Farms, Farming and Food

Food and Agriculture in the Maritimes, Canada and around the world

“Big Chicken” and FDA Battle Over Antibiotics

  • August
  • 14

There is a growing concern over the use of antibiotics in animals and how excessive use (or misuse) of antibiotics in animals can lead to reduced antibiotic effectiveness in humans.

Antibiotics on the farm lead to human resistance

Numerous studies and evidence indicate (although not conclusively) that there is a direct link between the use of an antibiotics in raising poultry and human resistance to them. In Canada, a study concerning the use of a third generation cephalosporin antibiotic called ceftiofur in hatcheries matched a rapid increase in human resistance to the drug. Likewise when the drug use was voluntarily withdrawn from chicken hatcheries, the incidences of human resistance to cefiofur.

The antibiotic is injected into the egg prior to a chick hatching as a preventative measure against disease and illness. This allows more chickens to be raised in

The large amount of evidence has led an antibiotic resistance expert Frank Aares to say:

“Taken in context with all the other knowledge we have, anyone still opposing a link between antibiotic use in food animal production and direct human health impact does so for other reasons than science.”

Despite the evidence and the removal of the drug for “off-label use” in Canada and in other countries, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has withdrawn a proposed law which prohibits the extra-label use of cephalosporins. Extra-label use (sometimes referred to as off-label use) is the use of drug for a purpose for which it has not been explicitly approved. In this case, cephalosporin antibiotics have not been approved by the FDA as a preventative antibiotic, it appears to only have been approved for treatment of illnesses in swine and cattle.

FDA and ‘Big Chicken’ duke it out

It appears that there is a battle being waged between the FDA and “Big Chicken” over Antibiotics. It will be interesting if the FDA reintroduces a ban in the future or if the big agri-business (and drug makers) have won another round. Large industrial chicken farmers want to be able to use the antibiotic to increase the amount of chickens that they can raise in a given space and reduce the chance of disease spreading through their flocks. Understandable as those goals are, if it puts humans as risk of not having antibiotics be effective when required, I’ll have my chicken sans antibiotics.

No commentsagriculture, food safety

McDonalds Menu Items From Around The World

  • July
  • 10

Just when you thought that all McDonalds food is the same…

It turns out that across the world, McDonalds restaurants add localized items some of which become very popular items. These items vary based on local tastes, regional food availability and religious belief which may limit some choices for customers.

McDonalds Menu Items From Around The World

Some interesting items include a McLobster sandwich which is only seasonally available in Atlantic Canada, a Bacon and Potato Pie, the Ebi Filet-o (a fried shrimp sandwich) and McSpaghetti available in Asia. The Middle East has a Chicken Big Mac, a Paneer Salsa Wrap and a Chicken McCurry Pan. Europe on the other hand has McBeer in a few countries such as Germany and Onion rings in a few others.

1 commentmarketing

Barcodes could reveal your food’s credentials

  • June
  • 16

Part of the problem with the current food supply chain is the disconnect between producer and consumer. Information about where food is grown or manufactured as well additional information about growing techniques or specific manufacturing process are not available to consumers. Even after extensive research, it is often difficult to know where our food comes from. It is easy to disguise products as local and to hide their origins or details concerning their production.

I am currently reading a Twinkie Deconstructed which is dedicated to examining and tracing the origin and method of manufacture of each of the ingredients in the popular cake snack Twinkies. Ever wonder what Polysorbate 60 is? This book drive the point across of how far we have become separated from our food sources and how little information we really have about the food (and food like substances) that we eat.

Tracking the food we eat

I’ve already written about pilot programs that use RFID to track food from farm to plate but other initiatives using barcodes could also be effective in tracking food. Several companies including FoodReg and TraceTracker are trying to address issues surrounding traceability of items in the food supply chain. Databases can track origin or specific growing conditions of the food being tracked. For examples TraceTracker and Intel are teaming up to develop a system that allows tracking of halal foods.

Maybe someday I will really be able to tell whether the apples for my apple juice came from the farmer down the road or from some tree halfway around the world.

No commentsFood Labelling, food processing

Growing Forward in New Brunswick

  • May
  • 19

Earlier this week, the New Brunswick government and Agriculture Canada announced the New Brunswick agreement under the Growing Forward program which will provide up to $24.6 million for New Brunswick farmers, businesses and agricultural researchers for research, development and adaptation of technology in the agricultural sector.

