Beef sustainability program expands across the sector

National program gains more traction in Ontario beef value chain

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The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef’s program will soon be coming to Ontario’s largest beef processing plant — creating more opportunities for beef farmers here to sell their beef at a premium.

Gurneesh Bhandal, Cargill Protein’s senior sustainability manager, told the Beef Symposium at FarmSmart recently that the company expects the audit allowing the Cargill plant in Guelph to sell into the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef’s (CRSB) program to be completed in the first quarter of 2020.

Why it matters: The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is being held up as an example of how the sector can work with processors and retailers to create a system that tells a sustainability story instead of creating a lot of new regulations.

Monica Hadarits
photo: John Greig

Bhandal spoke as part of a beef sustainability panel at FarmSmart at the University of Guelph along with Monica Hadarits from the CRSB and Jennifer Lambert, the sustainability lead at Loblaw Companies.

Farmers who produce beef for the program have to pay for an audit, usually from Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+), which will document their production processes.

“It’s outcomes based, not prescriptive,” says Bhandal. Outcomes are listed and a farmer has to show how that outcome is achieved. “The answer can be different from your neighbour.”

The program is also voluntary, so there’s no onus on farmers to participate.

A VBP+ audit costs $400 for a cow-calf operation and $600 for a feedlot and lasts for five years.

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A producer at the event said his last cheque for cattle that qualified for the program was $680, which would cover the cost of the audit. Producers are paid program premiums quarterly.

There are auctions that are now running sales for CRSB identified cattle.

Dan Ferguson, the VBP+ co-ordinator for Ontario, said that calf sellers with CRSB certification need to make sure an auction market knows they are certified so that a feedlot looking to market calves with that certification can move the certified cattle through to the processor so the premium can be paid.

The CRSB cattle are mostly used to be part of McDonald’s sustainability program and a new program from Harvey’s.

There are many farms across Ontario already certified under the VBP+ program, which will also qualify for the CRSB program.

However, Jaclyn Horenberg, of Beef Farmers of Ontario says that the cattle have to go through VBP+ audited operations at each step of the supply chain in order to qualify for the end premium. They also need to be on the BIXS program for traceability.

The program helps the beef sector tell its production story.

“People love eating beef and want to eat beef,” says Bhandal. “We’re hearing all negative information especially around climate change. They want a reason to feel good about eating beef and this is a way to give it to them. This helps you control the conversation.”

The CRSB was created as a full value chain organization. Lambert has participated as a retailer representative. She has experience in coca, paper and seafood value chains that she brings to the roundtable discussions.

Understanding what other sectors are doing relating to sustainability is important, says Hadarits as there are other areas, such as in fisheries that are doing a good job of explaining their sustainability efforts, instead of having solutions imposed.

About the author

Editor

John Greig

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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