Program aims to verify and educate producers, consumers

It’s not enough these days to raise quality cattle from which comes quality beef. Those involved must also ensure consumers and the public know the animals and the resulting product were raised in acceptable ways.

The Verified Beef Production Plus program supports both those goals, said Virgil Lowe, the program’s business manager.

“VBP Plus really focuses on the basics, and the on-farm practices that apply to everyone no matter what market you’re shooting for or what type of beef you’re trying to produce or what type of cattle. Those basics are really important for any type of quality beef production,” he said.

“We’re moving into a new part in our beef production story where our consumers are more and more concerned about the overall sustainability, particularly the animal care and the environmental stewardship side, and so we’ve been evolving VBP Plus to keep up with that. In 10 more years, who knows what the concerns will be like?”

The program, operated through the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, has its roots in the mid-1990s with an initiative called Quality Starts Here. From that came Verified Beef Production, a training and audit program to address and ensure food safety.

In 2016, the program added the “plus” to VBP by creating three new modules for the training and audit program: biosecurity, animal care and environmental stewardship.

“The main purpose is to help improve on-farm production practices, and closely linked to that is help to make sure that the public knows how good we do on on-farm production practices,” said Lowe.

Many producers take the training program provided by VBP Plus, which costs $50 for access to material focused on food safety, animal health and care, feeding, land conservation and biosecurity.

A smaller percentage of producers go beyond the training segment to complete the fully audited program, said Lowe. There is a cost to that, primarily in the time it takes for the audit.

“We’ve had a lot more producers taking the training program than have gone all the way through with the audits and everything” and become fully registered, said Lowe.

However, he said there has recently been an increase in the number of producers who become fully engaged in VBP Plus because doing so allows participation in the Canadian Beef Sustainability Pilot.

Those who provide cattle through the pilot receive a premium because the resulting beef can be labeled as certified sustainable, with an independent audit that provides proof of that label.

“It does definitely have some added value perception from consumers,” said Lowe.

He said producers involved in VBP Plus generally find they are already doing many of the things advised in the program, which could be confirmed in an audit.

But if producers want to complete only part of the program, without extending to full registration under VBP Plus, they still provide an advantage to themselves and the industry.

“We’re not trying to improve only the cattle of those operations that go through the process and become registered. We’re trying to improve the quality of cattle and beef of all Canadian cattle and beef production.”

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