Setting the Record Straight

Knowing where food comes from is becoming increasingly more important to consumers. Food retailers, producers and processors realize this and are making a conscious effort to meet that consumer demand. With local, organic and natural food labels popping up everywhere it is hard to decipher or recognize what all of these labels really mean. Health foods are a hot commodity these days and food marketers are cashing in on consumer interest and sometimes their lack of agriculture/nutrition knowledge. I recently attended a butchering class in an urban setting and I must admit that I was quite appalled by the amount of misinformation being spread about agriculture and meat production in Ontario. This is why I am going to take this chance to clear up any misconceptions.  It is very important to help consumers get back to the basics of where their food really comes from. 

Myth #1: Conventional agriculture is not environmentally sustainable

You, your parents, and your grandparents have likely been raised on food that is a product of conventional farming – this is not a bad thing. Farmers have to continue to grow food on the same land year after year, so it is in their best interest to adapt sustainable agricultural practises. Farmers are planners; they use practises that are sustainable so that they can continue to use and make a profit from their resources (like crops and livestock). Also, farmers must meet provincial and federal standards on everything from animal welfare, environment, to their barn constructions. To date, over 35,800 Ontario farmers have participated at least once in the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) process since 1993.  In addition, Ontario farmers must be trained and certified to purchase and use pesticides under Ontario’s Pesticides Act – they have reduced their use of pesticides by over 40% since 1983.  Farmers work hard to provide you with fresh products in an environmentally sustainable way.

Myth #2: That unlabeled meat in super markets is from Ontario or Canada

Some of the meat in your grocery store is from other countries. Many of the large retailers tell us that this is because they need to make higher profit margins, that pork from the United States or other countries is lower priced, or that they cannot source enough pork to meet the demand for their feature activity (e.g. ribs or tenderloin). We believe the search for Ontario or Canadian pork will be worth it to the consumer as purchasing local meat boosts our economy and supports our agriculture industry. Below are some tips to help you chose Canadian Pork:

Look for the Logo: The red and white Canadian Pork label in the meat case helps consumers to identify Canadian Pork, while the Foodland Ontario symbol helps to identify food that is specifically from Ontario.

Barcode number: You can also identify fresh Canadian pork at retail by looking at a barcode number, although this is only done for products packed at federally inspected plants. A federally registered establishment is an establishment registered under either the Meat Inspection Act, Fish Inspection Act or the Canada Agricultural Products Act and which are permitted to ship food products from province to province as well as out of Canada.

There is an establishment (est) number on the package that helps with identification. Keep in mind though that if the meat is cut in store there is no way to tell where it is from.

Ask at the meat counter: If all else fails, just ask, if enough customers ask retailers if their meat was produced in Canada the retailers will realize that this is important to consumers- send a message with your purchase and help local producers.

Myth #3: Organic farming is better than conventional

Organic farming is simply a choice much the same as conventional farming. Organic and conventionally grown products have the same nutrients, making them equally healthy to the public.

As for impact on the environment, conventional farmers use sustainable practises just as much as organic producers. A farmer will always look for the most sustainable and cost effective way to produce a product.

Myth #4: Well water is not good for you or pigs

I was shocked that anyone would suggest that well water is not good for you? Not only do farmers give their livestock well water, they even, gasp… drink it themselves! Going even further, most rural residents use a well as their main source of water and have their water checked regularly.  Also, I would like to point out that I have been drinking well water my entire life and am just fine (or so I like to think).  Most Ontarians receive their water from a municipal water system that is required to meet strict monitoring, testing and reporting requirements.

John Stager, Ontario’s Chief Drinking Water Inspector, reported in 2009-10, that more than 600,000 tests were conducted on samples from Ontario’s drinking water systems. 99.88 per cent of results from municipal residential drinking water systems met Ontario’s rigorous health-based standards. But many homes and businesses get their water from other sources, including private wells and non-municipal systems. Ontario well regulations along with their requirements and best practises helps ensure that all water fed to animals and humans is safe.

For more information visit: http://www.portal.gov.on.ca/ONT/portal61/drinkingwater/Combo?docId=STEL01_049359&breadcrumbLevel=1&lang=en&comboTarget=

Myth #5: Pigs eat and are fed everything

Pigs are fed a balanced diet that includes vitamins and minerals – consisting primarily of grains (corn, grain and soy beans). The majority of farms use vegetable grain fed diets. Pigs are naturally omnivores and their diet requires high levels of protein. In my personal experience I have mostly seen pigs fed a combination of corn (for carbohydrates), soy mile (for protein) and pre mix (a vitamin mixture). Pigs are curious animals that will eat many different foods, although, just like any other animal there are foods that are good for the pig and bad for the pig. Lots of research has gone into the proper ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and vitamins that pigs need in order to grow and stay healthy. The University of Guelph even has a whole course dedicated to this one topic entitled Swine Nutrition.

All in all, farmers are trying to produce the best quality product for their consumers at the best price. Consumers have become so disconnected from their food that without farmers many would have no idea how to start growing and producing their own food. So next time you hear something about agriculture or pork production make sure to take the time and ask questions. Is this information from a reliable source? What evidence do they have to back up these claims? Remember, farmers feed cities!

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