Best quality exported Canada should tout the industry’s reputation for a healthy product and provide consumers with more buying opportunities
CALGARY — Ted Bilyea says the Canadian pork market is not what it used to be.
The former Maple Leaf Foods executive, now an agri-food consultant and board member of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, said Canadian pork used to sell at a premium to pork from other countries.
Now Canadian producers struggle for price parity with the United States as they export two-thirds of the pork they produce, including their highest quality product.
It means many domestic consumers have no opportunity to buy top quality Canadian pork, even though retailers agree that domestic pork is preferred.
He told the Nov. 14 general meeting of Alberta Pork that there is generally no information on pork origin at the retail level, to the detriment of the Canadian industry.
“We need to come up with something that allows people to have more transparency,” he said.
“We have nothing that prevents supermarkets from selling pork and telling you nothing about it.”
Bilyea said U.S. pork is essentially being dumped in Canada, as evidenced by its cheaper price in Toronto than Buffalo, New York.
However, it isn’t necessarily being sold below cost of production because “we all do that unintentionally.”
Alberta Pork chair Frank Novak said there is a growing awareness of the U.S. import situation, but international dumping rules require complaints to come from those directly harmed by it.
That means the onus would be on pork processors and sellers, rather than hog producers, to take action.
“We can encourage them strongly to first acknowledge it and figure out the extent of it, and then do something about it because they know if they don’t, they’ll help destroy the Lego block right underneath them, which is the producer,” said Novak.
Bilyea said carbadox is another irritant for the pork industry.
American producers are still allowed to use the feed additive, which increases hogs’ rate of gain and feed efficiency and controls swine diarrhea.
Canada banned the additive in 2004 because it is a known carcinogen. The industry worried at the time that the ban would impede trade.
Imported pork is tested for carbadox residue, but its use in the U.S. for growth promotion gives producers there a production advantage.
In spite of its challenges, Bilyea said the Canadian industry has greater potential to be realized.
The pork industry’s reputation for healthy, clean product is a significant advantage domestically and among Asian buyers, for whom food safety, authenticity and transparency are paramount.
“I encourage the pork industry to think about how to move that,” Bilyea said.
He also said retailers must do a better job of differentiating Canadian product and provide shoppers with both choice and opportunity.