Organic Council of Ontario (OCO)

September 30, 2009 09:00 ET

Cold Turkey Solution Bad Medicine for Ontario's Organic Turkey Farmers

Rule to move all turkeys indoors misguided

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Sept. 30, 2009) - In a bid to avoid an economic disaster for Ontario organic turkey producers, the Organic Council of Ontario (OCO) has formally requested that the provincial Ministry of Agriculture instruct the Turkey Farmers of Ontario (TFO) to change its rule that requires all turkeys be housed under a solid roof.

With turkey on the menu for Thanksgiving dinners across the province, providing consumers with a viable choice couldn't be more important according to Ted Zettel, OCO Board member. "Every other jurisdiction in North America allows turkeys to be raised in accordance with organic principles. TFO's rule effectively prevents the growth of the organic supply in Ontario and will allow other provinces and US suppliers to feed the ever increasing demand for organic turkey."

Zettel adds that the OCO is asking that the TFO change its rule to require only that "all feed and water must be kept under a solid roof." This small change would allow certified organic producers to grow the supply of local organic turkey and to supply consumer demand within the system.

Thinking behind the TFO's ruling is based on the misguided notion that moving all birds under one roof will eliminate the threat of Avian Influenza. This is simply not a proven fact. "There is no reliable evidence linking outdoor husbandry to outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)," says Zettel. "In fact, all outbreaks to-date have occurred in confinement systems." Experts in the field of epidemiology refer to the supposed link between wild birds and the spread of HPAI as being "highly conjectural."

The impact of the TFO ruling would appear to be insignificant, as it would affect less than 1% of turkeys raised in Ontario. Yet because it would only apply to regulated producers, the ruling would also drive organic production into unregulated categories (50 birds or less), thereby multiplying the number of unregulated sites.

"Our solution provides a reasonable mitigation of risk and is comparable to the most rigorous restrictions in other provinces and in the US," says Zettel. "Should the TFO ruling be allowed to stand, I'm concerned about the long-term ramifications it will have on the Canadian organic food industry."

Organic Food Industry Snapshot

  • Organic livestock is one of the fastest growing sectors in the organic industry
  • Total annual retail sales of certified organic products in Canada: over $1 billion, over 40% via mainstream supermarkets
  • Approximately 3,600 producers work on 530,000 hectares growing certified organic products
  • Certified organic farms account for 1.5% of the total number of farms in Canada; organic fruit and vegetable farms lead the way at about 2.3%
  • There are more than 800 certified organic processors and handlers in Canada, producing a wide variety of ingredients and consumer-ready products
  • Fresh vegetables account for 25% of all supermarket organic food sales

(Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada)

Contact Information

    Organic Council of Ontario
    Ted Zettel
    Board of Directors
    Organic Council of Ontario
    Jodi Koberinski
    Executive Director
    519-827-1221 - office or 519-998-4992 - cell