Time to Speak Up

“While what we are about to show you is from one farm in one community, we’re told this can happen and is happening across the country,” stated Lloyd Robertson to a prime time audience on Saturday night.  I don’t know if I’ve ever had such a strong motivation to start writing…that night I was tempted to sit down at my computer and bang out an angry retort.  In the end I decided to give myself a cool down period to make sure that I didn’t say anything stupid in the heat of the moment (not that I’ve done that before).

I am a 6th generation Canadian farmer; my family has fed Canadians almost as long as Canada has been a country.  Like my predecessors, I have a strong respect for the livestock I care for and the land that I farm.  But one thing transcends this level of respect, the call to feed the world.  It is impossible to explain this call – it is an intense feeling of responsibility to feed people while making sure that we are doing it in the most sustainable way possible so that coming generations will be able to grow food.  If farmers fail at their job, people starve.  It is a heavy burden.

In Canada today most people get out of bed never worrying about going hungry, there is always a meal around the corner at the grocery store.  This strong sense of food security is what allows Canadians to worry about paying for a house, a car, university tuition, or the welfare of the animal they are eating.  If the vast majority of Canadians didn’t know how they were going to pay for their next meal do you think they would worry about sows being confined in a gestation crate?  No, they would want to make sure that they could buy a piece of pork as cheaply as possible so that they could feed their family.

I am not trying to use poverty as a justification for the practices shown in the video published by Mercy for Animals Canada (MFAC) however I feel it is important to point out the bind that farmers have been put in.  For the entirety of human history non-farmers have demanded that food be produced as cheaply as possible and when the population exploded in the second half of the 20th century we were forced to industrialize our farms.  This desire for cheap food is what has made the romanticised pastoral farm a thing of the past. Farmers did the best with the knowledge they had at the time.

Today we live in a different time, a vocal minority has some serious issues with the way we raise our animals and their concerns are not without cause.  Producers have already started investing in research to help lay out the best way to transition to loose sow housing, alternatives to castration are being developed, etc.  You see, the farmer’s pursuit for the betterment of animal welfare never ends.

In the coming days I am going to try and give a little more insight into why we do what we do and how we can make it better.  I am not trying to convince those at MFAC that eating animals is ok; we have a fundamental philosophical divide in that regard.  What I will try to do is prove to the meat eating public that what they saw on Saturday was a misrepresentation of my industry.  Like much of our “news” today, this video used snippets of truth to cast sweeping generalizations about the pork industry…stay tuned to hear my side of the story.

Tagged , , , ,

13 thoughts on “Time to Speak Up

  1. Ruth Claessens says:

    Looking forward to reading and sharing your insights.

  2. Blain says:

    I agree with everything in your post Stew, but to be honest I didn’t mind the W5 piece either. Of course it had the ridiculous “investigative journalism” slant where one side of an issue is depicted as right and the other as wrong, but in terms of actual content I thought it was generally accurate. Based on my admittedly 10 year outdated knowledge of the hog industry it correctly identified industry acceptable practices (gestation stalls, castration without anesthesia, use of bold pistols) and also identified that some of the activities performed by workers in the videos were concerned unacceptable by industry or were poorly executed do to lack of adequately trained personnel.

    The W5 piece glossed over it very quickly but it also mentioned the fact that industry groups were investigating changing their practices (such as moving to group housing) but that the industry economic challenges and the large capital cost required to make these changes were major hurdles to be overcome.

    At the end of the day, as both you and the animal welfare groups recognize, the real driver of change is the consumer pocketbook. If an improved understanding of how industrial farming (I hope that is the politically correct term these days) actually creates a willingness among consumers to pay a premium for “humanely raised” pork, then that can only be of benefit to the Canadian pork industry. If you are able to create a separate market with higher margins for this product, that will not only allow farmers to fund some of the capital changes required to improve animal welfare, but has the potential to improve profitability of hog farming overall.

    That is just my initial reactions, feel free to critique, I may be totally naive and off base.

