This is a guest post written by Fawn Jackson, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association Manager of Environmental Affairs.
The market appears to be sending a strong signal that consumers want sustainable products, and furthermore, they want proof. Last week McDonalds announced a commitment to source verified sustainable beef by 2016. A&W currently claims their beef has been raised by producers at the leading edge of sustainable production practices and Walmart continually promises to deliver more sustainable agricultural products.
Beef producers in Canada and abroad are left wondering:
What do these claims about sustainability mean to me and my operation? Does this mean that I will be rewarded for existing sustainable production practices or does this mean that I will have to make burdensome changes to my farming operation?
Although the precise definition of sustainable beef and how sustainable beef production is proven continues to be a mystery, the role of research, technology, innovation and communication hold steadfast as the foundation for making ‘sustainable’ decisions by all members of the value chain.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) has been taking great strides to ensure that Canadian cattle producers are appropriately prepared to address this growing consumer and market demand. For instance, the CCA joined the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) in 2013 and are now forming a Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB), which is set to launch later this year. The CCA helped lead the development of the 2013 Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle, leads the Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS), an economically viable traceability and information transfer system, and developed a verifiable on farm food safety program, Verified Beef ProductionTM (VBP). The CCA is currently expanding the VBP program with the addition of animal care, environment and biosecurity modules. The Environmental Stewardship Award (TESA) also recognizes cattle producers that are exemplary leaders in conservation, and the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC), a division of the CCA, invests in and promotes the adoption of research and innovation that contributes to sustainability.
The utilization of these programs and initiatives will ultimately play integral roles in helping Canadian beef producers address the increased demand for verified sustainable products.
5 key things beef producers can do to ensure they are prepared to meet future sustainable supply demands
- Continue doing what you are doing. First and foremost, cattle producers in Canada are by and large sustainable already. For example, the use of growth promotant technologies in conventional beef production produces more high-quality, safe beef products while using less land, water, feed, fuel and fertilizer, and producing less manure and greenhouses gases. A study to be completed as part of the 2nd Beef Science Cluster will help to better define the environmental footprint of the Canadian beef industry with recognition of the role of cattle production in the provision of healthy ecosystems, the ability of beef cattle to convert low quality forages into high quality protein for human consumption, that pasture lands are major stores of carbon, and that grasslands preserve wetlands and provide habitat to many species at risk.
- Make continual improvements. We can all get behind on keeping up to date on potential improvements and it’s easy to do things the way you’ve always done. However, striving to continually improve production practices contributes to the economic, environmental and social viability of your operation and the industry as a whole. Consider spending some time learning from the resources on BeefResearch.ca like the Beef Research School video series, attend field days or conferences in your area, update your Environmental Farm Plan or get involved with an organization such as Cows and Fish. There is always new information being released and sources of knowledge and resources to tap into.
- Capture what you do. There is a large and growing gap between primary production and consumers and therefore it is important to capture what you do on your farm so industry groups can leverage that information. Utilizing programs like VBP and BIXS will put you in an ideal position to capture your sustainable production practices. The information may be valuable when marketing your products, and helps the industry record the broader story that can be shared with regulatory bodies and interested consumers.
- Become a part of the conversation about sustainability. The conversation around the definition and the systems needed to validate sustainable beef production is happening right now and you can be a part of it. Individual operations can become members of the GRSB, and the GRSB Principles and Criteria will be open for public comment in March of this year. You can always get involved or communicate with your national and provincial cattle associations.
- Talk to the public about beef production. Consumers want to know where their food comes from. It’s our job to make sure they get the right information. Consider taking the Masters of Beef Advocacy program (a Canadian version, Beef Advocacy Canada, is soon to be released) to advance your communication skills and find accurate information. You can also participate in conversations on social media, write or comment on newspaper articles, or talk to consumers directly.
The future of sustainable production sourcing and verification might be a bit blurry yet, but Canadian producers have established themselves as world leaders in animal care, production efficiencies and land management, and are in an excellent position to respond to future market demands.
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