“This is something that needs to be looked at. I’m sure that people would prefer to buy Alberta pork over American.”
Farm assurance programs and third-party certification can help producers to get more money for their product, says Mark Brooking, a consultant from Genesis, a United Kingdom-based inspection firm.
Brooking is involved with farm assurance and inspection and evaluates food production around the world. He has been hired by Alberta Pork to help it move into a farm assurance platform.
One of the ways for an industry to acquire a market is to sell itself, said Brooking, who has already toured several farms in the province. “From what I’ve seen so far, you’ve got an awful lot to offer. Production systems are very good and the quality of agriculture here is excellent,” he said.
He told pork producers at a recent regional Alberta Pork meeting here that farm assurance has already been implemented in several countries. Brooking said consumers have been affected by food scares and a growing interest in animal welfare issues. “There are a number of organizations out there that are very well funded and they’re looking to get headlines out there in the press all the time,” he said.
Research has shown that Canadians feel it is important to treat farm animals humanely, and concern over animal welfare is growing. Retailers focus on what consumers want and there is a growing emphasis on corporate social responsibility. Animal welfare figures into many corporate and social responsibility activities which are detailed in retailers’ annual reports, Brooking said.
He advised producers not to think of these trends as a threat, but as opportunities, and to consider ways in which they can work with retailers.
WHERE’S THE PORK?
Brooking said he was amazed by how difficult it was to find Canadian or Alberta pork in Canada. “This is something that needs to be looked at. I’m sure that people would prefer to buy Alberta pork over American,” he said.
Brooking described Red Tractor, a quality and origin mark used in the UK. The project was started by processors who wanted to impose standards on farmers. Retailers eventually became involved and the co-operation created a product line which now brings in retail sales of about 10 billion pounds (C$17 billion) annually.
Red Tractor defines standards for agricultural products, assures compliance with regulations and assures that products are created in a specified manner. “Any product with a Red Tractor on it has to meet certain criteria,” said Brooking. The organization tries to communicate these standards and relays the benefits back to the consumers, who are looking for quality products.
Using the Red Tractor organization is a way of industry self-regulation, and allows for independent inspection.”I think it actually prevents over-regulation,” said Brooking.
Creating the Red Tractor brand allowed producers and industry players to communicate with a wide range of food buyers and allowed various producer groups to come together.
Red Tractor is now owned by large food chains in the United Kingdom and has created brand awareness and product recognition among consumers. The standards of the Red Tractor certification encompass standards such as food safety, environmental protection and animal welfare.
Most UK products now come from assured farms, though this was not the case about 10 years ago, said Brooking. “Ninety percent of the pork is assured and this is the case across other sectors,” he said.
Brooking said the creation of Red Tractor has encouraged co-operation across various sectors and has helped create a fully integrated food system. “In hard times, fully integrated systems actually protect producers,” he said.
Brooking encouraged Canadian producers to embrace farm assurance. “Don’t be afraid of it. Be involved and inclusive and bring other people on board,” he said.
He sees the process as a way to open new markets while protecting existing ones.
Brooking recommends that inspection on Canadian farms be done by Canadians.
“What you’re doing now is good. What you should do is get it independently inspected, validated and market it,” he said.