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Pork Production: Going Organic

by 5m Editor
15 May 2000, at 12:00am

By Fred Schuld, M.Sc., Pork Programs Coordinator, Edmonton - This article looks at the implications of producing and marketing 'organic' pork.

Some of the questions that require answers are as follows:
  • Where and how can it be marketed?
  • What can I hope to be paid for this product?
  • What are the production criteria that must be met to label the product as 'organic'?
  • What investments are needed that differ from a standard pork production?
  • What are the added production and marketing costs, and what will be the net return?

Markets

Demand for organic food products is rising and much of that industry consists of produce and plant products right now. However, some European countries and Asian countries are increasingly looking for organic meat products. For a producer to pursue an export market, linkages with exporters and other organizations will be necessary. Local certification is a necessity for long term organic marketing. Spot sales in local farmers markets may not be enough to support an 'organic' pork operation. An insight into the organic marketplace may be obtained from the Northwest Processor which featured organic marketing in its fall, 1999 issue. This reference provides links to information sources and Alberta Agriculture specialists that can help to develop a marketing plan.

Price of product

What you can hope to be paid for organic pork is not well established at this time. In some export markets large price markups are available and the opportunities tend to vary widely. Today it will likely be more costly to produce certified 'organic' pork. The necessary premium will be high as long as the quantities produced and marketed are low. Demand is likely to increase. That will mean that some market development will be necessary for anyone hoping to realize premiums for 'organic' pork.

Certifying organic pork

There are nongovernment certifying bodies in Alberta. A list of these is available our web site. In addition, national standards to call products 'organic' have been developed. Canadian National Organic Standards are summarized at a Government of Canada web site. The requirements for livestock include appropriate rearing conditions and stocking rates, as well as high-quality organically-produced feed. Also ethical animal husbandry that produces low stress is required. These requirements, in turn, promote good health and prevents disease.

The food and processed products from these 'organic' pigs need to follow principles of organic systems. You are prohibited from using GMO or GME (genetically modified or engineered organisms) in production or processing. In addition to national standards, the certifying body may impose its own restrictions. International Guidelines for developing Standards (ftp://ftp.fao.org/codes/standard/organic/gl99 32e.pdf) have been drafted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission of the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations). which is at this website.

Capital cost

The cost for facilities for raising pigs to produce organic pork need not be any greater than that for any other system. However, standards requiring more space per pig, and potentially slower growth rates, may mean that capital cost per unit pork produced will be greater. Additional costs may also include access to the marketing system (membership in appropriate organizations), participation in a marketing group and even ownership of a retail outlet or intermediary distribution facility as well as market development costs.

Operational and marketing costs

The operational and marketing costs are likely to exceed those of other pork production and marketing systems. A premium may have to be paid for organic feed ingredients. The amount of this premium will vary, depending on your ability to find these. Growth performance enhancement will not be allowed through the use of growth promoting feed additives. This may lead to lower rates of gain, and more feed per kilo of liveweight gain. Estimates are from five to 15 per cent slower gains, and two to eight per cent more feed. Additionally, fees for organic certification, inspection, labeling and other related costs will likely be required. This will depend on the organization you are affiliated with. Additional operating costs for organic production could be from 20 to 50 per cent above other types of production systems. When you can generate greater production volumes, costs are likely to be lower. Labour needs will likely also to be greater, due to the needs for recording, labeling, and certification.

Summary

  • Markets for 'organic' pork are not well established at this time.
  • The organic market is likely to be a growing sector.
  • Prices will be at a premium to other types of pork. However, since a regular market is not present, it may be a few years before the amount of premium that customers are willing to pay can be determined.
  • Certifying bodies are active, and standards vary. National and international standardization has begun, and is evolving.
  • Capital costs will be similar to alternative production, but operational costs are likely to be 20 to 50 per cent higher.
Source: Extracted from Vol. IX, No. 5, May 2000 Issue of Bacon Bits produced by Alberta, Food and Rural Development.
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