An additional 300,000 animals to be raised in certified humane conditions after $30M investment
Quebec-based pork producer DuBreton is set to dramatically increase the number of pigs to be certified as organic and humanely raised.
And that has the potential of opening up a new, growing market for hundreds of family farms.
“As a family company, it’s hard to compete against the big, international pork producers,” says Vincent Breton, president of DuBreton, based in Rivière-du-Loup, Que. He is the third generation of Bretons to run the company.
“We knew we had to do things differently. We saw that consumers have an interest in where the product comes from and how animals are raised.”
The plan is to raise an additional 300,000 animals over the next three years to meet the certified organic and certified humanely raised criteria. Breton won’t say how many pigs his company raises now, but it is already the largest producer and processor of organic and natural pork in North America.
The company will invest $30 million over the next three years to meet its target, investing in new pens on its own farms and working with family farmers to upgrade their facilities. Breton said he works with about 300 farmers in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
It’s a large commitment in new protocols for raising animals on those farms. The Certified Humane Raised and Handled designation comes from U.S.-based Humane Farm Animal Care. DuBreton also aims to have its pork products comply with Canada Organic, USDA Organic and Quality Assurance International Organic standards.
Conditions for humane certification
To earn the organic and humanely raised certifications, farmers have to give more space to their pigs, feed them only organic, non-GMO feed and invest in extra labour to care for them. No antibiotics can be used.
Pigs raised on factory farms spend their lives in pens of about 2 by 7 feet (0.6 x 2.1 metres), while farmers who want the humanely raised certification must put sows in pens of at least 9 x 9 feet (2.7 x 2.7 metres).
The pigs have freedom of movement, have hay underfoot instead of metal slats and can engage in natural behaviours such as playing and rooting. There is also a higher standard for air quality in barns where they are raised.
The tails and teeth of humanely raised animals aren’t clipped as they are with animals in smaller pens.
“It’s a way to keep the small family farm alive,” said Breton, but he acknowledges there is a risk to such a large investment in organics and humane conditions.
“The farmers are enthusiastic. In the producer community the thinking is ‘will we get the return we expect from these changes?'”
The certifications are also a big commitment, with inspections at least once a year by independent auditors once a farmer has achieved the standard. But DuBreton has experience in the sector, having produced organic meats for 10 years.
Relying on consumer demand
Breton’s plan is to make his organic, humanely raised pork more widely available in the Canadian marketplace.
Right now, it’s in Whole Foods and snapped up by chefs across North America, while Sobey’s stores carry the natural pork product, which is raised without antibiotics.
The company is negotiating with Longo’s in Ontario for shelf space for its certified organic and humanely raised products and aims to generate interest in the humanely raised product across Canada.
Breton says the consumer market for the product is only just developing.
“The reason why is that it’s quite expensive to go humanely raised and organic. You have to have time and commitment to make the investment.”