Tops in beef sustainability

OTTAWA — Canada is a star on the world stage when it comes to sustainability on the ranch, says Dennis Laycraft, the new chair of the Global Round Table on Sustainable Beef Production.

“I am pretty proud of the progress we have made in Canada,” he said at the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting last month.

Research has shown that the Canadian beef industry is leaving a small carbon hoof print.

A recent study from Agriculture Canada and the University of Manitoba measured changes in greenhouse gas emissions of Canadian beef production from 1981-2011 and found a 15 percent im-provement in 30 years.

The researchers also found that the industry was responsible for 3.6 percent of the country’s total emissions.

Most greenhouse gas emissions come from manure, burning fuel to grow feed and methane produced during digestion of forages.

Seventy-three percent of enteric methane comes from cow-calf operations, and Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec are the top four methane emitters.

It is a good news story, but the global roundtable does not want countries to compete with each other over which one is the most sustainable. Instead, each region’s efforts need to be respected.

“We want to use the right regional conditions to measure what we are doing on sustainability and sharing information on our continuous improvement,” Laycraft said.

Nor do producers want endless audits to provide reliable information about environmental and production improvements. A sampling across the country should be sufficient.

“I think there is an opportunity to remain a leader without adding that extra burden on producers,” he said.

Canada’s 82-member roundtable on sustainable beef production is studying indicators of sustain-ability, which should be released later this year.

Indictors are things that can be measured, such as an assessment of Canada’s beef sector greenhouse gas emissions, the number of verified beef producers, labour relations with workers and use of the beef code of practice for hu-mane handling of cattle.

An auditing process to prove these claims is also being developed, said Fawn Jackson of the CCA.

McDonald’s Corp. selected Canada to test its verified sustainable beef pilot and worked with players throughout the industry.

It is releasing the results of the project June 1 in Calgary, where it will reveal what it learned and make its recommendations to the Canadian roundtable.

Much of the corporation’s work can be melded into the national roundtable program.

“The indicators are very similar to the McDonald’s one,” Jackson said. “They did a very good job of getting a lot of viewpoints around the table so the indicators are very close.”

The roundtable’s final product is a guideline agreed upon by producer groups, non-government organizations, retail, processors and lenders.

“The roundtable is there to develop the rules of the game so if someone wants to do supply or somebody wants to source verified beef, they will have the framework they will need to guide them by,” she said.

Bob Lowe, chair of the CCA’s environment committee, also volunteered to test the McDonald’s program and was featured in corporate videos.

“This whole sustainability thing is what will give us our social licence,” he said.

“It is something that we need. Canada will be the first country that can genuinely say we are producing some beef in a sustainable manner. We have proved to the world we have done this.”

The video may be seen at i5giM8.

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