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Sask. looking for beef research ‘centre of excellence’

News Roundup: National Beef Strategy sets targets for industry, and scientists track superbug genes to understand antibiotic resistance

Research

Research shakeup proposed for Saskatchewan

If Saskatchewan is going to meet its target of raising livestock receipts by 25 per cent it needs everyone pulling in the same direction. As a first step the steering committee set up by the province last April is recommending the creation of a centre of excellence to co-ordinate livestock and forage research and extension efforts within the province.

“If the industry is to remain viable, and indeed grow in the face of international competition and increased public concern for environmental impact, food safety, animal welfare and public health, then innovative and transformative research and development is required to ensure that our producers remain economically competitive on a global scale,” says the steering committee draft report unveiled for public discussion last month.

The committee says the University of Saskatchewan is well suited to meet future research needs of the beef industry in terms of the number of faculty members who already have national and international reputations in their fields.

The goal then is to create an integrated beef and forage network that has access to state-of-the-art facilities and provides an environment that fosters a collaborative multidisciplinary approach to research. To that end they recommend integrating existing researchers at the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources, the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, the provincial Ministry of Agriculture and the Western Beef Development Centre (WBDC) under a single organization.

The research sites would also be centralized at the university’s Goodale research farm and the new U of S research feedlot being developed south of Clavet to replace the older facility on the campus which is too small to simulate modern feedlot conditions. The Termuende research farm near Lanigan would be closed and the WBDC 300-head research herd transported to the 2,000-acre Goodale research farm primarily managed by the Western College of Veterinary Medicine which is closer to the Saskatoon campus.

This assumes the province will find the money to upgrade the Goodale facilities and complete the new research feedlot at Clavet. The total cost of this feedlot alone was estimated at $16.7 million on a grant application submitted in June.

The steering committee believes the synergies from such a plan will foster expanded beef and forage sectors by training highly qualified personnel for the industry to tap into, offer an environment conducive to innovative research into forage breeding and management, herd health, disease prevention and animal welfare and improved technology transfer of this information to producers.

To keep the ball rolling the steering committee would manage the centre and hire a general manager and site managers to look after the various facilities. The current eight-member committee is composed of researchers and administrators representing the university, the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, the WBDC, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Saskatchewan Forage Network (SFN), the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association, and is chaired by producer Aaron Ivey, the co-chair of the SFN.

The comment period for input to the draft plan closed on January 30.

Policy

New national strategy sets targets for industry

A new strategy from national and provincial cattle producer and beef marketing agencies has set five-year percentage benchmarks for the industry’s productivity, added value and cost effectiveness.

Canada’s beef sector groups formally released their National Beef Strategy, a guiding document for “how the organizations can work together to best position the Canadian beef industry for greater profitability, growth and continued production of a high quality beef product of choice in the world.”

Specifically, the strategy calls for a 15 per cent increase in carcass cut-out value, a 15 per cent increase in cattle production efficiency and a seven per cent decrease in “cost disadvantages” against Canada’s main beef export competitors — all to be reached by 2020.

Martin Unrau, a MacGregor, Man. producer, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association past president and co-chair of the National Beef Strategic Planning Group, said the plan “will build on and strengthen the foundational pieces of existing work that have enabled the beef industry to grow to date.”

However, he said, the new plan will do so “in a manner which will be more responsive to current and future needs,” allowing “chronic issues” such as industry infrastructure and capacity to be dealt with “more holistically,” for programming to help boost beef demand and “bridge to where industry wants to be in the future.”

Rising worldwide demand for protein has granted the sector “an unprecedented opportunity to increase demand for its beef products,” the planning group said, but noted “significant challenges” including tight cattle supplies, reduced marketings and competition for arable land.

“The need for industry to push itself is now,” Unrau said in the group’s release.

With cattle marketings today at their smallest level since the early 1990s, paying to reach the goals of the strategy may take additional checkoff dollars, the strategy documents note.

Achieving such goals, the strategy says, would take a projected National Checkoff (NCO) investment of about $19 million, or $2.50 per head.

With a $3 provincial checkoff and $2.50 NCO, at 2014 calf prices, producers would be putting 0.43 per cent of revenues into policy, research and marketing, of which 0.19 per cent would be earmarked for research and marketing. At 2014 fed cattle prices, the investment would be 0.27 per cent for policy, research and marketing, including 0.12 per cent for the latter two programs.

Compared to other ag commodities, the strategy group said, beef checkoff investments are “relatively low,” noting the turkey, dairy and chicken industries put up 2.1, 1.46 and 1.2 per cent of what they bring in for revenues respectively. On the other hand, weaner and finisher hog operations put up 0.07 and 0.09 per cent respectively.

