Isn’t Beef Canada’s Ultimate Plant Based Protein?



The profile of plant-based proteins has grown exponentially over the past decade. Food companies are investing heavily in the development of new vegetarian and vegan products like new meatless burgers made from peas, which are quickly going mainstream. The spotlight is extra bright on Earth Day.

As plant-based protein options become more abundant, people can’t help but wonder how they compare to meat. Is producing plant-based proteins better for the environment than livestock? Are meatless options healthier? Should I replace beef burgers with plant-based patties?

Environmentally, agriculturally and nutritionally speaking, Canadians need legumes and meat. There’s no good reason to choose one over the other – it’s best to choose both. In fact, beef production provides unique environmental and human health benefits, so it’s important to keep beef in the mix. Continue reading

How much water is used to make a pound of beef?

Facts about water use and other environmental impacts of beef production in Canada

Yes, it takes water to produce beef, but in the 2.5 million years since our ancestors started eating meat, we haven’t lost a drop yet.

Based on the most recent science and extensive calculations of a wide range of factors, it is estimated that the pasture-to-plate journey of this important protein source requires about 1,910 US gallons per pound (or 15,944 litres per kilogram) of water to get Canadian beef to the dinner table. That’s what is known as the “water footprint” of beef production.

That may sound like a lot, but the fact is it doesn’t matter what crop or animal is being produced; food production takes water. Sometimes it sounds like a lot of water, but water that is used to produce a feed crop or cattle is not lost. Water is recycled – sometimes in a very complex biological process— and it all comes back to be used again. Continue reading

Does Antibiotic Resistance Move Through the Environment?

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.


Recent columns have talked about antibiotic use in Canadian cow-calf and feedlot operations. Contrary to common misconceptions, antibiotic resistant bacteria are very unlikely to transfer from cattle to beef, evade food safety interventions in the processing plant, survive cooking, and cause an antibiotic resistant infection in a person. But can antibiotic resistant bacteria be transmitted from cattle, through feedlot manure and runoff, across soil, through wetlands, streams and rivers, and reach humans through the environment?

A Beef Science Cluster study led by Dr. Rahat Zaheer and Tim McAllister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (with collaborators from the Public Health Agency of Canada, the University of Calgary’s faculties of medicine and veterinary medicine, University of Guelph, Alberta Agriculture and Feedlot Health Management Services) examined this question.

What they did: This research focused on bacteria called enterococci that can cause infections in humans (e.g. urinary tract, liver and bile duct, heart, surgery wound, and bloodstream infections). Most enterococcal infections can be effectively treated with macrolide antibiotics. This is important because macrolides (products like Draxxin, Zuprevo, Micotil, Tylan, Zactran, etc.) are commonly used in both beef production and human medicine.

Over a two-year period, this team collected samples from feedlots (pen floor fecal samples, collection ponds, stockpiled and composted manure), agricultural soils, wetlands, streams, municipal sewage, packing plants, retail meats and human patients. Advanced lab testing was used to identify the specific types of enterococci and antibiotic resistance patterns in the samples from each location.

Continue reading

Q&A on conventional production of Canadian Beef

Do growth promoting, antimicrobial or other veterinary drugs affect the food safety of Canadian beef?



Veterinary drugs are regulated by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. All veterinary drugs go through a Health Canada approval process before they are licensed for use.  The Health Canada Veterinary Drug Directorate (VDD) evaluates and monitors the safety, quality and effectiveness, and sets standards for the use of veterinary drugs to ensure that, when used according to label directions, they are safe for both animals and humans.

For a more detailed explanation of the veterinary drug approval process in Canada, download ‘Canada’s Veterinary Drug Approval Process

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Label and veterinary directions indicate proper administration doses and routes for veterinary products, as well as pre-slaughter withdrawal times, which ensure that the product has been metabolized by the animal before the meat is harvested. Most drugs are completely metabolized during the prescribed minimum number of days between the last administration of the drug and slaughter, and therefore leave no residue. Continue reading

Are Cattle Drinking Canada Dry?



We often see headlines about how human lifestyle and dietary choices (particularly beef consumption) can impact environmental sustainability. These headlines are often about greenhouse gases, but water use has become a part of this conversation as well. Vilifying headlines and simple, partial arguments are interesting and emotional; that sells papers and gets clicks. Complex, science-based facts about the positive impacts cattle have on the environment and the need for both crops and cattle across the country’s diverse landscape are less exciting, but here they are:

Beef cattle use water

Make no mistake – it does take more water to produce a pound of uncooked, boneless beef (over 1,800 gallons/6814 liters) than to produce a pound of dry peas (178 gallons/674 liters), dry beans (488 gallons/1847 liters) or dry lentils (577 gallons/2184 liters), or any other protein crop, but this is only one of many pieces of information to consider. The pastures and feed crops that beef cattle eat account for nearly all (99%) of the water used in beef production.