What is involved?

The program which runs from April 1, 2009 until March 31, 2013 provides funding for the research, development, adaptation or adoption of new technology in the agricultural sector in New Brunswick. The goal is to improve the competitiveness, sustainability, profitability and/or self-sufficiency of the New Brunswick agricultural and agri-food sectors. Food safety, tracability and bio-security initiatives appear to also be eligible for funding under the Growing Forward plan.

With major food producers such a McCain and Ganong having a large presence in NB, look for some of them to take advantage of this available funding. Hopefully the small family famers will be able to draw up some projects which allow them to adapt technology in order to become more efficient, competetive and profitable which will ensure their stability and growth.

Who is picking up the tab?

The costs of the program will be split at a 60/40 ratio between the federal and provincial governments which means a $14.76 million contribution from the federal government to the sector (though media releases like to quote the combined totals for better effect). Contributions through the program will only cover a portion of the research or development program (in most cases up to 50% up to a maximum of $35,000

An overview of the program is available in PDF form at:

Is New Brunswick special?

Growing Forward is a national program developed by Agriculture Canada which plans to spend invest $1.3 billion over 5 years. An overview of the program is available at :

Although NB is one of the first province to reach a funding agreement with the federal government, I anticipate that other provinces will follow with announcements of their own in order to get their portion of the $1.3 billion (okay, actually $780 millon) of federal money.

No commentsPrograms

Cutting cattle methane emissions

  • May
  • 11

Researchers from the University of Alberta, the Guelph University and the University of Manitoba have found a way to cut cattle methane by up to 25 percent.

Feed is key

By adjusting feed’s chemical balance, researchers were able to greatly reduce methane production in cattle. Specifically they examined the balance of starch, sugar, cellulose, ash, fat and “other elements”.

Other factors at play

The research team as well as other researchers around the world have also examined other solutions for reducing the methane production of dairy cows and cattle including using genetics to selectively breed lower methane producing cattle and introducing specially formulated additives including enzymes or fish oil in feed to reduce the production of methane. Other factors which impact the total methane production include the productivity of the dairy cows (ie: more milk produced per cows means less cows needed).

Less methane good for environment

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas being 20 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Luckily, methane emissions are at much lower volume than carbon dioxide but even the Kyoto protocol which seeks to control greenhouse gas emissions attempts to regulate the amount of methane being produced in each country.

It has been shown that approximately 16% of methane emissions are due to cattle belch while the entire livestock sector (including chickens, pigs and cattle) produce 37% of human induced methane emissions.

No commentsagriculture

NB Maple Syrup Producers get Funding

  • March
  • 4

The province of New Brunswick recently announced that it would make available up to $300,000 for silviculture operations such as thinning (commercial and pre-commercial) on their sugar maple stands.

Judging from last year’s silviculture funding, there are restrictions to what size operation are eligible for funding (5 hectares with > 150 taps/ha) as well a maximum limit per hectare ($500) and per producer ($5000).

Why support maple producers through silviculture?

The intent of the financial support is to encourage healthy and more productive sap production from the sugar maples and which should in turn encourage increased maple syrup production. Unfortunately there are other uncontrollable factors such as weather which affect sap production and thus profitability.

New Brunswick is a fairly large player in the maple syrup market worldwide with approximately four million pounds of syrup being produced every season. Although this is a relatively small amount compared to the production from Quebec, it still represents about $12 million annually to the New Brunswick economy. In addition, with the price of maple syrup having risen fairly dramatically in the last few years, maple syrup production has the potential for increased returns.

By specifically targeting the silviculture side of maple syrup production, as opposed to say improving the efficiency of the sap boiling process, the government is also helping out provincial silviculture firms (including the Irvings) which have been struggling along with the rest of the forestry sector for the last few years.

No commentsagriculture

Serving the same fruits year round?

  • February
  • 8

Chris Corrigan has an appeal against the humble melons lamenting that melons and other fruits should only be served in season at gathering such as meetings and conferences. As he points out, fruits are shipped halfway around the world in order to satisfy demands that fruits (and vegetables for that matter) be available all year round regardless of the time of year. It is now possible to buy strawberries, oranges, apples and melons any time of the year whether it is +40 or -40 degees outside. Consumers don’t need to worry about little things like ripeness and where the produce comes from. They can simply buy it at the store and eat it when they want.

