A Veteran’s Advice to Budding Certified Humane Farmers: Buy in, Go Whole Hog

(Source: duBreton)

Team success hinges on all members adhering to a credo embedded deep in their psyche. You know some of them: There’s no “I” in team; one dream, one team; we are family, and so on.

Pork producer Vincent Breton is a believer in that team mentality. He’s the third generation of a very successful pork producing family, whose duBreton brand operation (of which he is now president) has grown to include 550 employees and a network of 200 producer farms across Quebec and Ontario.

Breton says survival was behind family members’ decision to stick together and differentiate their product. They started moving in this direction decades ago, when margins began shrinking and pig farms were getting bigger. To prevent from getting swallowed up or stomped on, they needed a new way to compete. Ultimately, that led them to organic production and — of intense interest lately, thanks to the Earls Restaurant fiasco — Certified Humane production.

It was as much a business decision as anything. Like all producers, Breton likes animals, and wants to see his livestock be as comfortable as possible. And indeed, if you check out the before-and-after video on the duBreton website (and included below), you’ll see what humane housing and production looks like to his company. It’s not only humane, it’s downright Utopian. Any consumer who thinks duBreton hasn’t gone far enough to make those pigs content is wrong.

But back to beef. We know Earls has withdrawn its threat to source Certified Humane beef in the US, and has pledged to work with producers here to create a steady and ample supply. The question though is, now what? How do producers get right-minded for this kind of production?

Veteran producer Breton offers these broad suggestions. Specifics will change from species to species, but these overarching pillars won’t.

DuBreton president Vincent Breton.

DuBreton president Vincent Breton.

First, he says, Certified Humane production is “a change of culture. You need to change the way you think; the production method requires it.” Even if you believe the way you currently raise livestock is humane, there are some people who don’t share your views, and you will be working to satisfy those with a new set of standards. Further, even if you believe those standards are limiting, they are necessary to promote a perception to consumers that your operation is meeting your livestock’s innate needs. Breton says ultimately it’s a win-win. “Farmers feel better, farm workers feel better and consumers feel better about it,” he says.

Despite the hoopla around Certified Humane, it is still a niche market. If your only buyer is Earls, fine. But if you need to reach out to a scattered market, be prepared to use social media as a marketing tool, because that’s what your prospective buyers use.

Be prepared to invest. Certified Humane pork production requires 2.5-3 times more space than conventional production. Expanding the barn costs money. In the video above, the barn transformation took 1.5 years.

If you’re combining certified humane with organic production, figure out how you are going to bankroll your operation while you go through the cleansing process. This is especially true if you’re leaning towards organic.

Figure out who’s sharing the risk with you. In the case of Earls, the answer is obvious, if indeed the company is truly planning to work with producers to develop the market. But what about the other participants, such as packers? Are they in synch with Certified Humane production? Do their values match the new direction you’re headed?

Ultimately, says Breton, look to consumers. “That’s been the thing that worked for us,” he says. Consumers want safe, nutritious, wholesome food. On its website, Breton says the “instruction manual” for Certified Humane production is “nature.” What consumer wouldn’t want that?

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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