[Updated: Sept. 14, 2017] – Finally. After years of discussion and planning and surveying and researching, the Canadian version of Verified Sustainable Beef is about to face its ultimate test in the marketplace.
It begins this October with the soft launch of the Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration pilot in which Cargill, the Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS) and Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) will open the first verified sustainable supply chain for beef.
VBP+ will train and audit operations and verify they meet all the benchmarks of a verified sustainable Canadian beef operation. All Canadian cow-calf, backgrounder and feedlot operations are eligible to participate.
BIXS will track the cattle through the chain right up to the plant.
Once in the plant Cargill’s in-house system will track the beef right to the participating customer. At the moment, McDonald’s Canada and the Swiss Chalet brand of Cara Foods are signed onto the program.
Participating producers will earn credits quarterly but the value of those credits will depend on the volume of cattle delivered as well as returns generated from the sustainable supply chain.
The pilot won’t be able to make any official claim to supply sustainable beef until the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef officially launches its verification framework. At its August meeting the CRSB board agreed to target early December during the Western Canada Conference on Soil Health and Grazing in Edmonton for this announcement.
Meanwhile Cargill has committed to record the beef from any producers who sign on the program before the launch date and add those credits to their first quarterly payment early in 2018.
The goal at this point is to get the ball rolling toward building a supply chain that could consistently deliver a large enough supply of sustainable beef that McDonald’s or Swiss Chalet could start to think about marketing a branded Canadian product.
A lot of the pieces are already in place.
The Canadian roundtable patterned its verification framework over the international standard for sustainable production laid down by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
It begins with on-farm benchmarks to measure how well a operation sustains its natural resources, its people, its community, the health and welfare of its animals and the production of safe, quality beef while maintaining efficiency and innovation in its operation. There are 27 indicators used by auditors to verify an on-farm operation.
Another list of indicators has been developed for beef processors. The feedback period for that list closed in late August, so barring any major disagreements it should be completed before December.
They’ve also had to develop a framework that auditors can use to score these indicators, and then put it all into a manual that the auditors can use.
Next they have to verify the chain of custody as the beef moves along each link of the chain. As of last month Cargill was still looking for a third party company to verify its chain of custody on the pilot supply chain.
In August the Canadian roundtable was in negotiations with NSF International to assist in development and to provide third party oversight of the entire framework.
As a final step the roundtable had to come up with a way to establish equivalency with other certification companies or organizations. The audit protocols of the VBP+ program, for example, required some adjustment before it could deliver sustainable audits.
It’s important to realize that the roundtable only establishes the protocol for verifying sustainability. It will be up to the trade to make it work, which brings us back to the Cargill, VBP+, BIXS pilot. It will run for a minimum of one year. What happens after that will depend on how well it is received by producers and consumers.
To get in this game you need to get trained and audited by VBP+ and register with BIXS (www.bixsco.com). You will also have to give VBP+ and BIXS permission to include your data in anonymous, aggregated reports to the project team, and provide the necessary information to enable credit payments.
You’ll also have to pay for your audit.
It will be interesting to see how producers respond to this call for sustainability and, even more intriguing, how consumers react when they can buy beef produced in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable fashion.
Once the verification framework is announced the Canadian roundtable can get on with the larger chore of assessing how well the Canadian beef industry is doing as a whole. A national assessment carried out in 2014 gave us the initial benchmarks for environmental, social and economic sustainability.
Since then there has been quite a bit of activity to move the needle up in all three areas before the next national assessment.
It wouldn’t hurt to have some money on the table for doing the right thing.
Canada is the first to put sustainable beef into the market, and you can bet the rest of the beef-producing world will be watching the results.