It seems that Canadian industrial hog farmers have forgotten why food exists.
They have forgotten that food is for eating, and not just for selling. It just so happened that due to the industrial revolution, and the creation and eventual popularization of city living, that many people who eat food stopped raising or growing their own food. Consequently, some people made more food than they needed and then sold or traded it to the people who weren't making it themselves.
But, first and foremost, food is for eating.
Three powerhouses of the Canadian meat industry, the Canadian Pork Council, Canada Pork International, and the Canadian Meat Council, have sent a letter to Chuck Strahl, the Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, appealing to the federal government to help Big Canadian Pork with "competitiveness issues" in the pork industry. Titled "Canadian Pork Value Chain" and adorned with a decidedly unrepresentative sow and piglet, the report identifies "five components of competitiveness that need to be addressed within the next year. These include issues related to reducing the costs of doing business; maintaining a viable labour force; fostering innovation; managing operational risk; and exploiting export markets."
Rather than ask for help in figuring out how to raise healthy pigs in a sustainable manner, the 23-page report (PDF) asks that the federal government help them to become less sustainable. Among other requests, the report asks that new international markets be found so production can be increased in their already overcrowded facilities, that they get help preparing for animal disease, and that they loosen the regulations of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program so the wealthy factory owners can bring in more "low-skilled workers."
We aren't scientists here at the Ethicurean, but might it not be better if we avoided the causes of disease, rather than prepared for them? Couldn't this avoidance be achieved partly by not exposing our facilities to further disease by increasing their capacities? Does Canada really need to export more pigs to other countries, especially the United States, itself the world's third-largest hog producer (after China and the E.U.) and to which we sold 8.2 million pigs in 2006? These are just a few questions that come to mind while glancing over the recommendations of the report.
Big Pork wants the government to use public funds to pay for the rising cost of vaccines, which would possibly not be necessary if not for the horrific conditions in which the pigs are forced to live out their short, tortured lives. Canadian Big Pork is also blaming the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (aka the CFIA, the Canadian equivalent of America's FDA) for adding expenses to the cost of pork production, expenditures that the producers "have no control over." I suppose they would prefer that the government not inspect or regulate their practices, but since they are regulated and inspected, then they think the cost should be paid by the public twice — once directly in the form of tax dollars and then again built into the price of our food.
In terms of innovation, Big Pork finds that the Canadian drug and licensing approval system is inefficient, mostly because of "delays in the regulatory process," which means that there may be a possibility that drugs are actually being reviewed thoroughly before being approved. The report recommends that more public funds be spent to create an advisory council to "develop a program of drug regulatory process reform that is both timely and responsive to the needs of producers." Once again, we aren't policy experts or scientists here, but it should seem obvious that the goal of a "regulatory process" is to be responsive to the consumer — not to the producer. We do not need to spend money to try and convince ourselves otherwise.
I've often wondered if the owners of factory pig farms eat pork from their own facilities. Do the owners of big grocery chains eat the food from their own stores? It seems that many people have forgotten that food is for eating, which not only keeps us alive, but makes us healthy and also gives us pleasure. Big Pork has clearly demonstrated in this report that they no longer consider the consumer to be a significant part of the process, and they expect we will buy and eat whatever they want to sell us.
Clearly this report is only addressing the economic interests of the hog farmers, and not the health of Canadians and other nations importing our products, nor the health of the pigs, the soil, the water, or the air. Chuck Strahl, unless you are being bribed by the hog industry, there is no reason to take this report or its recommendations seriously. If you do consider their requests, then I have a few requests of my own that involve the government giving me loads of money and changing several federal laws so my own company can make billions of dollars at the expense of others.
One way to do something about this is to buy pork only from sources you know are sustainable. That means hogs not raised in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), where the hogs live out their lives on slatted floors, never seeing a speck of mud or a blade of grass, eating genetically modified corn and soy pellets liberally laced with antibiotics. Instead, look for small farmers who live near where they raise their animals — chances are good they are disposing of their waste properly, not spraying it on nearby lands or dumping it in a public waterway. Not only will you be eating food that is healthier for you and the environment, but it will taste better. You can find sources of sustainably raised meats at many health food stores, farmers markets, and also from CSAs that sell vegetables.
Look around for good-quality food, it will be worth it.
You can also send the government a message, telling them that you are aware of what is going on and you that disagree with it.
I urge you to send an e-mail to Chuck Strahl, Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and let him know what you think. Below is a sample that you can use if you don't have the time or don't feel articulate enough to express yourself on this very important matter.
Dear Mr. Strahl,
I am aware of the letter and report that was sent sent to you by the Canadian Pork Council, Canada Pork International, and the Canadian Meat Council. I strongly disagree with Canadian tax dollars being spent to help industrial pig farmers be more competitive on an international level. I strongly feel that any tax dollars and government efforts being spent on the food supply be focused towards more sustainable methods of pig farming, with more attention paid to the environment, the quality of the food, the health of the animals raised and ultimately the people who eat them, rather than the financial prosperity of the pig factory owners.
(your name here)
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