The environmental impact of beef production and improving animal welfare are among the new research projects to receive approval from the Beef Cattle Research Council.
Previous research projects have focused on improving cattle production and efficiency, but the council is now taking on broader studies that benefit producers and the general public.
The council is funded through a national $1 per head levy that the provinces collect on the sale of cattle, and it has been able to boost its available funds by working with the federal government.
The result is an annual $11.25 million available for research into beef quality, food safety, forage and grass production, animal health and feed efficiency, the council’s science director, Reynold Bergen, said at the Alberta Beef Producers annual meeting held in Calgary Dec. 3-5.
Provincial contributions vary, but Alberta and Saskatchewan allocate 20 cents of each dollar of the national checkoff to the research program. The rest is contributed to Canada Beef Inc.
A major project led by Agriculture Canada’s Tim McAllister will assess the environmental footprint and benefits of Canada’s beef industry.
It will analyze how much grain is grown for livestock feed and how improvements in feed production and efficiency have benefitted the environment.
Included in the study will be an analysis of the benefits of carbon sequestration from grasslands, water use and quality and assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.
Food safety and antimicrobial resistance is another upcoming project. Livestock production and antimicrobial use have been targeted as contributing to the growing problem of resistance in human medicine.
The industry has argued that cattle drugs have minimal resistance problems and do not contribute to the growing incidences among people.
“It is important that we come up with the numbers to defend our position and continue to illustrate that we are using this stuff responsibly,” he said.
The project hopes to quantify antimicrobial use and resistance that may exist with E. coli and enterococcus. Scientists will look at bacteria isolated from cattle, manure, water and retail meat and compare them to bacteria isolated from sick people.
They plan to isolate the genes from these microbes and find out if the antimicrobial resistance to certain drugs among humans is the same as that found in cattle.
Recent research showed that the genetic origin of resistant campylobacter found in people was different from that seen in livestock.
“If there is antimicrobial resistance in people, don’t blame us,” Bergen said.
“If it is coming from us, it will help us figure out what to do about it.”
Another project is studying stress and pain during common procedures such as castration and calf dehorning. A new code of practice for beef cattle is being drafted and recommendations on pain control are coming to the forefront.
The last code of practice was released in 1991, but public pressure and new technology suggest there are improved ways of doing things.
Other projects include more forage and feed grain research and a beef quality audit.
For a full outline of current projects and results, visit www.beefresearch.ca and www.youtube.com/beefresearch.