    • Donald Skinner says:

      I agree Blain that much of the information presented in the W5 piece was accurate. However it is the light in which the information was presented that makes it an unfair representation of the hog farming. Slow-motion shots of dead piglets will make anyone feel uncomfortable, yet you know, as I do, when you are raising a large number of animals there will inevitably be some that die. There is no pretty way to present this, and we do our very best to limit those that die, but when disturbing images are presented like this, it casts farms and farmers in a very negative light.

      Somebody further below has posed the question of ‘why the person filming shot this video’ and this is something I have been struggling with since watching it. Near the end of the piece, the mystery person from Mercy for Animals states that they feel these problems would not exist if people did not eat meat and that they are trying to encourage people to move to vegetarianism. If this is the case, then the information they present (about 10 minutes out of a 10 month period) is immediately going to be biased to this purpose.

      I know there are improvements that need to be made to improve animal welfare and, as Stewart mentioned, producer groups and other parties have been investing in this type of research for a number of years. However, it is also important to consider Stewart’s desire to produce food cheaply for people worldwide. In Canada and the US we spend, on average, about 9% and 7% of our total income on food. Not much when compared to 25+% in much of Central and South America, 35+% in much of Asia and 35+% in many African nations. While a 2 or 3% increase in food costs would be irritating to some here in Canada, it would be devastating to others around the world.

      It is important to keep that in mind as we consider a video like this and when we discuss what actions should be taken across our industry. Well we we are in the business of trying to make a living, we are also in the business of feeding the world.

  3. molajen says:

    Hey Stewart,

    See the news release put out by the Center for Food Integrity, http://www.foodintegrity.org, on the W5 episode. Good perspective there for us non-farmers on current industry practices.


  4. Charles Bon Valery says:

    I respectfully submit that you are wrong. There is no justification for gestation crates. None whatsoever. Period. Nobody has starved because pigs moved around.

    • Mary Ann Hendrikx says:

      Actually, crates were installed in the 1990’s to give sows a place they wouldn’t be bullied by more agressive sows. In our barn those with a choice take the stalls. As for starving, farmers would starve if they had to deal with the labour required to produce enough pigs to make a living in a barnyard environment

    • Kevin says:

      Respectfully, can you justify your comment? Do you have quantitative evidence that sows that are in open-concept housing have a better quality of life while maintaining farrowing numbers that are economically viable? Perhaps looking into the research could help. I point you toward the multiple (!) papers that have been produced in a research setting such as the Arkell Research Facility in Guelph, Ontario, associated with the University of Guelph.

      • Charles Bon Valery says:

        The u of Guelph research? Please. There’s worldwide research available & animals need to move.

    • Steve says:

      @Charles Bon Valery – You sound to me that you are another expert on pig farming. If you know anything about sows and gestation crates you would not have wasted your time posting this ridiculous reply. Respectfully, what makes you an expert on pig farming and the gestation crate issue?

      • Charles Bon Valery says:

        Keeping sows in crates is wrong. You are defending the indefensible. It is no way to raise farm animals. I have sheep, pigs, chickens, and three horses. A mixed farm. Driving past the disgraceful intensive-confinement operations are sickening. The stocks men I know hate their jobs. People who cage their animals aren’t real farmers.

  5. Kelley says:

    Investigative reports like this one on W5 usually makes me ask my own 5 W’s. When was the video taken. Where was is it actually done? What were the real Circumstances? Why did the person doing the filming carry it out. Who was really the parties involved? Today’s livestock industry almost always focuses on animal comfort. A happy animial is a productive animal.

    • Charles Bon Valery says:

      Cliches abound here. Animal comfort in a 3000 caged sow operation? The animals are a mess and still productive. AI and cages and away you go.

      • Steve says:

        Charles, the way that you insist on cutting our livelihood and our operations down is ridiculous and hurtful when 99.9% of us are doing everything 100% . No one here has or should say anything negatively about your mixed farming operation. I assume that you are caring for your animals and your operation to the fullest of your ability. Maybe you should have an open mind and assume the same thing is going on in all farming operations when you go for a drive. The same thing with the stocks men hating there jobs, those are the men you know, what about all the other stock PEOPLE that you do not know. If the stock men you know are as close minded and half as negative as you towards pig farming and gestation stalls that would suggest why they hate there jobs and maybe they should consider employment in an other field. This industry needs top notch and focused people in our operations!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: