Posts

Why ‘hormone-free’ beef is no better for people or the environment

Last week on this blog we busted some common myths around beef production, including the ‘hormone-free’ myth. This week, we offer more facts about hormones and beef.

Foods and hormones

Dr. Roy Lewis, a veterinarian at Westlock Veterinary Center in Westlock, AB, told us that roughly 98 per cent of cattle in Canada are implanted with hormones, but in quantities significantly lower than would be naturally present in an intact (uncastrated) bull.

“In fact,” he continued, “many healthy, nutritious foods contain more hormones, serving for serving, than beef – foods such as cabbage, eggs, alfalfa sprouts and soy”.

Hormone levels in foodsNo one would suggest eliminating these healthy food options because of their naturally occurring hormones, and yet beef contains considerably less.

Research has also shown that hormones consumed in food are broken down in the stomach during digestion. They do not result in hormone spikes, even when consumed in high levels.

The environment and hormones

Cattle are implanted with hormones to promote growth. “This allows beef producers to produce more beef using less grain, less water and less time,” said Dr. Lewis. “The environmental benefits of producing more with less are significant.”

How marketing creates misconceptions

“There is no such thing as ‘hormone-free’ beef,” said Dr. Lewis. “All animals and plants produce hormones as part of their natural life-cycle.

The ‘hormone-free’ movement is a marketing scheme that attempts to create a differentiation that doesn’t exist. It seems to me that we’re taking a step backwards to promote this as something special, because there are no food safety benefits, and they’re suggesting that a less sustainable production method is somehow superior.

You can learn more about beef hormones, and read about food safety research on Alberta Beef’s Worried about Hormones? web page.

Check out the other myths we addressed in ‘Busted! 5 beef myths that don’t stand up to the facts’.

How a beef plant is setting a new standard in food safety

A beef processing plant which opened this year just north of Calgary is setting new industry standards for food safety, animal care and environmental stewardship.

This week, we’re exploring the food safety innovations introduced at Harmony Beef, which opened in Balzac, AB., in February 2017.

Hazard analysis and critical control points

The management team at Harmony Beef is committed to meeting or exceeding the stringent requirements of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Food Safety Enhancement Program.

One of the cornerstones of the program is HACCP System (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), a systematic approach to food safety that helps prevent, find and correct hazards throughout the production process.

At Harmony:

    • The plant and production protocols have been designed to meet European standards, which exceed those in North America.
    • Temperature control and air flow systems in the building were designed to control any potential microbial growth and prevent contamination.
    • Critical control points, where inspections and interventions take place, include everything from slaughter to packaging.
    • Supervisory and food safety personnel have the authority to enforce compliance with food safety systems on anyone entering and/or working in the facility.
    • All water used in the plant is treated, and the outflow exceeds Canadian drinking water standards.

Opening up a world of opportunity

Because the new plant demonstrably complies with European food safety standards, it provides the opportunity to increase our trade with EU countries.

International trade is crucial to the growth and sustainability of the beef industry, and to the contribution it makes to the Canadian economy. But, as you can learn in the blog post, Canadian beef in demand: feeding the European market and why it matters, Canada does not meet its tariff-free quota for beef exports to Europe. In the post, feedlot operator Jason Hagel says processing plants in Alberta tend to focus on the U.S. market, leaving the European market under-served.

You can read about another international trade issue concerning Canada’s beef producers in Canadian beef trade with China takes a serious blow.

In upcoming weeks, we will explore the high standards of animal care, including low-stress handling, and the environmental innovations introduced at the Harmony plant.

Why Alberta’s farmers are crying out for a plastics recycling program

Plastics are commonly used on Alberta’s farms, for instance in the form of baler twine, bale wrap, silage tarps, and feed bags. But how to responsibly dispose of them is an ongoing problem as their use increases.

To date, much of this material cannot be recycled because it cannot be burned or buried, leaving farmers with the problem of what they should do with it.

Working group addresses issue of plastics recycling

In December 2016, a working group was formed to find solutions to the problem of agricultural plastics recycling. The Agricultural Plastics Recycling Group consists of representatives from the following organizations:

Because the provincial government has not provided direction on a policy for Extended Producer Responsibility for agricultural plastics, the group decided at its December meeting to start by bringing stakeholders together on the topic. From January to June 2017, the group met with more than half a dozen producer groups (representing dairy, beef, and crop farmers, among others) to discuss the topics and issues of ag plastics waste and recycling.

