Loblaws answers consumer hunger for meat traceability

A round steak purchased from Real Canadian Superstore also comes with DNA trace-back. 
|  Barbara Duckworth photo

Knowing the name and address of the steer that provided that AAA steak on your barbecue could be just a scan away.

Loblaws has introduced DNA information on some of its beef products to provide the ultimate in traceability.

“We wanted to use the power of DNA technology to allow Loblaws to connect to the Canadian AAA beef sold in stores back to the region and family farm. This process would guarantee that the cut is sourced from beef that is specifically chosen to deliver an exceptional eating experience,” said Ross Ingram of Loblaws Companies Ltd., Canada’s largest grocery chain.

“There is a real interest out there in knowing the farmers who produce the meat. It is all about value and values.”

A recent Loblaws survey asked its customers if it was important to know whether their beef was born and raised in Canada.

About 80 percent said it was extremely important to know that, and 60 percent said they wanted to know the province of origin.

Almost 40 percent wanted to know which ranch produced their beef.

Ingram, who was speaking at a Nov. 2-3 traceability symposium in Calgary, said consumers believe they are getting a better product if they knew where it came from. Knowing who produced the cattle gives them more confidence that the animal’s health and welfare was attended to, he added.

Cattle designated for the Loblaws program are processed in the conventional way, but DNA samples are collected at the processing plant and correlated with the individual radio frequency identification ear tag number.

Presidents Choice Certified Angus beef and Ontario Cornfed beef can now be traced, but Ingram said the company hopes it is only the beginning.

“Our goal is to trace every Canadian meat package right back to the birthing ranch or farm with 100 percent accuracy,” he said.

The product was launched in 77 Real Canadian Superstore locations in Alberta, Manitoba, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

DNA is the ultimate form of traceability, said Ronan Loftus president of the IdentiGEN North America, which handles the DNA collection and testing.

Individual animals wear ear tags, but identity can be lost at the fabrication stage once they are processed.

“Once you move beyond the point of harvest, into the meat side of the business, things start to get more complex,” Loftus said.

“You lose the link between the individual animal and the meat products.… We pick up the trail from the point of harvest forward.”

DNA is accurate and precise, but the downside is it cannot be read in real time like a barcode.

However, technology and research are improving.

The company provides a similar service to other retailers in the United States and Europe.

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