5 , 2004: Last year, Ontario Pork, in an unprecedented
decision, ordered “that effective March 1st, 2004, hogs
marketed for slaughter by Ontario (pork) producers must be
meat and bone meal free from birth.” Last week, Ontario
Pork held a public consultation on the merits of this change.
The Christian Farmers Federation was at the hearing to raise
some important issues.
Meat and bone meal – MBM for short – in pig rations
became an issue when Maple Leaf Pork, Ontario’s largest
pork processor at 45,000 pigs per week, asked its contract
producers to remove MBM from their market hog rations. Maple
Leaf told the hearing that they were simply responding to
requests from customers in Japan-- in the shadow of one case
of mad cow disease in Canada.
Ontario Pork’s decision to get involved with a ban
on MBM in all market hog rations was well-intentioned –
find a way for pork producers to be compensated for such an
initiative. There was general agreement at the hearing that
MBM-free rations cost two to three dollars more per hog. Some
farmers may be willing to sign onto a costly point of differentiation
without financial guarantees. But why should they?
Maple Leaf Pork is treating a sector that is made up of dynamic
entrepreneurs like a supply chain that it owns. It appears
that hog contracts can be used to erode the role of farmers
in the marketplace and turn a value chain into a supply chain.
What has happened to farmer choice? Why should farmers be
left with the bill for retraining, new technology, more complex
management practices and additional operating costs?
MBM-free rations call attention to a disconnect in the food
chain. Consumers do not always make food purchases based on
nutrition or value for money. Sizzle and hype, trust and a
farmer’s face on it, all play a role. Branding strategies
capture these consumer values through focus groups and consumer
surveys. Meanwhile, back on the farm, food production is rooted
in sound management practices and good science. Changing farm
management practices and reducing the importance of good science
in response to what could be a branding fad poses high risks
for long-term public appreciation of on-farm practices.
At the hearing, a spokesperson for Quality Meat Packers,
Ontario’s second largest pork processor, supported the
ban. They’ve already made the ban part of the story,
they tell their customers. MBM-free pork positions the Ontario
pork herd and the pork value chain a cut above the competition.
MBM-free pork is part of the story that keeps their foot in
It‘s great to be “doing it better,” but
it’s not sustainable without a return for farmers.
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