Roundtable to assess beef sector sustainability

A sustainable beef group plans to spell out specific goals for continuous improvement in all aspects of beef production.  |  File photo

EDMONTON — An Alberta rancher has been named chair of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

The group is part of a global initiative, but the ambitious plan could set Canadian beef in a class by itself, said Cherie Copithorne-Barnes.

Canada is among the 65 members of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef that formed less than four years ago, but it may be the first to meet many of the international initiative’s goals because of its verified beef program, sound food safety practices and good environmental record.

McDonald’s Corp. announced earlier this year that its Canadian restaurants would be the first to offer beef derived from sustainable production systems.

As well, Walmart has announced a standard of excellence program that will affect at least 50 percent of its beef supply within two years.

It is relatively easy for Canada to meet specifications because nearly all the company’s beef comes from Cargill and a pattie plant in Edmonton.

Sustainability is a difficult concept, but the global roundtable agreed to a definition in March that can be applied to beef producers anywhere, said Cameron Bruett, head of sus-tainability for JBS and president of the global roundtable.

Sustainability is not necessarily organic, natural or grass-fed production practices.

“We have to be careful when we are defining sustainability and equating it with niche systems,” Bruett said at the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency’s annual conference in Edmonton June 17.

Roundtable members agreed it means continuous improvement, in which all aspects of the beef value chain result in environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable products that makes the planet, people, animals and progress priorities.

The five core principles include natural resources, people and community, animal health and welfare, food, efficiency and innovation.

Members include Canada, the United States, Europe, Namibia, Indonesia, Australia, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil, as well as other stakeholders such as processors, pharmaceutical companies and environmental organizations.

The Canadian roundtable, which was launched at the beginning of June, is a network of beef industry leaders. Founding members in-clude the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, McDonald’s Canada, the World Wildlife Federation, Cargill, JBS, Loblaw’s Companies Ltd. and Costco.

Its first project will assess current sustainability of the Canadian beef industry and set specific goals for continual improvement. Initial results will be presented at the group’s annual meeting this fall in Kelowna, B.C.

The CCA was an early participant in the international initiative.

“It is familiar partners working and designing along with new partners like Loblaws, Walmart and McDonalds,” Copithorne-Barnes said in an interview.

She and her family live near Calgary at CL Ranches, where they run 2,000 cows on 25,000 acres. Her ranch became verified beef producers in 2009.

Copithorne-Barnes said Canada’s verified beef program could be used to develop the components that corporations want because it covers animal care, health, welfare and environmental aspects.

“(Sustainability) is a non-competitive issue similar to what food safety is. All those companies get together frequently to discuss issues that are non-competitive and do everybody good,” she said.

“We are trying to focus on the fact we are just using the tools that we have available already. It is just getting everybody on board.”

Canadian producers who are part of the verified beef program already meet many of the requirements that could be a marketing advantage, she said.

The program has trained 18,000 of Canada’s 68,000 beef farmers and validated more than 1,100 operations, but more producers need to sign on, Copithorne-Barnes said.

“We are in food production and there is a level of responsibility that we have to take in order to ensure that our side of the production is being managed properly, but you do not want to create this mandatory bur-eaucracy,” she said.

Bruett said McDonald’s recognizes that each country that supplies beef will be unique, but they can still be sustainable because it is about continuous improvement.

This does not include standards or certification.

“The goal is to chalk the boundary lines of the playing field, to say what is in bounds and what is out of bounds when discussing sustain-ability,” he said.

Final sustainability definitions will be reviewed and finalized this Nov-ember at a global conference on sustainable beef in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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