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Ranching 2.0

By Andrea White

People are interested in how their food is raised, where it comes from and are considering external factors such as sustainability in their food choices. 

What is sustainable beef? Sustainable beef is defined as an economically viable, socially responsible and environmentally sound product that prioritizes the planet, people, animals, and progress. The cornerstone of sustainability is continuous improvement.

The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) was formed in 2014 as a collaborative, multi-stakeholder organization focused on advancing sustainability from environmental, social and economic perspectives in the Canadian beef industry. 

The CRSB works under three main pillars to demonstrate sustainability in Canada.

Sustainability Benchmarking

First released in 2016, the National Beef Sustainability Assessment benchmarks the overall performance of the Canadian beef industry from environmental, social and economic perspectives. It shows where the industry is doing well and identifies areas for improvement. For example, from an environmental perspective, it showed that Canadian beef production contributes only 2.4 per cent of Canada’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, and beef production land provides significant biodiversity habitats. It also highlighted areas such as food waste and producer economic viability for improvement. A sustainability strategy outlines key goals, and progress will be measured every five to seven years with the next assessment planned for release in 2023. 

Sustainability Certification

First of its kind in the world, the Certified Sustainable Beef Framework is an operation-level certification program developed to demonstrate sustainable practices, help companies meet sustainable sourcing commitments and provide consumers assurances about sustainable practices. Certification is awarded for achievement against sustainability standards for beef production and processing across all five principles of sustainability: Natural resources, people and community, animal health and welfare, food, efficiency and innovation. The standards are outcome-based, which allows for flexibility in different production practices. To provide the opportunity for end-user claims about beef sustainability, cattle and beef from certified operations are tracked through the supply chain according to Chain of Custody requirements, verified through a chain of custody audit. Sustainability claims and a CRSB certified logo are available to enable supply chain partners, including producers and processors, to provide consumers assurances they seek. 

Currently, three certification bodies are approved to conduct audits for the program: Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+), Where Food Comes From Inc. and IMI Global. VBP+ registered producers are credited with VBP+ and CRSB certification through a single-audit process. Where Food Comes From can conduct both producer and processor audits, and IMI Global provides Chain of Custody verification.

The National Cattle Feeders’ Association Canadian Feedlot Animal Care Assessment Program is also recognized by CRSB with equivalency to the animal health and welfare indicators in the Sustainable Beef Production Standard, and Where Food Comes From provides certification for both CRSB’s Production Standard and PAACO. 

You may have heard about some of your fellow producers receiving financial credits for sustainability certification. Supported by McDonald’s, Loblaws, Original Joe’s, Swiss Chalet and Cactus Club Cafe, the Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration Pilot project has been working to connect the supply chain for more than one year. Spearheaded by Cargill in partnership with VBP+, Where Food Comes From and BIXS, the pilot has sourced 3.7 million pounds of beef from certified farms and ranches so far, and is rewarding producers on a per head basis for their participation. In 2018, credits for qualifying cattle moving through the supply chain averaged approximately $18/head, and volume is continually building. This pilot has facilitated the supply chain sourcing infrastructure using CRSB’s Framework as a guide, and in August 2018, McDonald’s Canada was the first company to serve some of their beef from certified sustainable operations, showcasing the CRSB certification logo that consumers can now look for to provide assurances about sustainably raised beef. 

There is increasing interest from retailers and food service companies in sustainable sourcing opportunities, but meeting that demand requires significant year-round supply of beef from certified operations. Producers already participating report that the process is simple and provides recognition for sustainable practices that you likely already have in place. 

Sustainability Projects

Finally, CRSB collaborates with projects to drive advancement of sustainability, guided by the goals of the National Sustainability Strategy. This helps us demonstrate the impact and continuous improvement of the whole beef supply chain across all principles of beef sustainability. For example, since 2016, CRSB has been partnering with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Alberta Beef Producers and conservation groups to work with beef producers in identifying and implementing projects to enhance habitat for species at risk in the grasslands region of southern Alberta. 

CRSB also conducted its first consumer survey to evaluate attitudes about sustainability and gather feedback about its proposed logos and claims supporting the Certified Sustainable Beef Framework. Future annual surveys will continue to address consumer opinions and evaluate public trust for Canadian beef. 

For more information, visit crsb.ca or email info@crsb.ca