It’s rather obvious there is at the very least a perception that drug use in livestock production is something consumers oppose.
It’s the same when it comes to the concepts of genetically modified crops, and even using crop protection products again in-field weeds and insect pests.
As a result there are of course pressures to change things.
The problem is while consumers may hold some concerns, the majority are not willing to cough up more dollars to offset the losses farmers could face by stopping the use of such products.
There are some that will pay more, and we see that niche in terms of organic food sales.
But the majority of consumers would check mark concern on a questionnaire but won’t pay extra for foods which have been produced sans such additives.
So farmers, domestically at least, are sent some very contradicting messages, cheap food, yet produced without tools which are deemed to increase production.
Yes it can be argued organic production reduces costs by eliminating expensive chemicals and livestock feed additives, but there is the question of potential production loss which means the actual impact on the farm’s bottom line harder to determine.
On today’s ultra large-scale farms organic production also becomes more challenging, as does feeding the growing population.
Against all these questions regarding production choices, feed additives and genetically modified seeds have become a political tool, used by some countries as a barrier to imports.
At present the debate over such additives is happening in the hog business.
Ractopamine is an additive used in hog finishing rations. The additive is used to increase leaner carcasses desired by consumers, since there is again the general belief these days that fat is bad.
From a producer’s perspective though ractopamine, a beta-agonist, offers a lot of potential production wise. The drug can increase carcass weight and dressing percentage and can also reduce the number of days to market, all benefiting the bottom line.
Of importance to remember ractopamine is approved for livestock use in Canada, the United States and many other countries.
However, export customers, Russia and China, will no longer accept pork from animals fed ractopamine, which is an example of a barrier created by politics more than concrete reasoning.
So there is a call in Alberta for producers opting to produce hogs without ractopamine in their diets to receive a premium.
It would seem easy enough to have a production chain from farmer to processor which could guarantee non-use of the additive.
And since such production would extend days to market and thus raise production costs, there should reasonably be a premium paid.
The problem, whether a Canadian consumer, or an export buyer such as China, or Russia, is having them be willing to pay extra for something they desire, and in the case of the export markets demand.
Ultimately, consumers need to be willing to pay premiums when their desires fundamentally alter how a farmer farms, and in so doing cuts into profits. Farmers need to offset such losses by better returns from their end users. At that point consumers can have a greater say in what farmers do.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor of Yorkton This Week.