of GMO's where consumers continue over and over again to say they'd really prefer food without and yet, rather than find ways around them, farmers continue to expand their use and even when the benefits don't outstrip the non-GMO options, continue to insist that the consumer is wrong and ignorant to the realities of life. 

There's been a lot of misinformation about the Certified Humane label being passed around and although we don't use it at this point because its less stringent than organic, I read the indepth standards that Certified Humane farms are obligated to abide by and they're really comprehensive, detailed and fair.  Here's a couple excerpts:

H 1: Animal Health Plan

a.An Animal Health Plan (AHP) must be drawn up and regularly updated in consultation with a veterinarian.

b.The AHP(which is part of the Farm Plan) must include details of:

1.Nutrition program

2.Vaccination program

3.Parasite prevention;

4.Biosecurity and infectious disease protocols, including tolerance limits on overall herd performance;

5.Non-ambulatory (downer) animal procedure; and

6.Euthanasia for culling and emergencies

c.  Records must be kept of all medical/animal health procedures that are performed

Or this one:

Any cattle suffering from illness or injury must be treated without delay, and veterinary advice sought when needed. If necessary, such animals must be euthanized.

Or the intro to the Enviromental Objective section:

"The environment in which livestock are kept must take into account their welfare needs and must be designed to protect them from physical and thermal discomfort, fear, and distress, and allow them to perform their natural behavior.

NOTE:These standards are written for beef cattle, which are raised outdoors on range or pasture

 As someone who rents chickens to sometimes fairly ag-ignorant people, I am well aware of the fact that there is some elements of education needed, and that we can't let the public entirely dictate what happens with farming in Canada, I am so frustrated to note the complete lack of listening and learning on the part of conventional farmers.  I know many many beef farmers would meet and even surpass the standards set out by the Certified Humane label, but their resistance to being asked to look critically at their production and marketing decisions is making them look pretty foolish to those with money to spend on food with a third party assurance label. 
So my wish of all wishes is to have everyone ranting and raving, sit back and consider what an opportunity this might be. Are you meeting the standards now?  What would it take to get there?  If you are, can you justify the label?  Do the benefits (higher price) outweigh the extra work (some records and plans you're probably already keeping, or should)?
Let us not be angry with those who want to spend extra money for the assurance of meat raised on pastures, without preventative antibiotics, and the willingness to undergo an inspection and a little extra paperwork.  It won't be for everyone, but why not accommodate for those who can afford it?  I don't know about you, but rather than fire and brimstone, I see dollar signs.  

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