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Beef producers — new markets are on our doorstep

Ontario farmers are sitting on a strongly-developing market for food products that could address consumer health concerns and put extra money in their pockets.

The CFFO Commentary: Some new markets are right on our doorstep.

By John Clement
July 7, 2006

Some Ontario farmers may not realize it but they are sitting on a strongly-developing market for food products that could help address consumer health concerns and put extra money in their pockets.

According to pollsters like David Webb, from Ipsos-Reid, Canadian consumers are at the forefront of an evolving market that makes a direct link between health and the food they consume.  In fact, a recent poll suggests that 86 per cent of Canadians believe they can make progress in their health goals through improving the type of food they consume.

But it’s not just any type of food that will fit the bill.  Webb says his polling data shows that Canadians don’t want to give up their favourite foods and want convenience to fit their busy lives.  In short, they want food that’s healthy, good tasting, convenient and safe.  And they’re increasingly buying new products that have come to be known as “functional foods.”

Functional foods are defined differently by different people, but in essence they can be fairly conventional foods that carry additional health benefits and possibly reduce the risk of chronic disease.  Foods of animal or plant origin can fit the bill, but they have to be cultivated, fed or raised in a particular way to create even more health benefits than they already deliver.  Good examples are eggs, milk, beef or pork containing higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.  Nutritionists have been advocating more omega-3 fatty acids in our diet to combat inflammation — something that has been tied to heart disease and other health issues.

There are a number of leaders in the Ontario farm community that deserve a lot of credit for already moving to capture these markets.  Many times through their commodity organizations, these Ontario farmers have been hard at work with partners in the research, processing and retail sectors to try and capitalize on this growing market.

Functional foods are important for Ontario farmers because they have strong potential to add new options to the mix of products that can be produced and marketed directly within this province and beyond.  Because they have a strong mix of specialized knowledge included in their development, they are less likely to be duplicated by low-cost producers in other countries.  Plus, because of the amount of collaboration required to produce them, they are more likely to deliver a long-term price premium for farmers.

I don’t believe there is one single solution to the problem of low farm incomes.  However, I do believe that Ontario farmers need new options that take them away from too great a reliance on the production of bulk, undifferentiated commodities.  In looking at the options in front of them, being able to collaborate on higher-value products that generates extra income is a good option for the province’s farmers — particularly when one of the largest markets in the world is right on our doorstep.

John Clement is the General Manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.  The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham and CHOK Sarnia, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website:  CFFO is supported by 4,100 family farmers across Ontario.


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