Beyond Factory Farming Newsletter
Newsletter
 
Summer 2009
alfalfa
In This Issue
Irradiation looms as a faulty food safety fix
PEI Beef Plant Closure Threatens Maritime Sustainable Producers
Help Save Canada's Only University Organic Program
Ontario Turkey Rule Undermines Organic Poultry
People's Food Policy to Chart Canadian Food Sovereignty
Eat Local in Alberta
Listeriosis Report Offers Unsettling Portrait of Food Safety
Ultra Juicy Burger Recipe
Irradiation looms as a faulty food safety fix
AFMA logoWhat is food irradiation?

Food irradiation is the process of exposing food to controlled amounts of energy called "ionizing radiation." There are three different types of radiation permitted: electron beam (electricity), cobalt 60 (nuclear waste byproduct), or cesium 137 (also a nuclear waste byproduct).

Currently onions, potatoes, wheat, flour, whole wheat flour, and whole or ground spices and dehydrated seasonings are approved for irradiation and sale in Canada.  Meat is currently not approved for irradiation in Canada but certain meat products in the United States are irradiated.  For more information, visit Food and Water Watch.
 
Why is food irradiated?

Promoters of food irradiation try to sell this process as a food decontamination tool- an answer to today's industrial food production problems. Irradiation is used to:
  • keep our food safe by reducing the level of harmful bacteria, such as E.Coli 0157:H7 in ground beef, Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry, and parasites which cause food-borne diseases
  • increase the shelf life by slowing the ripening or sprouting in fresh fruits and vegetables
  • increase food miles
However, it is possible for irradiated food to become contaminated after it has been treated so proper storage, handling, and cooking are still very important.
 
How can I tell if food has been irradiated?

Pre-packaged foods that have been wholly irradiated display the international radiation symbol, along with a statement that the product has been irradiated. Food that is not pre-packaged must have a sign with this information displayed beside the food. Pre-packaged foods that contain an ingredient which makes up more than 10% of the finished product must indicate which ingredients in the list have been irradiated. However, if the ingredient makes up less than 10% of the finished product, no information needs to be provided.

Although irradiation does reduce some bacteria, studies have shown that taste, colour, nutiontional value and texture are negatively affected.  There has also been some evidence that animals who ate irradiated food had a slower growth rate than animals who did not eat irradiated food.
 
Why should I be concerned about irradiation?

With current outbreaks of Ecoli, Listeriosis, and Salmonella, promoters of food irradiation are looking toward irradiation as a solution to kill bacteria.  Instead, food producers need to address the source of the problem - too fast processing lines and dirty conditions at plants - not promote an expensive, impractical and ineffective technology like irradiation.
 

Watch for our upcoming fact sheet on irradiation on our website! 
PEI Beef Plant Closure Threatens Maritime Sustainable Producers

Sustainable and organic farming in the Maritimes is on the verge of being dealt a major setback with the impending failure of the only federally-inspected beef plant in the region.

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Atlantic Beef Products in Albany, PEI is reporting losses of up to $300,000 a month- losses the provincial government says it is unwilling to continue to underwrite as it has in the past. The plant has never turned a profit and PEI Agriculture Minister George Webster has given the operation five months to turn a profit or find new investors.

Many Maritime beef producers are already selling off herds as they prepare to leave the cattle business, and observers believe many more will follow suit should the plant close. The loss of cattle farmers will further reduce agricultural diversity in a province that saw its only hog plant shut down just over one year ago.

For consumers, the closure of the plant will mean access to locally-produced meat will become more difficult, but it could also have serious consequences for organic growers in the region as well. A diminishing livestock sector means organic growers in the Maritimes could face shortages of manure vital to their crops.

Beyond Factory Farming is working with agricultural and sustainable food organizations active in the Maritimes to mount a public appeal urging the provincial governments of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI to maintain support of the plant and ensure its continued operation. Petitions to this effect are circulating in all three provinces and we urge concerned Maritimers to write their respective provincial government in support of the plant.

For more on the story visit our webpage where you can also find contact information for agriculture ministers in each province, a letter template, and information on where to sign the petition.


Help Save Canada's Only University Organic Program


guelph orgCanada's only program offering a degree in organic agriculture was very nearly lost in April when the University of Guelph senate narrowly voted to withdraw a motion to scrap it. Instead, the senate decided to offer the program a one-year reprieve after which its viability will be re-evaluated.

The program, administered by Ontario's College of Agriculture, was one of nine under review by the university senate as it looked to reduce expenditures and eliminate a $16-million deficit. The other eight weren't so lucky and were scrapped. A motion to grant the organic program a reprieve was tabled by Andreas Boecker, a senate member and an assistant professor in the food, agriculture and resource economics department.