‘Loyalty-based’

To boost carcass cut-out value, the strategy calls for development of the Canadian Beef Advantage (CBA) as the “most recognized and loyalty-based beef program in the world,” in part through development of a new National Total Quality Management System and Supply Chain Strategy.

Also, it calls for work to reduce both tariff and non-tariff barriers in export markets, gain “equal or preferential access” in key export markets and eliminate any remaining BSE-related export market access barriers.

Exporting beef products that are in greater demand outside Canada, the group noted, could add over $400 in value per animal.

The strategy further calls for work to “enhance the public image” of Canada’s beef industry with emphasis on “positive industry benefits, and improvements in environmental sustainability, animal health and welfare, and food safety practices.”

To reduce the Canadian beef sector’s “cost disadvantages,” the strategy calls for a “supportive regulatory environment” including regulatory co-operation with trading partners; enhanced research capacity; and improved access to “competitively priced” inputs such as feed, forages and animal health products and to “affordable skilled labour.”

The strategy also calls for the sector to maintain the industry’s “social licence to operate” through “validating production practices and identifying opportunities for continuous improvement in areas of public concern.”

To boost production efficiency, the strategy seeks research and development work on improved forage, grass and feed productivity, improved animal health and welfare and improved cattle performance through selection for “desired traits.”

A two per cent increase in reproductive efficiency, the group notes, translates to a $16.50 decrease in the cost of producing a calf — and a 30 per cent increase in forage production would result in a 15 per cent decrease in cow-calf level production costs.

Reputation management

Among its non-quantifiable targets, the strategy also calls for the sector to “enhance industry synergies (and) connect positively with consumers, the public, government, and partner industries.”

That includes “delivery of timely, concise and effective crisis communications” plus development of a “reputation management strategy” and improvements in the industry’s “ability to speak with a common voice.”

On the regulatory side, the strategy added, that includes engaging government and regulatory agencies to “build and maintain long-term relationships.”

The National Beef Strategy is a collaborative effort by Canadian national beef sector organizations, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (and its provincial member associations), the National Cattle Feeders’ Association, the Beef Cattle Research Council, Canadian Beef Breeds Council and Canada Beef Inc.

Drugs

Scientists track superbug genes to understand antibiotic resistance

Researchers at Colorado State University are investigating the weighty topic of antibiotic resistance — an issue with ramifications for global food safety and public health — by tracking the genetic footprints of drug-resistant bacteria.

They want to determine where infectious organisms originate and how they move through the food system and environment to people. The study, funded with $2.25 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is one of the largest of its kind and is enabled by recent advances in DNA sequencing technology.

The project is expected to provide insights about the factious topic of antibiotic use in food animals, chiefly beef and dairy cattle, and the degree to which the long-standing agricultural practices contribute to development of “superbugs” that infect people whose illnesses are difficult and expensive to treat.

Each year in the United States, at least two million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics; at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Salmonella and campylobacter, two of the many bacteria commonly transmitted through food, cause an estimated 410,000 antibiotic-resistant infections in the country each year, the CDC reports.

Just a few months ago, the White House directed key federal agencies to co-ordinate on a “National Strategy to Combat Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria.” In November, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges announced a new Task Force on Antibiotic Resistance in Production Agriculture to provide advice and education.

Food-animal production has been blamed for contributing to antimicrobial-resistant illness, but these suspicions are not well founded in science, said Keith Belk, professor in CSU’s Center for Meat Safety and Quality, and Dr. Paul Morley, a CSU veterinarian and infectious-disease expert.

With multiple collaborators, the two are leading the research project, “Paradigm Shift: Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Antimicrobial Resistance Ecology through Whole Genome Analysis of Microbial Communities.”

The scientists hope to gain a much better understanding of the role of production agriculture in antimicrobial resistance. It often is assumed that providing antibiotics in feed rations for livestock contributes to drug-resistant germs, but the practice also has a protective effect, Belk said.

“Most people believe they are consuming antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in their food because of intensive food production systems. In fact, those modern food-production systems are effectively controlling bacteria in food,” Belk said.

In order to successfully solve the problem of antibiotic resistance, scientists must better understand where resistance originates and how drug-resistant germs move through the food system and environment to people, the CSU researchers said.

“Using DNA sequencing technology, the researchers will trace genes that cause resistance in bacteria to determine sources and paths, including whether and how antimicrobial-resistant bugs move from livestock to humans.

Belk and Morley will compare antimicrobial resistance in traditional and organic processes, and in different environments, to identify what resistant genes are present and how they are transferred. They also want to learn whether different production methods affect abundance of antimicrobial resistance.

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