Farming is changing! This is having a significant impact on the elk and deer industry. In this new world of farming, the following trends have evolved.
1. We produce for the world, rather than for local or regional markets; thus we are affected by, and must comply with, rules made in faraway lands.
2. Production is world-wide; we must compete with other nations producing deer and elk products. We must meet, or surpass, their standards of quality.
3. People question the safety of food; this is evidenced by the concerns about the safety of beef due to the Mad Cow disease and the safety of genetically modified foods.
4. The public is challenging the assumption that farmers are good stewards of our natural resources. This is evidenced by challenges to game ranching and intensive livestock production. For example, MacDonalds restaurants will now only buy chickens that have been raised under certain "humane" conditions.
The recent incidences and publicity surrounding the discovery of CWD in Saskatchewan elk herds has contributed to consumer concerns and distrust. Even though current scientific evidence suggests that there is little risk to humans from CWD, and that no elk products from the infected herds ever got into the food chain, Korea still closed it markets. "Perception is reality" - and the consumer is concerned!
So what can be done to restore consumer confidence in elk products?
An important step would be to implement quality assurance programs that monitor the products from "pasture to plate". Experience with the Mad Cow disease suggests that the average consumer cannot explain or understand the rules, but does appear reassured when government acts adequately to preserve the integrity of the food supply. As a result, many British beef producers reluctantly accept the animal trace-back system implemented by the government. Farmers fill the out mountains of paperwork even though it adds costs to the end product and decreases their margins. But farmers feel it is worth the effort since consumers are buying beef again.
Here are some possible components of a quality assurance program:
1. Trace-back and tracking system - The Canadian Cervid Council is developing a national velvet tagging system. This will create a system that will allow elk farmers to say that they have a good and efficient trace-back system. It will be in place prior to the next velvetting season (June 2001).
2. Opening the state/provincial borders - movement of elk is still restricted within Canada. What message does this give to foreign buyers? If we don't have faith in our own disease control systems to allow internal movement of animals, why should others?
3. Implementing HACCP on the farm - HACCP is becoming a standard in the food industry so why should it not apply to deer and elk farms that provide products for human consumption. HACCP means keeping careful records of all drugs and medications given to animals; ensuring the quality of feed and supplements; ensuring the environment is free of any contaminants; and that handling, storage and processing facilities and equipment meet all hygienic requirements.
4. Inspection - food is subject to federal inspection so why not deer and elk products? This would go a long way to enhancing consumer confidence, but would increase costs as well.
5. Certification - some buyers are demanding that the producers and sellers certify the product meets certain standards.
According to Mr. Blackmore, there will probably be 4 levels of certification required. (The examples apply specifically to elk velvet antler for export, but could be used for other deer or elk products as well.)
1. Veterinarian - the vet will have to certify that "This date I have inspected the herd, including animals from which antler was harvested for export, and find the animals healthy and free from infectious or contagious diseases and free from parasitic infestation."
2. Producer - the farmer will have to certify the following:
a. I am duly licensed to operate an elk farm and that my license is in good standing and that I am operating in full compliance with all Canadian and provincial legislation and regulations pertaining to elk farming.
b. My elk are regularly inspected by a qualified veterinarian and to the best of my knowledge are free from disease.
c. We removed elk antlers from apparently healthy animals identified as elk or wapiti under supervision of a qualified veterinarian.
d. I acknowledge having sold (number of) lbs of frozen or dried elk antlers to (name) on (date). A list of the tag numbers of the animals and the corresponding weight of the antler sold are attached to this declaration.
e. I certify that the aforementioned frozen antlers were harvested from healthy elk and I know of no disease or defect which would affect these antlers.
3. Exporter - will have to certify the following conditions have been met:
a. I being the exporter of the product described below, have knowledge of the origin and handling of this product sufficient to certify the product is:
i. Derived from farmed cervids in the Canadian province of (name).
ii. Harvested from healthy animals and in compliance with the Animal Welfare Code or Practice.
iii. Handled in a hygienic manner and is considered fit for human consumption.
iv. Harvested from animals which have not been exposed to any harmful substances affecting humans or animals during the past six (6) months prior to harvesting of the product.
4. Canadian Food Inspection Agency - will have to certify the following conditions have been met:
a. This is to certify that to the best of my knowledge and belief the product described herein was derived from animals residing in Canada, a country which is free from OIE List A diseases affecting ruminants.
b. Canada is also considered free from bovine brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis and the animals are from herds which have been tested with negative status for brucellosis and tuberculosis.
c. The herds have been free from rabies and anthrax for the six months preceding harvest of the product described herein.
d. The product is free from harmful substance/chemical residues and was derived from animals raised on registered farms and which have been inspected by official/accredited veterinarians and found to be healthy and free from clinical evidence of parasitic infections, infections and contagious diseases.
e. The product was harvested in compliance with the Animal Welfare Code of Practice and was handled in a hygienic manner and is considered fit for human consumption.
The above is just an example of the quality assurance standards being implemented to protect consumers and maintain public confidence in our products.
Can your deer/elk farm meet these standards? If not, you better start working on them now, or face being left out of the markets in the near future.