Canadian pork producers are following much the same patterns as their U.S. counterparts; and they're facing similar tough times.
Clare Schlegel, first vice president of the Canadian Pork Council says volatile hog markets and environmental and food safety issues are affecting Canadian pork producers just like in the United States. Schlegel operates a cash grain farm and 2500-sow farrow-to-finish operation in Perth County, Ontario. "I am a hog farmer and I'm proud to be a hog farmer. But, in the last ten years, the local community sees us as a detriment instead of a positive. We're viewed as polluters instead of caretakers of the earth. That's simply not acceptable," says Schlegel.
The Canadian Pork Council, through their pork checkoff, is developing a long-term program to improve relations between producers and the community and to develop national environmental standards. Canada also has a voluntary pork quality assurance program that will eventually become mandatory, notes Schlegel. Canadian producers pay about 12 cents per pig into the national checkoff program.
Canada's hog production has grown by 20 percent since 1998, while U.S. production has grown modestly. Canada now produces 26 million pigs a year. Schlegel points to changes in the country's government programs that reduced subsidies to grain farmers as part of the reason for the pork expansion. "That grain has to be fed, and it makes sense to do it where the grain is produced," adds Schlegel.
Canada's swine industry growth has impacted the U.S. pork industry. This year, Canada will send five million pigs to the United States as market hogs or weaned pigs.
Some U.S. producers blamed the influx of Canada hogs for the devastating U.S. live-hog prices in 1998, and this year's earlier price pressure. But Schlegel says it was just as bad in Canada when the country's second largest pork processor went on strike in early December 1998. "The workers didn't come back until late February. Those 26,000 pigs a week had to find a home somewhere. They ended up coming to the United States," he says.
Packer capacity shouldn't be a problem now in Canada. Since 1998, new packer facilities have opened in Ontario and Manitoba, providing more slaughter capacity than animals.
The new U.S. Farm Bill also has caught Canadian producers' attention, particularly the country-of-origin labeling for meat products. Under the new Farm Bill, only pork where the hogs were born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States can carry a U.S. label. Schlegel says this issue poses a problem for both Canada and the United States. "How do you identify a hog that was born in Canada, sold into the United States as an early weaned pig– or even a market hog slaughtered in the United States. It's not a product of Canada anymore and it's not a product of the United States either," he says.
This issue as an example of how the two countries' pork industries are intertwined and moving toward a "North American" swine industry. "During discussions with USDA, both sides (American and Canadian) have suggested that instead of branding or labeling a product as Canadian or American pork, that we brand it as a product of North America," notes Schlegel. "If there's a will to go in that direction, on both sides of the border, then it's a solution to the problem."