Behind the Lines - June 2008

Fewer days to market and less backfat. Generations of Ontario’s conventional pork producers have striven to improve on those goals. Along the way, they have adapted practices to give consumers more abundant and cheaper food. Now, for producers with operations that are “are a fit” for production with different goals, there are different market opportunities. Witness the recent interest in food trends towards local food and also towards specialty products such as Berkshire pork.

Niche market production isn’t for everyone, as writers Don Stoneman and Mary Baxter spell out in their story beginning on page 6. Commodity pork, from a producer’s point of view, will certainly continue to have its place, especially in day-to-day diets of families with children and teenagers to feed.

But specialty niche markets are another matter. Génétiporc sales representative Jerry Koert, who arranged for Better Pork to take photographs on Mennonite and Amish farms supplying the special needs of Quebec packer duBreton’s Humane Pork program, laid out a scenario of a dinner party where the cost of the meal’s ingredients isn’t an issue.
The centrepiece of the dinner is a specialty cut of meat, with special attributes. Perhaps it is organic. Perhaps it was raised to the standards of the Humane Pork program on straw bedding and with lots of room for the sow and litter. Regardless, that meat and its attributes, become part of an enjoyable and unique dinner conversation, Koert told Better Pork.

DuBreton isn’t alone. Other companies such as Quality Meat Packers and a host of smaller businesses are creating their own niche markets and also have a keen eye for the market they are trying to reach. Still, a producer has to wonder if these specialty markets will hold up in the face of grave concerns about an economic recession south of the border and a looming world grain shortage.

Few would argue that Europe has led the way with animal welfare. It’s no surprise, therefore, that castration has been a hot topic in Europe for decades. In the last issue of Better Pork, we noted that Switzerland had already banned piglet castration without anesthetic and that Norway is to follow suit in January of next year. Dutch retailers and fast food outlets have announced that, beginning in January, they will no longer sell pork from male hogs not anesthetized during castration.

In our Eye on Europe section this month, European correspondent Norman Dunn reviews the alternatives to castration and explains why immuno-castration vaccination is making inroads in Europe. Australia, New Zealand and Mexico have already gone this route. Will Canada and the United States be far behind?

And, finally, one issue affecting both conventional and niche market producers is Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus (PRRSV). University of Montreal researchers say that it’s costing the industry up to $150 million annually. On page 22, Kate Procter reports on one Ontario operation which has embraced a new approach to preventing the spread of this disease. It’s been evaluated by the university researchers and they say results look promising from both a cost and benefit perspective. 


Better Pork - June 2008