Beef industry faces challenges, opportunities

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Delegates at the recent Ranching Opportunities 2017 conference at Olds College were given an update on the verified sustainable beef framework being developed by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB).

Fawn Jackson is the executive director of the CRSB, which is dedicated to the promotion of responsible beef production in Canada. She gave a speech on the project.

“We are going to be launching the verification framework in Q4 of 2017,” said Jackson. “So what is it? It is going to be a label on product that says that that product was verified to be sustainable.

“It is going to cover five principles of sustainability. It is going to be developed transparently through both the multi stakeholders that sit at the CRSB but also in public consultations.

“So the message that is going to go with verified sustainable must be consistent and clear and accurate and transparent and scientifically sound.”

The national beef sustainability assessment was launched in October 2016.

“This is really exciting because it speaks so well to the quality of beef production that is happening in Canada,” she said. “It is also helping set a path forward on how we are going to further improve it.”

The assessment has two main sections: the current state of the industry and also a strategy portion of where things are going, she said.

The assessment looked at the environmental, social and economic sustainability of the beef industry in Canada.

“The environmental assessment includes a very standard way of looking at the environmental impact of a product, a sort of a how much do you use type thing,” she said.

“It assesses things like climate change, fossil fuel use, water use, air pollution, water pollution, all of those sorts of things. It also has a land use assessment.”

Officials assessed 77 farms as part of the environmental assessment.

“What we found out is that we use 44.2 million acres of pasture, 3.2 million acres of hay, 3 million acres of barley and 1.7 million acres of other feed crops,” she said.

“So of all the crops that are produced in Canada, beef production uses about nine percent of those crops. We do account for about 33 per cent of agricultural land in Canada.”

The study assessed the capacity of land used for beef production to support wildlife habitat.

The results showed that within the agricultural landscape beef contributes the largest proportion of potential wildlife habitat, contributing 68 per cent of the potential wildlife habitat on 33 per cent of total agricultural land.

“Having an integrated landscape is extremely important,” she said.

The study looked at the beef industry’s impact on water, focusing on water use, water risk and pollution potential.

To produce one kilogram of boneless beef, it takes 631 litres of blue water (surface and groundwater). Eighty per cent of that water is used for feed crop irrigation and 19 per cent for drinking water for cattle.

“The link between water risk (i.e. water stress, inter-annual variability and drought severity) and cattle density was explored, and showed that 70 per cent of cattle production takes place in medium to high water risk areas,” the report states.

The study looked at meat waste and found that 19 per cent of edible bone-free meat is wasted through processing, retail and consumption.

“It is estimated that reducing meat waste by 50 per cent could save 60 litres per kilogram of packed boneless beef delivered and consumed.”

On the social assessment side, the study looked at working conditions in the industry and animal welfare.

“Most indicators related to working conditions showed very low to low risks. Farmer and packers scored well on hourly wages, and health and safety training and prevention.

“The Canadian beef industry showed low risks in the animal health and welfare section of the assessment, which is reflective of the industry’s investment in developing and disseminating the Code of Practice for Handling and Care of Beef Cattle.”

On the economic assessment side, the study looked at producer viability.

“Long-term average margins from a 200-head cow herd of $9,650 with paid labour of $7,909 provides a total annual income of $17,559. This is below Statistics Canada low-income cut-off, and does not support an average family. These operations must rely on other sources of income.”

The study also looked at consumer resilience.

“Long-term trends include a growing middle class and shifting consumer demographics with more urbanization. Medium-term perceptions are impacted by food awareness, including perceptions of food safety, beef quality, nutrition and healthfulness of beef. Short-term shifts may be due to prices and availability of substitute protein options.”

As a result of the assessment, the CRSB outlined a number of goals, including the following (quoted from report):

ï build a strong and more united Canadian beef sustainability community.

ï enhance ecosystem services and biodiversity on lands managed by beef producers.

ï reduce post-harvest meat waste.

ï promote farm safety and responsible working conditions.

ï promote excellence in animal care.

ï increase the financial viability of beef production in Canada.

ï increase demand for Canadian beef through consumer awareness of sustainable beef production.

“The Canadian beef industry has a strong desire to see improvements that reduce its environmental footprint and support society’s values while at the same time help it remain economically viable,” the report states.

The full report is available at www.crsb.ca.

The Feb. 9 Ranching Opportunities 2017 conference attracted 185 delegates, a record number for the annual livestock information sharing and industry promotion event.

“This is really exciting because it speaks so well to the quality of beef production that is happening in Canada.”Fawn Jacksonexecutive director of the Canadian Roundtable on Sustainable Beef

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Dan Singleton

Dan Singleton is the editor of the Mountain View Gazette who joined the newspaper in 1994. He covers news, municipal politics and community events in Mountain View County. He is also a longtime columnist for other publications of Mountain View Publishing.