When it comes to food safety and disease prevention, responsibility begins on the farm, says the president of the Canadian Sheep Breeders Association.
The majority of producers are aware of increasing concerns over food safety, said president Jonathan Wort, a sheep exhibitor at the All Canada Sheep Classic show held at this year’s Calgary Stampede.
While meat packers must follow strict food safety guidelines as part of an international food safety protocol, farmers are now expected to participate in the same program.
The program is known as hazard analysis critical control point, or HACCP. It was first developed in the ’60s by NASA to ensure safety of astronauts’ food. It is now internationally recognized as the accepted program for food safety assurance.
|David Lazarowych, Business Edge|
|Jonathan Wort, president of sheep breeders association.|
In Canada, development of HACCP-like procedures are under way in the poultry, beef, sheep and pork industries.
The program addresses biological risks such as E. Coli and salmonella, chemical hazards like drug and pesticide residues, and physical risks such as broken vaccination needles not removed from meat products. It requires each step in food production to be monitored, checked and documented to ensure compliance.
For consumers who have learned to fear the terms “hamburger disease,” E. coli and mad cow disease, HACCP is an attempt to manage hazards along the food production line.
Producers must pay strict attention to manure management, responsible drug and vaccination use, and the condition of animals sent to market, said Kim Whitehead, manager of Alberta Agriculture’s food safety division.
HACCP also addresses animal health, transportation, storage, sanitation and pest control.
Every attempt must be made to provide meat and poultry products that aren’t bruised, tainted with drug residues or contaminated with harmful bacteria, Whitehead said.
“Everyone recognizes that you have to guarantee your product is safe,” said Wort. “But some producers are concerned about the costs of the program. If you have a herd of 500 sheep, the record-keeping is going to be pretty expensive.”
But sheep farmer Jim Stapley of Crossfield, north of Calgary, says there’s no point in battling the program. “HACCP is going to happen. The pressure is there, so you may as well not fight it. Many of the things you should do are just common sense.”
HACCP is not law, but the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CFIA) expects producers and processors to follow the standard.
Ultimately, market pressure will force producers to follow HACCP principles, said Whitehead.
“This is being market-driven, so if you can’t prove you’re following the program, you could be forced out of business,” said Whitehead.
Indeed, HACCP certification may become a prerequisite for international trade, he added. Regular random checks on farms and ranches will ensure compliance, Whitehead said.
“The HACCP program exists in the majority of Canada’s packing plants, but the focus is now on the farmer and rancher,“ he added. “It starts on the farm. This is a farm-to-fork issue.”
Ranchers and farmers will be trained in the HACCP program through the Internet, manuals and workshops, Whitehead said. An onsite visit by a trained verifier will certify the ranch or farm operation.
The furore surrounding mad cow disease, which can manifest itself in people as a fatal strain of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), has heightened concerns about food safety. At least 90 people in Europe have died of the disease after eating infected meat.
During Stampede and the World Championships in Athletics held next month in Edmonton, the CFIA will be using a sniffing dog at the international airports to check overseas luggage for banned agricultural products.
Stampede officials decided against taking any special steps, such as the use of disinfectant mats, said agriculture manager Don Stewart. “With all the people traffic and mixing of livestock and crowds, it just wouldn’t be realistic,” he said.
The number of cattle entries in the Stampede international livestock show is down between 20 to 25 per cent from last year, Stewart said. “That may in part be because of foot and mouth, but also the drought.”
Sheep entries, however, have increased because of the national sheep show held this year at Stampede, Stewart said. “I think that is quite a vote of confidence.”