Cattle producers opt for sustainability certification

Grocery and restaurant chains make a financial commitment to encourage beef producers to become certified

Becoming certified beef producers reaffirmed the Monvoisin family’s commitment to sustainability and continuous improvement.

JP and Marlene Monvoisin run a herd of about 450 purebred and commercial Angus cows near Gravelbourg, Sask. They were strong believers in the Verified Beef Production Plus program, which covers food safety and quality, environmental care, animal welfare and biosecurity. Taking the training and later being audited automatically made them a certified sustainable operation.

“There were no changes in management in the way we were running our cattle,” said JP.

“It was a good idea and I am really excited about it.”

They were early adopters of the concept because it adds to their information cache. They signed on early on with BIXs, the Beef Information Exchange System, to get feedback on animal performance. They use DNA testing for their bulls and hope eventually to use the 50K genomic test for the commercial side of the operation.

Striving for continuous improvement pays dividends.

“I have been trying to promote the program to other producers so they know there is a good opportunity to put your herd in the program and then the incentive at the end is $18 (per head). Every dollar we can gain on our calf, it all adds up,” he said.

Loblaw Companies Ltd., Cactus Club Cafe, the Recipe Restaurant group (Original Joes, Swiss Chalet), McDonald’s Canada and Harveys Restaurants have made a financial commitment to incentivize beef producers to become certified as sustainable.

The demand for certified beef outstrips the supply, said Melissa Downing of VBP Plus, a voluntary program for training and certification that includes an on-farm audit by an outside source. Where Food Comes From audits feedlots and packing plants while VBP Plus audits producers.

It does not restrict production methods, such as the use of antibiotics or other products, and it is not a buyer or seller of cattle. It is attached to the concept of doing the right thing, proving it and improving it.

“It is about building public trust,” Downing said.

“The program is built so we can do that.”

More than 1,200 producers across Canada are certified.

For the last year about $18 per head has been paid out to each person involved in producing the certified sustainable animal. Cull cows and bulls as well as calves are eligible for this program.

BIXs tracks the animals using the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency electronic ear tags and administers payments after the cattle have been processed.

Anne Wasko, chair of the Canadian Roundtable on Sustainable Beef, which includes producers, retailers, processors, environmental groups and government, said it set up a framework of what it means to be sustainable and provides information. However, it does not set up supply chains.

It also supports a life cycle analysis of how the beef industry intersects with the environment. An interim report is coming in the spring, and a full analysis will be done in 2023.

Producers are reaching the point where they need to show they are sustainable, Wasko said.

“We need to show the world what we are doing,” she said.

“Consumers have choices. We want beef to be their choice, and we want to answer their questions through a certified program.”

The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity released its latest consumer results earlier and many of the concerns raised are part of what the roundtable has established as indicators for sustainability on a beef operation.

“Our certification program supports the data behind what consumers are saying.”

The challenge is to push more producers to become certified so retailers and restaurant owners can obtain 30 percent of their beef from a certified source.

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