"Dropping an organic major would be a foregone opportunity for the university to maintain its position within Canada as the only university that educates students within this area," Boecker said before his motion was adopted.

The Ontario College of Agriculture now has less than a year to demonstrate that the organic program can attract enough students to justify its existence. At last count only 15 students were enrolled across the four-year program. The college must also find funding from industry to support the program and a replacement for Ann Clark who is retiring at the end of the 2011 school year and teaches many of the program's courses.

The program needs students, assistance, and friends. Anyone interested in learning more about the program, enrolling in it, or supporting it with funding should visit the University of Guelph website or contact Ann Clark.

Ontario Turkey Rule Undermines Organic Poultry


For the past few months Beyond Factory Farming has drawn attention to the plight of Ontario's organic turkey farmers who are fighting a Turkey Farmers of Ontario rule that renders it impossible for a farmer to raise more than 50 turkeys organically in the province.

In May, 2008 the Turkey Farmers of Ontario introduced a rule that forbids quota-holding members from raising their birds outdoors- effectively outlawing a key requirement to obtain organic certification. The new rule makes Ontario the only jurisdiction in North America that will not allow turkeys to be raised commercially in accordance with organic principles.

Matthew Dick, aturkeyn organic turkey farmer near Barrie, Ontario appealed to the provincial Minister of Agriculture Leona Dombrowsky who declined to overturn it. The Organic Council of Ontario (OCO) joined Dick in his fight to have the rule struck down, and the farmer created a Facebook page to explain the issue and instruct people on how they can help.

Both Dick and OCO are appealing to the public to write letters to Minister Dombrowsky urging her to amend the Turkey Farmers of Ontario rule to allow flocks access to the outdoors. For its part, the Turkey Farmers of Ontario's response to the issue is to ask that organic standards be amended to allow turkeys raised in confinement to be certified organic. Many following the issue suspect similar rules may follow for other poultry including laying hens and fryers.

To learn more about the issue and how you can help visit the OCO webpage or Matthew Dick's Facebook page.

People's Food Policy to Chart Canadian Food Sovereignty


Much of Beyond Factory Farming's work is inspired and informed by the principle of food sovereignty- a concept that emerged at the World Food Summit in 1996. Reclaiming decision-making power in the food system is the essence of food sovereignty, as is restoring the relationship between people and the land and the relationship between the people who harvest food and those who eat it.

Recently, Food Secure Canada launched the People's Food Policy Project- a multi-year program that hopes to help realise the principles of food sovereignty here in this country. The PFPP aims to establish a just and sustainable vision for Canada's food system while developing a policy framework that will make it a reality.

Beyond Factory Farming is proud to be part of the PFPP and we will be conducting meetings with small groups over the coming months in an effort to gather ideas and suggestions that will aid in bringing about food sovereignty in Canada. For more information on food sovereignty visit our webpage and to learn about the PFPP visit the Food Secure Canada website.

Eat Local in Alberta


Do you want to support local farmers, local economies, and know where your food is coming from?  Do you want to eat food that is produced locally, is healthy and full of nutrients?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, but don't know where to find local products, here are some options:

AFMA logoFind a Farmers' Market in Alberta

Find a market in your area, hours of operation, a list of vendors, and what type of products are being sold.

Go straight to the farm

Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association is dedicated to supporting the production of farm direct market vegetable crops, berry and fruit crops, bedding plants, perennials, herbs, flowers, meats, poultry, eggs and other specialty items in Alberta.

Dine out

Dine Alberta links Alberta's producers and growers to the chefs who showcase the province's bounty by featuring home-grown goodness on their menus.

Chomp Around Alberta

Plan a self-guided road trip that stops at farms, farmers' markets, festivals and restaurants in the province of Alberta.
Included restaurants are participants in the annual Alberta regional cuisine program. They source as many ingredients as possible directly from Alberta growers and producers, and many offer house-made value-added products for sale in addition to serving meals. They offer unique, memorable local foods, and are articulate culinary ambassadors who exemplify how to make the most of Alberta's best ingredients.
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Listeriosis report offers unsettling portrait of food safety

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Late in the summer of 2008, a food-borne outbreak of listeria dominated Canadian headlines as 22 people died from infected cold cuts produced at a Maple Leaf Foods plant on Toronto's Bartor Road. The tragic episode undermined public confidence in the food safety system and prompted the government to hire Edmonton health care consultant Sheila Weatherill to investigate the incident.

On July 21 Weatherill released the report of her findings and its contents offer little to restore Canadian confidence in our food safety system. If anything, Weatherill exposed a system that is ill equipped to prevent contaminated food from reaching consumers in the future, and poorly prepared to mount a coordinated response once it does.

