Quebec is no exception when it comes to the trend towards the industrialization (or “modernization”) of agriculture. Between 1961 and 2006, the total number of active farms went from 95,777 to 30,539 (a loss of 68 per cent), while average farm size and livestock yields significantly increased. The corporate concentration of agriculture in the province is such that 20 per cent of producers (with incomes greater than $250,000) generated 70 per cent of total agricultural revenue.
The majority of producers in Québec are forced to work off-farm jobs in order to earn a decent livelihood. Without off-farm work and government subsidies very few farms would be viable.
Nearly 75 per cent of all agricultural production in Quebec is tied to livestock of which 34 per cent is dairy farming. Pork production comprises another 19 per cent, with poultry and eggs making up 11 per cent. Other animal production including beef, lamb, and sheep contribute 10 per cent.
The major issue in Quebec is the ever-expanding hog industry, and its impact upon the environment and rural communities. In the fall of 2003 The Quebec government released its report on a public consultation process which recommended fundamental changes to hog production in order to make it sustainable in Quebec. A moratorium on hog production expansion followed, installed until new regulations and policies could be implemented, but was lifted prematurely in December 2004. Since then, grassroots community groups have been calling on the province to heed the Canadian Medical Association’s resolution (see 02-69) to ban the expansion of the hog industry until the inherent risks of industrial hog farming are understood and the appropriate solutions can be implemented.
Meanwhile, Olymel, the largest pork processing company in the province, went on a closing spree that most recently mothballed a plant in Saint-Valérien, a region with a high concentration of hog production. As a result producers are shipping their hogs to the ATrahan abattoir in nearby Yamachiche, but if that arrangement fails to meet their needs, La Fédération des producteurs de porcs du Québec says they will sell to the Ontario market instead. Olymel blames the closures on the high value of the Canadian dollar and the lack of slaughtering capacity.
In 2005 the Quebec government implemented drastic measures to control avian flu outbreaks in the province. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food Quebec announced that:
- All poultry must be confined to indoor facilities as of November 12th, 2005
- Producers must limit their flocks to one age group and one species of domestic birds per farm
- Producers may only procure chicks from a CFIA licensed hatchery
These measures are disastrous for family farmers who are producing organic poultry and raising heritage breeds. It forces farmers to either refrain from poultry production or break the law.
Ironically, the actions put in place to prevent avian flu outbreaks promote the precise conditions that weaken birds' immune systems (rendering them more susceptible to contracting the disease) and enabling it to spread more easily. In June 2008, the regulation was amended, to allow poultry producers to grant their flocks access to the outdoors as long as the perimeter is surrounded by a fence. Producers are also no longer required to limit their flocks to one age group and one species of bird per farm, nor are they limited to procuring chicks from a CFIA licensed hatchery.