Mind you the only time that the fruits are tasty and fresh are when they are locally in season. To buy local produce though you might have to show up at your farmer’s market instead of the supermarket.

1 commentmarketing

Sustainable hog farming stages a comeback

  • December
  • 31

It is great to see that bigger is not always better.

The story old-school hog farming stages a comeback, about Russ Kremer and the Ozark Mountain Pork co-operative, is a fabulous demonstration that quality and sustainable agriculture can succeed and overcome the mindset that bigger and “more efficient” is always the best.

I don’t think that it is difficult to argue that higher quality and better tasting food can be made by using more humane and caring practices. The question is are people willing to pay more for better tasting food and for food that is produced or grown using more sustainable methods?

Are you willing to pay more for items such as free range chickens and eggs or for organic foods?

No commentsagriculture

Short Sizing – The magically shinking package size

  • November
  • 19

Have you ever noticed that certain food items that you buy don’t seem to last as long as before? This could be due to the practice known as short sizing.

What is short sizing?

The practice of short sizing consists of slightly reducing package sizes while keeping the prices near the same level. This has the effect of reducing the amount of food required to be manufactured thus reducing the manufacturer’s cost. In some cases, the packaging remains identical but the amount of food in the package is reduced. As prices are kept the same, manufacturers increase their profit margin. Some manufacturers claim that the practice is used to prevent the need to raise prices but the effect for the consumer is the same, less food for the same price.

Short sizing can and does happen in other retail packages such as shampoo and cleaning supplies but it can be seen most often in food products.

Does it really matter?

Short sized packages are typically slightly smaller than the previous packages which they replace. For example, a 1 litre jar of peanut butter might be reduced to 975 ml or a 500 g box of crackers might get replaced by a 450 g box. The small change has the effect that many consumers will not notice the smaller size and simply purchase the product as they had before.

Slight reductions in sizes, especially to odd sizes can also make it more difficult for shoppers to perform unit cost calculations for comparison shopping. 5$ for a 500 ml can of juice makes it easy to calculate a 1$ per 100 ml unit cost. 5$ for a 475 ml can of juice however is a bit tougher to calculate the unit cost of $1.05 per 100 ml. By making it more difficult to compare unit costs, it is hard for grocery shoppers to know if they are really getting a good value for their food dollars. Although I can’t find the original study, reportedly, in a UK study : “When provided with only the total price and weight for six different sizes of baked beans, just 7% of consumers could accurately calculate the lowest unit price.”

People are taking notice

Many consumers are growing frustrated with short sizing and recently the mainstream media such as the NY Times and the LA Times have picked up stories of consumer frustration.

Does it bother you that packages are shrinking without getting any cheaper?

Update: Another article about short sizing:–why-juice-boxes-are-10-smaller-but-cost-the-same

1 commentFood Labelling, food processing

Cheese labelling changes in Canada

  • October
  • 27

In 2007, the Canadian government announced new regulatory changes with respect to cheese sold in Canada that may affect the quality, content and perhaps the price of cheese in your supermarket.

Cheese labelling changes

The changes are fairly minor but the updated law will require imposes compositional standards for cheeses. In other words there will now be minimum percentages of milk and cream required to make and sell cheese under certain labels such as cheddar in Canada. This is in contrast to today where cheese manufacturers have no limits on the percentages of other milk ingredients (modified milk ingredients) which can be used to manufacture cheese.

The entire list of regulations concerning not only cheese but other dairy products can be found at:

Not everybody views this change as positive

While the dairy industry and smaller cheese producers support the amendments, the industry’s biggest cheese processors such as Kraft Canada and Saputo are fighting the labelling changes as they claim that the reduction of modified milk ingredients (mostly imported) from their cheese making process in favour of raw milk (local I might add), will raise prices and in the end hurt cheese consumption.

As previously stated on the CBC’s Marketplace, there is more to the story however. Modified milk ingredients can be imported into Canada tariff free unlike milk and cream which are typically used to make cheese and ice cream. These low cost milk ingredients are then used to make lower quality products.

Quick resolution?

Hopefully the legal challenges will be quickly struck down and Canadian can finally be assured that what they are buying in their stores really is the cheese that they expect.

See also:

No commentsFood Labelling, food processing
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