• Carrie Selin

From Pork to Pulses, Alberta Farmers are Constantly Improving Food Safety, Quality & Sustainability

By G. Marion Johnson, ©2019 Postmedia Network Inc.

When you go grocery shopping, among the thousands of items to choose from, many are locally produced. From the meat and dairy section to wheat and beans: so much of what you see on store shelves is produced right here at home.

And with Albertans becoming more and more attuned to issues of food safety, sustainability and animal welfare, local producers are taking steps to ensure that the food people put on their tables is nutritious, ethical and safe.

“No matter what your diet is, you can find Alberta foods that are not only delicious but follow food safety and environmental practices,” says Carrie Selin, manager of Taste Alberta. “Alberta farmers are proud of what they do and really feel like they’re feeding the world.

“They’re always looking for that continuous improvement and ways to produce more with less for growing populations while keeping health and the environment at the forefront,” she adds. “We have world-class standards.”

Consider some of the ways the pork industry, for example, is meeting and exceeding those standards.

Alberta was one of first provinces to enact legislation related to swine traceability, leading to a national program called Pig Trace. This progressive program enables farmers and processors to track an animal back to its farm of origin and stop the spread of disease.

Hormones are not used anywhere in Canada in pork. The National Canadian Quality Assurance program outlines food safety requirements for the pork industry, while the country is also moving toward the Canada Pork Excellence program, which includes animal care.

Animals are susceptible to infections because of weak immune systems at a young age. In the case of an infection, and antibiotics are needed, all animals must wait a withdrawal time designated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency before they can go to market. The industry is also moving toward the use of antibiotics for treatment use only rather than as vaccinations.

Products labeled “free from” don’t use any antibiotics during any stage.

Rigorous record keeping related to feed and animal care, some of it self-imposed by the industry itself, is expected; pork producers are also moving toward independent third-party audits.

“We feel confident about food safety,” says Darcy Fitzgerald, executive director of Alberta Pork. “With the Canadian Pork Council, there’s a lot of scrutiny, and meat is constantly checked. Everybody has an expectation that you’re doing everything right, and with programs like Canadian Quality Assurance and Canadian Pork Excellence in place, you can prove that you’re doing what you say you’re doing.”

Then there’s the shift to energy efficiency to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. It’s something that everyone in Alberta, from canola to egg producers, is embracing.

Plus, local pork just tastes good.

“The pork produced in this province is among the most sought-after pork outside of this country,” Fitzgerald says. “Internationally, there’s a demand for high-quality products that emphasize food safety, animal care, traceability and sustainability.”

Equally high standards exist for other made-in-Alberta foods, from milk to poultry.

Growing pulses, for instance, is one way that farmers can provide healthy crops and reduce their impact on the environment.

Consisting of peas, dry beans, lentils, chickpeas, and faba beans, pulses are not only abundant in health benefits—they’re a tremendous source of plant-based protein and fibre—they’re also eco-friendly, an essential element in a sustainable cropping system. 

A four-year crop rotation that incorporates pulses, for instance, can reduce disease incidence in fields.

Pulses are also known for their soil-building quality. Very little fertilizer is required to grow pulses because they have a relationship with soil bacteria that converts nitrogen in the air into fertilizer that the crop can use. Pulses leave nitrogen behind in the soil, so when the farmers rotate the crop the following year, they don’t have to use as much synthetic fertilizer. Growing pulses is also a water-efficient practice, as many are drought-resistant.

“Pulses have been a staple of farmers’ crop rotations across the globe for millennia. The versatility of pulse crops has afforded farmers in Alberta and across the world a tool to build soil health and to break weed, disease and insect cycles while providing one of the most sustainable sources of protein," says Nevin Rosaasen, policy and program specialist for Alberta Pulse Growers. “They have such versatility. People are also starting to use pulse ingredients like pea flour and chickpea flour, and we see Canadians turning to them for their health benefits.”

For local consumers, there’s the added comfort of knowing that people who call Alberta home grow all of these ingredients.

This content was produced by Content Works, Postmedia’s custom content studio.

The views expressed in this document are those of Taste Alberta and do not necessarily reflect those of the provincial and federal governments.

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