Sustainability’s Blueprint

A blueprint for the future of beef production systems is taking shape on the prairies of western Canada.

In November, Cargill announced an initiative in Canada to test new technologies for tracking cattle with the goal of developing a verified sustainability standard to provide beef consumers with more information. The Cargill Beef Sustainability Acceleration pilot is an effort to provide Cargill’s customers with beef that has been audited from birth to slaughter, using an industry developed sustainability standard.

“Consumer research tells us there is a thirst for this type of information,” says Gurneesh Bhandal, Cargill’s beef sustainability manager. “Our year-long 2017/18 sustainability pilot will help create the infrastructure needed to implement the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef’s standard in our supply chain, providing our customers and consumers with an increased level of trust in the beef they purchase and eat.”

Canada’s ranches and feedlots have become ground zero in the movement to provide verified sustainable beef because of two important factors. First, McDonald’s completed its sustainability project last year in Canada, verifying 8,967 cattle from 121 cow-calf operations, 20 feedlots and two packers, which produced 300,000 lb. of beef. Second, Canada has an existing RFID tag system in place.

The RFID tag system allows cattle to be tracked by the Beef Info-Exchange System (BIXS) from the time producers tag them, through processing at Cargill’s High River beef plant. Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+)—overseen by Canada’s Beef Cattle Research Council and with the assistance of provincial cattle organizations—will be the first certification body used to audit producers who choose to participate.
Also of note in Cargill’s pilot is that a variety of technologies will be explored, such as DNA testing and blockchain—a shared, continually reconciled, decentralized internet database tool—to determine their long-term value, the company says.

America’s cattlemen should take note of the advancements the Canadian industry is making toward sustainable beef. Consumers around the world are demanding higher levels of quality, including assurances beef is produced in harmony with the environment and animal welfare standards.
The sustainability initiative in Canada suggests the future of American beef production will include both an animal identification system and a sustainability auditing program. Those are both optional, of course, but if American cattlemen refuse to participate in the sustainability movement we risk losing a portion of domestic demand and our export markets. The export value of beef and beef byproducts alone amounts to nearly $350 per head for U.S. cattle. That’s the economic incentive that demands American cattlemen move with haste to implement sustainability audits.