In 2018, the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity found approximately half of consumers surveyed were concerned about the humane treatment of farm animals, and 61 per cent of participants felt uncertain if farm animals were being treated humanely. The results illustrated a gap between what we do as an industry and the public perception of agriculture. Effective industry assurance programs ensure the industry is operating at a high standard to enhance animal welfare and biosecurity and can help to alleviate those consumer concerns.
The Assurance System Producer Rebate Program is part of the federal-provincial Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) suite of programs. The program is designed to improve the understanding of livestock biosecurity and animal welfare needs and encourage the use of best practices. The first mandatory step is to enroll in biosecurity and/or animal welfare training specific to the livestock type. The second step is to have a veterinary assessment completed to identify potential improvements in either animal welfare or biosecurity. The beef sector includes a third step, an on-farm third-party audit, be completed to access full program funding. Adoption of assurance programs will improve competitiveness of the livestock sectors if biosecurity is improved and if consumers can be assured that Saskatchewan livestock are treated humanely.
David Alix, a beef producer from Coderre, Saskatchewan, accessed the Beef Cattle Assurance Producer Program to improve the calving facilities on his family farm. To access the beef sector's full program rebate, producers must first become VBP+ certified. This was easy for Alix, as his operation took the initiative to become certified in 2016. Achieving certification required three steps: training, enrolment/self-assessment, and finally, having an on farm audit completed.
The audit was easy to set up, and was used as a tool for the operation to maximize their record keeping and on-farm procedures. Alix took time over the winter to maintain his VBP+ certification. He recognized the importance of transparency and keeping the operation accountable. By enrolling in VBP+, beef producers are demonstrating to consumers that they have invested in continuous improvement rather than just a one-time certification. Alix said the VBP+ program "keeps me up to date on my record keeping, [including] withdrawal times on vaccinations and antibiotics... If they [the consumer] were to ask questions or to come out, everything is all on the table" ensuring transparency, even if someone cannot physically be present on the farm.
Alix worked with a local veterinarian to complete an animal welfare and biosecurity assessment and identify improvements, validating the information from their VBP+ audit and utilizing the opportunity to strengthen their vet-client-patient-relationship. Giving vets an opportunity to visit the farm and identify any possible concerns is a proactive step to improving herd health. To enhance the relationship, it is important to discuss the whole farm, selecting the improvements which are best for each individual operation. Higher priority items were selected for purchase as part of the program rebate.
The final step was to purchase the new equipment as recommended by the veterinarian. Alix received 50 per cent cost-shared funding through the Assurance System Producer Rebate Program to purchase a new maternity pen for his cow-calf operation. This new half-moon style of pen allows for easier catching of the cow, and increases both animal welfare and handler safety. By taking the initiative, becoming certified and purchasing improvements, producers are more equipped to meet industry demands. It is great to see that they are making transparency, improving animal welfare and safety and reducing risk a priority to help enhance consumer confidence.
For more information on available programs, contact an Agriculture Programs Specialist at a Ministry of Agriculture Regional Office near you or call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.