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Comment: We can audit for animal care

As I write this the vitriol that flooded over the industry after Earls Restaurant chain announced it would buy only Certified Humane Beef from the U.S. has started to fade from the headlines, the Blogosphere and Twitterland. Reading through the debris field of this latest battle for beef’s reputation I have to admit I’m having a hard time deciding if anything much has changed.

Certainly the entire beef industry leapt to the defence of its product with vigour when the company announced its new policy. Enough so that an obviously shocked Earls was forced to backpedal from its original position and admit that it would be delighted to purchase Alberta beef that meets the standards of the U.S. Certified Humane brand.

What’s harder to find is any sign that Earls’ customers were overjoyed by this change in policy. Will its beef sales go up sufficiently to cover the cost of its campaign, and this U.S. product? The dollar alone turns it into a high-priced item for them. And if Earls’ beef sales don’t go up (and in some markets they may well go down) what does that say about the Certified Humane brand?

Overall, it won’t have much influence on beef sales. We may see a slight increase in U.S. product, but every pound of Canadian beef will still find a home. We can’t forget that over half of what we sell ends up in the U.S., so it seems a bit disingenuous for us to quibble over a small increase for a branded product.

The big concern, of course, is not the volumes involved, but that Earls’ campaign, like A&W’s hormone/drug-free slogan, implies all other beef is unsafe or unsound.

What effect that actually has on consumers is difficult to measure. Statistics tell us Canadian per capita beef consumption is still in decline but the demand for the product is rising. Health scares may have some influence on consumption but rising demand for the product suggests otherwise.

So do we fight these types of campaigns, or join them? It’s your choice, if you are a beef producer.

In the end anything that increases beef consumption seems like a pretty good idea, especially if it can be sold at a higher price to cash in on our rising demand curve.

When you think about it, campaigns like Earls are probably more the result of this slumping consumption trend than a cause, as people are forced to look for new ways to encourage their customers to buy more beef.

Viewed in this light these campaigns offer an opportunity to anyone who is willing to pay the price to get into that supply chain.

As we all know there is a cost involved in raising antibiotic- and hormone-free beef. In this issue Dr. Matt May with Feedlot Health Management Services puts it at 100 pounds per head. That’s a lot to make up in premiums to make the switch worthwhile.

Humane treatment, however, is something Canadian producers can generally lay claim to and starting this month, something they can be verified for. In fact, two auditable animal care programs are now available in Canada.

One is offered by the National Cattle Feeders Association. A general outline of this program appeared in our May issue, and a more detailed look at its auditing process is found in this issue.

The newest one is the animal care module of the Verified Beef Program that is being launched June 15 with two other new modules devoted to biosecurity and environmental stewardship that are being incorporated into the current VBP course materials. The animal care module is tied very closely to the requirements of the new Beef Cattle Code of Practice.

All three are tailored to fit into a total package under the guidance of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef which includes retailers and food-service representatives.

At one time you might have expected a lot of competition between these two auditing services but today the goal is to blend them so nobody needs to have more than one auditor coming out to their place.

This is one of those places where the connectivity pillar of the National Beef Strategy is starting to pay off.

If you are interested in a more detailed breakdown on the plans and achievements of Canada’s National Beef Strategy in its second year of operation you should plan to take in the Canadian Beef Industry Conference August 9 to 11 at the Grey Eagle Resort just outside of Calgary. Separate reports will be presented on each of the four pillars, productivity, competitiveness, beef demand and connectivity. Plus the organization funded by the national beef checkoff will be holding its own meetings at the same venue.

There are more details on the Beef Cattle Research Council session in Reynold Bergen’s June Research on the Record column. More details are available at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference website.

See you there.

About the author

Editor

Gren Winslow is editor of Canadian Cattlemen.

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