By Tim Kalinowski
The Alberta egg-laying industry has been making strides to produce eggs in a safer more sustainable way to meet changes in market demand and consumer preference.
The Egg Farmers of Alberta recently released its sixth annual Sustainability Report to show the progress the industry has been achieving in key areas.
“It goes back to 2014,” explains David Webb, marketing and communications manager with the Egg Farmers of Alberta. “Our board developed a sustainability strategy, and one of the pieces with that strategy was to be more accountable and transparent in a number of areas. It has expanded over the years to include all four of our pillars: Healthy birds, healthy eggs, healthy farms and healthy communities. We have also expanded the number of target areas we are reporting on.”
The benchmarking report shows significant progress in key areas like a huge increase in the number of eggs farms in the province which have achieved Animal Care Program (ACP) and Producer Environmental Egg Program (PEEP) accreditation even in the last few years.
“I guess one of the big ones right off the bat is the hen-housing,” explains Webb by way of example. “As an industry across Canada we are transitioning away from our conventional housing; and so here in Alberta we were one of the first provinces to pass a policy with our board that no new conventional housing could be placed after 2014.
“We are down to 59 per cent conventional; so almost half of our industry has transitioned into enriched, free run or free range. I believe we are leading the national industry in terms of the percentage of production that has been transitioned already.”
Only about 68 per cent had made that transition in Alberta as of 2018. Another area where progress has been made since 2018 is in percentage of barns with multi-species living in the same building.
In 2018 about three per cent of farms still had multi-species buildings. That number is now zero per cent as of 2019.
“That was one that is really key for preventing any outbreaks of diseases which could impact the birds, and then also be potentially passed on to eggs,” explains Webb; “salmonella is one of the key ones there. It’s a huge risk factor if you use the same barn to house different species of animals. Phasing that out just minimizes any risk-potential farmers have and allows us to safeguard the food supply for consumers.”
Webb is also proud of the Egg Farmers of Alberta’s PEEP program numbers, with 97 per cent of egg producers who take the voluntary course becoming accredited; up from 89 per cent in 2018.
“We are still the only province in the country that has an on-farm environmental program,” Webb explains. “There are mandatory national programs for animal care and for food safety. This program is voluntary, and we have had 100 per cent pick from our farmers because they see the benefits of decreasing their environmental impacts.
“What we wanted to do is look at the data from all of our farms, and be able to share industry-wide stats,” he says. “And also if there are certain farms doing really well, share what they have done with other farmers. By managing our own program that gave us the flexibility to do that.”
All of these things come together to help assure consumers that Alberta egg farmers are some of the best in Canada at raising healthy, safe and sustainably-produced eggs.
“The industry isn’t just kind of resting on its laurels,” he says. “The status quo is something we are not happy with.
“We want to continue to push our farmers and push the industry forward to improve in all these different areas; whether that is providing better quality care for the birds we are responsible for raising. Or in making better efforts to safeguard the food supply; so that every egg we provide is fresh, local, nutritious and safe.
“The environment is certainly the next emerging issue, and that’s why we kind of launched our program to get out ahead from what might be coming down from retailers or customers.”