Why do I want the Canadian Verified Sheep program?
Consumers today want to know that the food they are buying for themselves and their families is safe.
Many commodity groups, both nationally and internationally, are developing on-farm food safety programs to address consumers' concerns and to ensure that food is produced as safe, steady supply.
Food safety is not new concept. Processing and slaughter facilities have been required by government legislation to have food safety systems for well over a decade, and their programs are inspected and reviewed continually by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Consumer demand for a safe, quality product is also not a new concept, as consumers have always had such expectations. However, in light of some highly publicized food safety crisis in recent years, consumers have moved from expectations to demanding proof their food is safe. Some recent examples of such highly publicized food safety crises include:
- April 1986, 32 school students became ill with Campylobacter jejuni as a result of drinking under-pasteurized milk from contaminated cows;
- In 2000, E.Coli O157:H7 contamination of Walkerton (Ontario) water supply;
- In 2008, a salmonella outbreak was linked to tomatoes; and,
- The August 2008 listeria outbreak in Maple Leaf Products.
These are just a few of the headlines we have seen over the past decades. Even long after these incidences are past, consumers still remember the repercussions of such highly publicized crises. Once consumer confidence is lost, it is extremely difficult and sometimes even impossible to gain back, as is market share. As a result of highly publicized events, consumers are more aware of food safety issues. Consumers are more likely than ever to question a case of the “24-hour flu”. In Canada, there are an estimated 1 million cases of food-borne illness every year, associated with an expected $2 billion in associated health care costs, legal fees, lost income and other expenses (Todd, E.C.D. 1997).
Consequently, food safety is now a priority both nationally and internationally for governments and the food industry. As such, the focus has moved to safe food from the entire food-supply chain, from ‘farm to fork’. While on-farm food safety has not been mandated yet by the Canadian government and participation is still voluntary, as a way to improve their own food safety management, many processors and slaughter facilities are seeking out inputs from producers who can provide a safe product.
Many producers question the increased liability they assume to be associated with implementing the Canadian Verified Sheep program. However, as a provider of a ‘product’, you are already liable for the safety of that product regardless of having a food safety program in place. In fact, what having a food-safety program in place does for the producer is gives them a verifiable method of showing they are using due diligence with regards to the safety of their product. Due diligence means you can, as a producer on an on-farm food safety program, demonstrate that you have taken all reasonable precautions to prevent a food safety crises from occurring. While a food safety program is not a 100% guarantee, it does show you are doing your part to provide safe food.
Are there benefits to the program? While we cannot give you a dollar value return on your investment into the Canadian Verified Sheep program, given the considerations outlined above, there are some very clear benefits to having the program on your farm:
- Enhanced consumer confidence in the safety, quality and consistency of Canadian sheep and lamb food products;
- Increased market share for Canadian sheep and lamb products, both domestically and internationally;
- Enhanced detection and prevention of food safety concerns;
- Increased market access due to expansion of market alliances within the agriculture and processing sectors;
- Enhanced opportunity for producers to meet buyer demands and for involvement in the marketing of a branded product or other accreditation processes; and,
- The opportunity to improve flock management as a result of systematic record keeping.
While Canada has not made on-farm food safety mandatory, many of our competitors are moving forward with this initiative, including the United States, Australia and New Zealand. In order to remain competitive in the domestic market against various importers, on-farm food safety is equally important as an investment for the Canadian sheep and lamb producer.