“If we truly value having a hog industry in Alberta, and all the spinoffs it creates to the economy, then put some pork on your fork, make sure it’s Canadian pork, or Alberta pork better yet, and get behind our industry.”
Pork producers from across Alberta drove and bussed into downtown Calgary July 10 for a lunchtime pork industry crisis rally in the heart of Stampede time. The goal was to send home the message that the industry needs a healthy serving of government and consumer support.
BBQ pork sandwiches were served to over 2,400 supporters and another 600 pork sandwiches donated to the Mustard Seed Street Ministry. The end result, says Alberta Pork, is that producers believe their message is being heard and they will keep up the pressure for immediate assistance.
Along with producers and representatives packing plants, feed mills, agribusiness and a throng of local media, hundreds of the public filed into McDougall Centre grounds to show their support, enjoy a free pork lunch and hear speeches by producers, government representatives and even a “local food” advocate – all touting the urgency of the crisis and of saving an industry on the verge of collapse across Canada.
A year that began with hopes of being a modest recovery year for the industry has been walloped by a range of challenges topped off by the H1N1 flu. Pork producers urged government to aid with the current liquidity crisis and consumers to help “eat their way out of the problem” by asking for and purchasing a couple extra meals of Canadian pork each week.
“These are challenging times, but it is really a great sight to see all of the people who have come out here today to support the industry,” said Dan Majeau, a pork producer active in all areas of production and processing, and one of the principals of Sturgeon Valley Pork.
Majeau took the podium to speak on the plight of pork producers. There is concern if nothing is done as much as half of the province’s 450 pork producers will soon be forced to exit the industry. “These farmers are not easily replaced. If we truly value having a hog industry in Alberta, and all the spinoffs it creates to the economy, then put some pork on your fork, make sure it’s Canadian pork, or Alberta pork better yet, and get behind our industry.”
Pork production can recover and have a strong future if action is taken quickly, said Majeau. “Like all structures the pork industry must be built on a good foundation. Primary production is that foundation. We’re raising the safest, best-quality pork that is world renowned. But today that foundation is weakened. It needs some repair and maintenance to make sure the rest of the industry does not collapse.”
“We are here is the midst of the Calgary Stampede, which has built a worldwide reputation as the greatest outdoor show on Earth based on its agricultural heritage,” said pork producer spokesperson John Middel. “Ironically, we may be seeing the end of a core part of those agricultural roots, our pork industry.”
Middel, one of several producer and industry speakers on the day, said governments need to hear that producers need help now. “We cannot wait three months. Producers have been hit with a combination of devastating factors, all beyond their control. They include a high Canadian dollar and high feed grain prices, the H1N1 flu outbreak which affected trade and now a drought forcing feed grain prices up further.”
The impact of losing pork producers will be broad, including for processing plants and industry suppliers, said Middel.
“Some people may say if producers can’t make it on their own they shouldn’t be in business. But these producers have invested their lives in their operations to produce quality pork and the despair they are feeling is real. I don’t think that as a nation and as a province, we want to turn our backs on these Canadian food providers.”
Alberta Pork is the association representing pork producers in the province. Those numbers have dropped to fewer than 450 producers today from 1,500 five years ago.