BY JOHN COTTER The Canadian Press Tue. Apr 15 - 4:59 PM
EDMONTON — In what is being called an unprecedented move, the federal government will pay Canadian pork producers $50 million to kill off 150,000 of their pigs by the fall as the industry teeters on the brink of economic collapse.
The animals are being destroyed at slaughter plants and on pig farms in a bid to cull the swine breeding herd by 10 per cent.
Most of the meat is to be used for pet food or otherwise disposed of, but up to 25 per cent of it will be made available to Canadian food banks.
"The value that the market is providing to hog farmers for their breeding animals has fallen to virtually nothing," said Martin Rice, executive director of the Canadian Pork Council on Monday.
"It is due to the economic collapse of the industry. These are farms that families have spent decades building up. We cannot see relief coming. It is agonizing for them. It takes a toll."
Producers are weighed down by the cumulative impact of low prices, increasing feeds costs and the high value of the loonie. They are also facing new country-of-origin labelling rules for meat products in the United States that are to go into effect later this year.
Canada’s 10,000 pork producers are mainly in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
Farmers who wish to take part in the cull can apply for federal compensation payments until the end of August. Those who qualify for payments must agree to kill off an entire breeding barn of pigs and not to restock the barn for three years. The program is retroactive to November 2007 and farmers have until this November to complete the cull.
The council estimates that about 50,000 pigs have already been destroyed, with about 100,000 more to come by the fall.
To ensure that the animals are treated in a humane way, producers are being encouraged to ship their pigs to approved slaughter plants. Producers who live in areas without plants will be asked to ship their animals to a province with such a facility.
But there is nothing to prevent producers from killing the animals on their farms themselves.
"We want to minimize the amount of on-farm euthanizing," Rice said. "Before we would approve that application we would need to know how it was going to be done — that it was going to be done humanely and in an environmentally sound way."
Rice said the U.S. government’s decision to require country-of-origin labelling on meat products has made a bad situation even worse.
Producers are dealing with American companies that don’t want to buy Canadian hogs or meat products after years of doing business because they aren’t sure how consumers will respond to such labels. The situation is squeezing the hope out of the Canadian industry, which exports much of what it produces to the United States.
"They cannot look forward to a rebound in their market," Rice said.
But as pork producers suffer through the downturn, more than 670 food banks across Canada hope to benefit from the swine cull.
The Canadian Association of Food Banks is working with the pork council to come up with a plan to distribute some of the meat to the 720,000 Canadians who depend on food banks each month. "We are pleased that the government is allowing some of the product within this program to come to the food bank community," said Katharine Schmidt, executive director of the Canadian Association of Food Banks in Toronto. "We are working as hard as we can to see how much we can actually get into the hands of those who need it most.
"One of the food groups that food banks are always in need of is protein."