One of the group’s conclusions was the need for a provincial stewardship program to provide a responsible, sustainable solution for agricultural plastic recycling. This need was also identified by Alberta’s Agricultural Service Board. It had passed a resolution in 2016, that the Ministry of Environment and Parks and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (Research) should develop and implement an agricultural plastics recycling program modelled after the pilot program in Saskatchewan.

Drafting a policy framework

The Agricultural Plastics Recycling Association decided at a meeting in June 2017 that its next step would be to host a half-day meeting with all interested stakeholders to work on a draft policy framework to present to the provincial government. This meeting took place in August 2017. Alberta Environment and Parks provided a provincial update while discussion points included program examples from other jurisdictions, and the technical realities of manufacturing agricultural plastics.

Producer groups were given an opportunity to provide feedback on what they need from a plastics recycling program. ACFA noted there are a host of stewardship programs for other materials that could inform the agriculture community about how to deal with handling and recycling plastics. While most of these programs are user-pay, ACFA pointed out that there needs to be some involvement and commitment from suppliers in any program. This may be in the form of providing infrastructure such as plastic rollers and bins, to helping with initial start-up costs or awareness advertising.

How would a provincially regulated stewardship program affect Alberta producers?

A provincially regulated recycling program would ensure that producers in all agricultural-intensive regions of the province would have access to recycling programs. It’s understood that there will likely be an Environmental Handling Fee applied to agricultural plastics purchases to fund the recycling program, but this is a problem which requires an affordable, responsible and sustainable solution.

Environmental stewardship is one of the four primary pillars on which ACFA focuses its activities. You can read more about this on our Environment Pillar page.

Bill 17: Farm workers’ right to unionize bad for both farms and employees

The provincial government’s move to grant farm workers the right to form a union, known as Bill 17, raises concerns about the legislation’s impact on farms and ranches.

While the Alberta Agriculture Farm and Ranch Safety Coalition (AgCoalition) and Alberta’s agriculture industry understand the importance and value of many of these changes in the law, they do not feel the application of the labour code to farms and ranches will result in more healthy, fair or safe workplaces.

In a previous blog post, we presented the straight facts on Bill 17 and unionization in Alberta’s agriculture industry. Now, here is the industry’s perspective on how Bill 17 could affect agriculture in Alberta:

Changes that will affect farmers and ranchers

Alberta’s revised Labour Relations Code will apply to the agricultural sector, and will give waged, non-family employees the ability to unionize — if they choose — and to bargain collectively.

The maximum duration of a union drive has been expanded from 90 days to 180, giving employees and union representatives a much longer period to organize and recruit union membership.

If more than 65 per cent of employees demonstrate an intention to join, a vote is not necessary to certify a union.

The negative impact of unionization  

This hybrid certification process would rob employees of their democratic right to a secret ballot and could result in undue pressure on an employee, either from union representatives or fellow employees, to support unionization. Extensive research shows employees are more honest about their feelings towards unionization when given the opportunity to make the decision privately.

If more than 40 but less than 65 per cent of employees demonstrate an intention to join, a secret ballot vote must be held.

The 65 per cent threshold, combined with the lack of a minimum number of employees required to form a union, could put smaller operations at a particular disadvantage. For example, an operation with three employees could unionize almost immediately — without the knowledge of all employees or the employer — should two employees sign a union card.

The bill proposes to exclude family members from the Labour Relations Code, and will allow government to appoint a Public Emergency Tribunal (PET) to end a dispute and arbitrate an agreement, if a strike or lockout could harm livestock or damage crops.

While the formation of a PET would protect crops and livestock, it could take a long time for a tribunal to form and make a decision, allowing for potential damage to crops and livestock. Removal of the right to strike/lockout would avoid this situation altogether.

Even though it was strongly opposed by agriculture industry members, Bill 17 also introduced first contract arbitration. This type of legislation will damage the industry’s employer-employee relationships and excludes the farming/ranching community from participating in the resolution process.

The government’s Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act information page provides more information on the changes proposed under Bill 17. The AgCoalition has also written an analysis of Bill 17 (PDF.)

And check out this Edmonton Journal op-ed by Ken Kobly, president and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce for a look at how damaging Bill 17 could be to the economy.

Infographic: How does Alberta produce world-class beef?

Canadian beef – and Alberta’s in particular – is internationally recognized for its quality and taste. But what are the key difference makers in Alberta beef production? What sets our province apart?

Take a look at our infographic below to gain a better understanding of how Alberta’s cattle feeders produce world-class beef. For more information, check out our overview of beef production in Alberta.

Beef production in Alberta:

Beef production