After more than 100 interviews and meetings conducted with individuals and groups involved in nearly every aspect of the outbreak, Weatherill reported some unsettling facts about the food we eat that ought to give anyone pause the next time they visit the supermarket.

Weatherill remarked that globalization, along with the scale and concentration of the food industry, has contributed to an alarming rise in outbreaks of food-borne illness. Reported cases of listeriosis infection alone have doubled since 2005, and the actual incidence of unreported infections could be as much as 350 times higher.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), 2005 was also the year the Canadian Food Inspection Agency initiated a pilot project at 120 meat processing plants across the country, including Maple Leaf's now infamous Bartor Road facility. The pilot was a new inspection regime called the Compliance Verification System (CVS) that was subsequently adopted by all 400 federally-inspected plants in Canada early in 2008.

"The decision to proceed directly from the pilot to full implementation was made with limited
evaluation of the pilot's strengths and weaknesses and without detailed costing and adequate determination of resources implications, including the need for supervision and training," Weatherill remarked.

Contrary to claims that the CVS represented 'a more thorough' approach than the pre-existing inspection system which required a full audit of a plant's key control systems every three months, Weatherill revealed the Bartor Road plant had only been audited three times in the three-year period leading up to the outbreak, and not at all in 2008.

Officials from the union representing meat inspectors complained on record shortly after the outbreak that their numbers were insufficient to carry out the duties introduced with the CVS. In response, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz promised more front line inspectors, and the CFIA hired 57, but not one of the new staff members was assigned to scrutinize meat production. The shortage of meat inspectors was not lost on Weatherill who also noted similar complaints.

"A number of sources said that the lack of staff was a major constraint as was the pressure of time. The system's design did not take account of the number of inspectors or the time available to conduct the CVS tasks because of their other duties, nor did it take into account travel time from plant to plant. Inspectors assigned to Bartor Road were also responsible for several different plants in their district, necessitating travel between these companies daily."

Regardless of whether the new system or the number of inspectors is to blame, the status quo on both counts remains in place one year later.

Perhaps most shockingly, Weatherill found that staff members at the Bartor Road plant were aware products were testing positive for listeria as far back as early 2007 but declined to inform company executive officers or CFIA inspectors and were under no legal obligation to do so. It wasn't until the following year that first government and months later the public became aware of the problem, and then only after the deaths of two patients in an elderly care residence led Toronto public health officials to trace their infections to tainted Maple Leaf products. Were it not for the work of these officials the CFIA may never have discovered the source of the outbreak on its own.

Once the outbreak was brought to the attention of senior staff within Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and  the CFIA it set off a chain of interagency and inter-jurisdictional bungling that further undermined public safety. Ultimately, the public was warned, the tainted products were recalled, the plant closed and sanitized, but the portrait that emerges of Canada's food safety system in this report is anything but confidence inspiring.

Weatherill introduces 57 recommendations for improving food safety and government's response to food-borne outbreaks in her report. Beyond Factory Farming supports the implementation of these recommendations as a starting point, but urges citizens to remind their representatives that our food safety system cannot be compromised and is in need of further reforms. To learn more about food safety in Canada or to read the Weatherill report please visit our website.

Ultra Juicy Burger Recipe

burger

Ultra Juicy Hamburgers
Recipe by: Laura Giannatempo Courtesy of Sustainable Table ®

One bite of the Ultra-Juicy Hamburger and any dreadful memories of tough, parched, leathery homemade hamburgers will instantly vanish: this hamburger oozes with succulence. And, what's best, it's extremely easy to make.

Ingredients:

24 ounces sustainable ground beef
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 sprig fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1 sprig fresh thyme leaves, minced
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
1 ˝ teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons of olive oil or canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions:

1. In a medium sauté pan or skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium to high heat. Add the onion, lower the heat, and cook for about 20 minutes until nicely browned and caramelized. Add a tiny bit of extra oil or hot water if the onions start to stick to the pan. Set aside to cool. (Note: you can prepare this ahead of time and place the cooked onions in the refrigerator for later use)

2. Place the beef in a medium-to-large bowl, mix in the onions, rosemary, thyme, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and cumin.

(Note: you can add any other spice and herb mix that you like; just make sure it doesn't overpower the flavor of the burger)

3. Shape the ground beef mixture into four patties.

4. Place on a nice hot barbeque grill and cook, about 8-10 minutes per side.

About Us

Beyond Factory Farming is a national organization promoting socially responsible livestock production in Canada. We help communities dealing with problems caused by factory farms and factory farm proposals. As an alternative to industrial livestock operations, we promote livestock production that is safe, fair and healthy for the environment, farmers, workers, animals, neighbours, communities and consumers.

For more information about Beyond Factory Farming or any of the contents from this newsletter, please email Lisa or Ian, or visit our website.