Chamber backs hog producers

Canada’s pork industry needs and deserves immediate, short-term support from government, says the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce.

Scott Dickson chows down as others line up for a pork burger at the free pork barbecue Friday May

Canada’s pork industry needs and deserves immediate, short-term support from government, says the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce.

Following a meeting with producers, industry and Red Deer MP Earl Dreeshen last Friday, the Chamber’s agriculture policy committee is putting letters together urging the provincial and federal agriculture ministers to develop a short-term plan to haul the industry back from the brink of collapse.

Only after short-term problems are dealt with can the industry start working on a long-term plan, says Danielle Klooster, policy, advocacy and communications manager for the Chamber of Commerce.

The pork industry is a major player in Red Deer’s economy, including the jobs provided and taxes paid by Olymel, the city’s largest private-sector employer, Klooster said on Monday.

“People don’t recognize what happens to the local economy if that goes away. Maybe they don’t provide meat directly to the community, but they employ a couple thousand people in our community and they contribute significantly (to the tax base). It’s important to everybody, whether people realize it or not.”

Farmers, packers and suppliers are all feeling serious stress from a number of different issues over which they have no control, said Klooster.

“The last three years have been significant losses, so there’s a recognition that there needs to be some long term focus.

“But, essentially, the industry is in an immediate crisis that they need some kind of support over the next 12 months to get their heads above water to where we can begin to look at long-term planning and long-term change.”

Feed costs and a strong dollar are the chief stressors, said Klooster.

But what feels like the death blow came late in April when H1N1 flu virus was found in a herd of pigs on the Arnold Van Ginkel Farm, located a few kilometres east of Rocky Mountain House, she said.

Once the virus was confirmed, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency quarantined the farm.

Consumers never lost faith in the product, but the discovery drove prices down and a number of countries closed their borders to Alberta hogs and pork products, says Alberta Pork delegate John Middel, a friend of the Van Ginkel family who also operates a farm near Rocky.

Most of those borders are now open, but prices are still in the tank and the Van Ginkels destroyed the remaining animals in their 2,200-head herd last weekend, said Middel.

It was a business decision, based on uncertainty about when the quarantine would be lifted and information that packing plants would not accept the hogs.

While many people have said they have no fear of the meat, various processors told Alberta Pork that they could not accept because of the stigma that would be attached to them, said Middel.

The province compensated Van Ginkel for the first 500 pigs destroyed earlier on to make room for new animals being produced by his sow herd, but declined to support any further culls. Van Ginkel has now applied for financial assistance from federal and provincial agriculture programs so he can start over, said Middel.

The Chamber letters will be reviewed by its board of directors on Wednesday, said Klooster. The group will also work through the summer to develop policy that has more long-term focus and that will dovetail with Alberta Pork’s revitalization strategy, announced last year.

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