Does that mean that the land used to raise cattle should be converted to crop production? Not necessarily. There are many reasons why not all land is suitable for cultivated agriculture and why raising beef plays an important role in sustainably feeding the population. Continue reading

How quickly do water systems pay for themselves? New calculator available



Allowing cattle access to clean water can improve herd health, as well as  increase weight gain and backfat. A 2005 study reported that calves whose dams drank from water troughs gained on average 0.09 lbs per day more than calves whose dams had direct access to the dugout. Because water and forage intake are closely related, as cows drink more water they also spend more time eating and therefore produce more milk for their calves. Calves with access to clean pumped water were on average 18 lbs heavier at weaning time. A separate study in 2002 found that calves, with dams drinking clean water, gained 9% more weight than calves Continue reading

The Canadian beef industry’s water footprint is shrinking

In 2016, the Beef Cattle Research Council’s (BCRC’s) Science Director received 10 letters like this:

“Dear Dr. Bergen…. My name is Emma. I am in 6th grade at Rime Street Elementary. My class found out on vegsource.com that it takes 2,500 liters of water to produce one kilogram of beef. Another site said 25,000 liters…. all these different answers are confusing. My social teacher also showed us a video named Cowspiracy, but it didn’t help. Do you have a dependable answer?”



Eleven-year-olds aren’t the only ones asking these questions. So are consumers, retailers, and others. When the facts aren’t available, exaggerated opinions often fill the gap. A quick google search provides more answers with less consistency. Numbers vary from 100,000 liters/kg (BioScience 47:97-106), 43,000 liters/kg (BioScience 54:909-918); 25,000 liters/kg (Cowspiracy), 16,975 liters/kg (waterfootprint.org) to 15,000 litres/kg (The Economist). A Canadian research team is providing the facts to help us answer these questions, and to help us know how to do better. Continue reading

New research shows shrinking “water footprint” of Canadian beef production



NEWS RELEASE
December 14, 2017

Canada’s beef industry has dramatically reduced its water footprint over the past several decades, and that trend is expected to continue, a new study has found.

The amount of water required to produce one kilogram of Canadian beef has decreased by 17% from 1981 to 2011, due largely to enhanced efficiency in how feed crops for beef cattle are produced, as well as enhanced efficiency in raising beef cattle and producing more beef per animal.

These results are from the most comprehensive and sophisticated study ever done assessing the water footprint of Canadian beef production, conducted by researchers at the University of Manitoba and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Lethbridge. It involved extensive data integration, modelling, and assessment of numerous factors associated with the water footprint of Canadian beef over a 30-year period, using the data-rich principal census years of 1981 and 2011 as the reference. Continue reading

New video: What beef producers need to know about environmental footprint



More than most livestock, beef cattle production takes place in the natural environment.

Those who live in rural areas and spend most of their time outdoors considering Mother Nature and managing their livestock and land as best they can understand that it’s common sense to protect the health of the land and water for themselves and their neighbours.

When enjoying peaceful moments watching cattle and wildlife on pasture, smelling rain or seeing plants change throughout the seasons, it’s difficult to understand why some people think that Canadian beef production is damaging the environment.

As a beef producer, what do you need to know about the environmental footprint of Canadian beef production? Continue reading

Registration open for 2017-18 BCRC webinars



This year’s BCRC webinar topics include winter feeding, results of the latest National Beef Quality Audit, managing forages and other production practices.

View and register for our upcoming webinars below. To register for all of them at once, register for any one of them and select the option to be automatically registered for all remaining 2017-18 beef webinars.

We recommend registering for all webinars that you’re interested in regardless of whether you can attend during the date/time listed. By registering, you’ll receive reminders to attend the live event plus receive a link that allows you to watch the recording at any time. It’s no problem if you register and miss the live event, however joining live is recommended as it gives you the opportunity to interact and ask questions.

BCRC webinars are available and free of charge thanks to guest speakers who volunteer their time and expertise to support advancements in the Canadian beef industry, and through the Knowledge Dissemination and Technology Transfer project funded by the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster.

Recordings of all of our past webinars can be found on our webinars page.

2017-18 BCRC Webinars:

Refining corn grazing recommendations – October 12, 2017, 7:00pm MT
Speaker: Bart Lardner, PhD, Senior Research Scientist at the Western Beef Development Centre 

Thinking about turning your cattle out on corn? Want to be sure you are up to date with the latest corn grazing recommendations? Join us to Continue reading