Ontario Pork releases first social responsibility report

Chair Amy Cronin calls it an ‘important step’ for the organization

Ontario Pork, the industry association representing the province’s more than 1,300 pork producers, has released its first-ever social responsibility report. They are the first livestock commodity group in the province to establish benchmarks in key industry areas such as environmental stewardship and workplace safety.

Amy Cronin, Ontario Pork chair and owner of Cronin Family Farms in Huron County, called the inaugural report an “important first step” for the group. She says it is closely tied to a three-year strategic plan aimed at fostering what the organization calls a “vibrant business environment” for the province’s pork producers.

The document states that, "In a global marketplace where Ontario pork producers are competing with a large number of hog-producing countries, product quality and value remain key success factors. However, new criteria related to the environment and social attributes of business activities are becoming increasingly important, particularly in the agri-food industry." It goes on to say that consumers want products that meet high and credible standards attesting to sustainable production.

READ: Loblaw works with producers to prioritize locally-raised pork

Using a combination of on-farm surveys of producers (a simplified life cycle assessment to measure the carbon and water footprint of Ontario’s pork production) and available industry information provided by Ontario Pork, the report sets benchmarks in six areas: farm management; economic performance; environmental stewardship; animal care and food safety; community relationships; and workers' well-being.

The report states “some areas fall outside its direct influence (e.g. transportation), where the active engagement of its business partners is required.” However, Ontario Pork goes on to say that it is willing to work with all stakeholders to make production even more sustainable.

It identifies 19 key performance indicators (KPIs) within those six areas, indicating the percentage of producers who have adopted particular practices or programs, while identifying areas that will be tracked and reported on in the next report (slated for 2018).

While pointing out that many of the KPIs included in the report are voluntary, Cronin says they are areas the industry can continue to improve. “That’s the great thing about a social responsibility report,” she says. “It allows you to be open and transparent with your stakeholders, but it also allows you to benchmark where you are as an industry and make a commitment to improvement.”

The report’s key findings include:

Farm Management

Currently, 85% of Ontario pork producers are enrolled in the Canadian Quality Assurance and Animal Care Assessment programs. These programs promote responsible on-farm safety protocols and pork production standards. Eight out of 10 producers have a valid Environmental Farm Plan to highlight their farm’s environmental strengths, identify areas of concern and determine appropriate action plans aimed at improving environmental conditions.

Environmental Stewardship

While the carbon footprint of Ontario’s pork producers is on par with the North American average – and slightly below the global average – the report says there is still “work to be done” in this regard.

Ontario pork producers’ carbon footprint is nearly 2.5 million tonnes of CO2, equivalent to 1.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions, 11% of emissions generated by household automobiles or 22% of emissions from the province’s electricity generation.

The industry consumed 57.1 million cubic metres of water – equivalent to the amount of water that spills over Niagara Falls ever 6.6 hours – in the production of 4.9 million animals in 2014. Less than half of producers currently track their water usage.

Animal Care and Food Safety

More than 80% of pork producers have made changes in their barns, equipment and/or practices to improve animal care. Around 30% of sows are housed in loose and/or group housing.

READ: Pork producer promises more crate-free pigs

Workers’ Well-Being

While nearly all Ontario hog farms (98%) are family-owned businesses, more than half (59%) now employ outside labour.

The report says finding employees willing to work and live in rural areas is “challenging,” while the reform of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which governs the conditions under which farmers can hire foreign nationals, has made hiring foreign nationals “much more restrictive.

The report found that between 50-79% of the province’s hog farmers have at least one worker (including the owner) who has received first aid training and have clear emergency procedures and instructions available for all workers.

A full copy of the report can be accessed here.

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