Food in the news
Maybe it's just me but it seems like food issues are in the news a lot more in the last while.
Certainly the XL Foods plant in Lakeside, Alta., has been a lead story for a few weeks. The massive recall of beef across the country and into the United States has garnered plenty of attention.
E coli in this plant, listeria at Maple Leaf Foods a few years ago, the e coli issues in spinach for the U.S. a while ago, as well as the peanut butter recall in the U.S., has made food recalls the big scary monster of the decade. Not to mention the devastation of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in 2003.
I think of devastation in terms of all involved in these issues. Certainly the people that get ill from consuming these products deserve compassion and compensation, plus consumers deserve an explanation and corrective action. The processing plants involved take a big hit for the recall and workers tend to be laid off while the issues are remediated. Farmers receive lower prices for their products until the consumer gains acceptance that the issues are resolved and the media cycle moves on to the next crisis.
Hard to believe that one plant can provide one-third of all the beef consumed in Canada, plus export to other countries.
I was shopping in one of the chain grocery stores last week when a customer asked the guy in the meat section about the beef. He wanted to know if it was safe and if it came from Western Canada. The response was that yes, it did come from the west. Nova Scotia couldn't supply all the beef required by the grocery chain, and yes the beef was safe.
True on both counts, I think. The meat is safe and federally inspected and also true that there isn't even close to enough beef production in Nova Scotia to supply our own needs.
In fact, we can only supply less than 10 per cent of our consumption. Nova Scotia grows great forages and has lots of idle land that could be growing beef. The trigger for growing more of our own beef supply is profitability.
Another big food story has been the U.S. drought and its effect on everything. Corn prices are through the roof at $8 a bushel, with a smaller crop in the U.S. mid-west.
Nova Scotia has been increasing the number of acres in corn and soybean as a result of the higher prices and although our weather was a bit dicey this year anecdotal evidence is that the crop was good although a bit difficult to harvest due to weather.
Interestingly, some of the large grain growers are looking to Manitoba, parts of Saskatchewan and Alberta for corn production. This has traditionally been wheat country but with new varieties of corn available and climate change, expect more corn to be grown in that part of Canada. Corn needs heat units to thrive and these provinces are projected to have an increase in temperature of three degrees by 2050, which will put more of the country in corn-growing territory.
The other story that caught my attention is again related to corn. Because of the increased costs of feed inputs the large corporate hog farm structures in the west have been in trouble. Maple Leaf Foods, which already produces 800,000 hogs a year in Western Canada, just bought the third largest hog farm Puratone, which had been in bankruptcy and a producer of 500,000 hogs per year, a sign of further integration in the hog industry.
We do seem to be losing the middle in agriculture as in other sectors. Farms are getting larger and others are staying small and servicing a niche. Not as much in Nova Scotia, perhaps, as in other parts of Canada and the U.S., but it does bear watching and it will affect how we farm here. The important thing is to adapt.
TAGLINE: Henry Vissers is the executive director of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. He lives with his family in Valley.