Meat: Market-driven Madness?
Are Avian flu, BSE and e-coli contaminated hamburger alerts isolated incidents or are they the harbingers of future food safety crises in Canada?
Large industrial livestock facilities are displacing family farm producers and most of our meat is being processed in a few giant meatpacking plants. The scale of production has increased, ownership and control has become highly concentrated and consumers are farther and farther from the sources of their food.
When efforts to increase profit margins mean costs are off-loaded onto workers, farmers, rural communities, consumers and the environment, our health and the safety of the food we eat is compromised. Furthermore, the power wielded by the agribusiness and pharmaceutical giants threatens the integrity of our regulatory system.
At this workshop we will examine the current meat safety situation and look for ways to do something about it. ………..
1. Production, Processing and Distribution – The shift to vertically integrated industrial livestock production methods a. Concentration of production (animals, manure, slaughterhouses) i. Factory farming = high volume of production for least cost in shortest time ii. centralized processing as vector for wide-spread food contamination iii. de-skilling, high turn-over rate and line speed-ups at meat packers make it harder to ensure quality b. Corporate control i. Maple Leaf, Olymel, Tyson, Cargill, Lilydale – vertical integration, contract farming, production and processing ii. Weston, Safeways – retail sector c. Capital intensive i. Few jobs, focus on computerized systems, standardization of animal genetics, etc. to produce standardized product ii. High capital overhead – millions of $ invested, high debt load
iii. need to maximize revenue to pay financing results in continued full production in face of falling prices d. Use of drugs i. High stress environment, push for high productivity use of prophylactic antibiotics and growth and reproductive hormones ii. antibiotics in feed and issue of antibiotic resistance developing iii. hormones for growth promotion, cancer links iv. e-coli 0157, feedlots and kidney failure e. Externalizing costs i. health threats caused by factory farming practices (air, water, soil pollution) 1. occupational respiratory diseases 2. H2S poisoning 3. Effects of odour 4. Depression
2. Regulations – The good, the bad and the really offensive! a. “Smart” regulations – overview b. Risk management versus precautionary principle i. changes to Health Canada’s food and drug regulations to shift mandate from safety to risk management, pressure from pharmaceutical industry, US livestock system for quick approvals and harmonized regs. c. Who bears the risks/who reaps the benefits? d. Whistle-blowers versus pharmaceutical corporations e. Harmonization and Nesting of regulatory regimes — Implications for democracy 3. Structural stability — Economics of ILOs versus Family Farms a. Market failures – recent hog company bankruptcies b. Trade failures – BSE and the US border closing – impact on cattle, lamb and bison farmers; potential for US countervail on hogs c. Disease failures – Factory farming and the Avian flu cull – Were the CFIA’s draconian measures necessary? Impact on small producers d. Provincial policy bandwagon – livestock as value added diversification (not!) e. High fixed costs versus low fixed costs and the disruption of the “4 year price cycle for hogs”
4. Principles for safe, secure and sustainable meat supply a. Family farm based production b. Regional dispersed processing c. Appropriate regulation and inspection system d. Local food sovereignty, local economic development e. Goldschmidt Hypothesis – Small Farm economics study f. Marketing systems i. single desk selling. Vertical integration versus single desk selling (one big buyer, big contracts + many small sellers versus one collective seller, several different sized buyers)
ii. certification and labelling iii. farmers markets iv. consumer demand
5. Brainstorming and networking to create support for transition to a better, healthier and safer meat/livestock system. a. What would a safe and secure meat supply look like? (Vision, holistic goal) b. What needs to be done? i. Does this action address root cause? ii. Does it address the weakest link(s) iii. Does it provide the best return on time and money spent? iv. What resources are needed, and who/what should provide them? v. Will this build the groundwork for a safe and secure meat supply? vi. Will this action improve our quality of life? Will it harm others’?
c. Who has power? i. On our side, how ii. On their side, how d. Who are our allies?
Meat: Market-driven Madness?