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Confused about how our food is produced? Here’s where you can find the facts

If you care about how your food is produced, but find it hard to sort between facts and rhetoric in the media, you’re not alone. 

Here are some trusted resources which will help you bypass the misleading, contradictory and sometimes even incorrect information out there about food production:

Meet the farmers who grow your food

The Real Dirt on Farming is a booklet produced by Canadian farmers to help connect you with the food you eat. In it you’ll meet some of Canada’s farm families and learn about the realities of their work. You learn things like the difference between growing crops conventionally and organically, why and how farmers use pesticides, animal housing and animal welfare, environmental sustainability and technology.

Each Real Dirt on Farming blog story explores a specific issue, such as eggs, health and safety and the environment. Stop by The Real Dirt on Farming and hear from some of the people who are on the ground producing our food. 

Helping food producers do it right

The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity is a research organization that provides food producers with resources, training and dialogue. That work helps them understand what consumers want, and helps consumers find answers to their questions.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Their We grow a lot more than you may think online brochure explores the variety of crops our farmers produce, and how they stay ahead of the world in terms of quality, sustainability and competitiveness.

Know your beef

When it comes to beef, several highly respectable organizations provide information about how beef is produced, nutritional information, facts about environmental impacts and more:

Canada Beef has a series of highly informative fact sheets about beef, recipes and articles. Wondering about antibiotic use, how to make the perfect roast, water conservation or food safety? You’ll be sure to find the answer here.

Alberta Beef Producers also have information on such hot topics as hormones, antibiotics and raising cattle ethically, as well as a section for educators.

For information on codes of practice for the care and handling of beef cattle, environmental regulations, innovation and sustainability, check out the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association website.

Our own blog also has plenty of helpful information for consumers. Look under topics such as environment, animal care or food safety to find facts about Alberta beef.

Mark your calendar for the Alberta Beef Industry Conference

The Alberta Beef Industry Conference is less than two months away, taking place at the Sheraton Red Deer Hotel from March 12-14, 2019.

The event is one of Canada’s largest beef conferences and trade shows, and provides an opportunity for the industry to come together to learn, to network and to discover the latest products and innovations.

As one of the five hosts of the conference, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association is delighted to work alongside Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Auction Markets Association, Alberta Livestock Dealers and Order Buyers Association, and the Western Stock Growers’ Association.

Once again, there is a line-up of speakers who have a wealth of industry or subject expertise to share. We look forward to hearing their insights on the industry’s most pressing issues. Here are some of the highlights:

Brad Wall: Western Canada’s Economy: Risks and Opportunities; Offense and Defense 

Brad will speak about the current political landscape and its impact on Western Canada.

Amber MacArthur and Marty Seymour: If the Future is Different Than the Past, is Your Business Ready?

Learn what your business needs to do to adapt to changing times.

Chief Clarence Louie: Cowboys & Indians – Causing Disruption to Create Economic Prosperity

Hear how he turned a bankrupt band into a multi-faceted corporation that employs hundreds of people.

Dr. Frank Mitloehner: Sustainability in Beef – the Nexus Between Productivity and Environmental Performance

A look at environmental mitigation opportunities, especially in the areas of carbon emission reductions, welfare and health.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois: The Rise of the Conscious Carnivore? The Good, the Bad, and the Awfully Ugly

Advice on dealing with the vegetarian and vegan movements.

Marie-Noelle Desrochers: Trade Agreements That Matter for Canada

An insider’s perspective on governments’ approach to trade matters and the impact it has on the Canadian beef industry.

Brett House: Global Economic Outlook Amidst Rising Uncertainty

What’s ahead for the global economy.

Brett Stuart: Global Beef & Protein Outlook

A view of the global beef landscape, including international trade and health issues.

Brian Perillat: CanFax Market Update

The beef industry’s supply and demand dynamics, and current Canadian price trends.

Art Douglas: 2019-20 Weather Forecast

The upcoming forecast, and a discussion of the impact weather patterns have on the beef industry.

The ever-popular Danny Hooper returns as master of ceremonies, and comedian John Hastings will be entertaining us during the Taste of Alberta dinner on Wednesday evening.

Mark your calendars for another not-to-miss event – you can register here.

Beef producers vote to keep refundable check-off

Alberta’s beef producers have voted by a narrow margin to keep the mandatory beef check-off refundable.

A plebiscite on the issue was held between Oct. 19 and Nov. 27. Preliminary results showed that 51.3 per cent of producers voted to keep the refundable check-off. Final results will be shared on Dec. 11, after a two-week period during which members can contest the results.

The check-off is a levy paid to the Alberta Beef Producers (ABP), which is used to fund industry research and marketing. The levy is mandatory, but producers may apply for a full reimbursement.

The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA), and ABP were recommending a return to a non-refundable check-off to fund the New Era Beef Industry. Revenues from the non-refundable check-off would have been shared between ABP, ACFA and a new Alberta Beef Industry Development Fund (ABIDF), providing project funding for market development, research, education, consumer advocacy and industry collaboration.

Moving forward

Even though the plebiscite didn’t deliver the hoped-for result, it highlights the value of member-driven organizations that do not stand still. The organizations will now focus on moving forward with securing funding for industry research and marketing projects. ACFA will continue with its efforts in lobbying, advocacy, policy development, industry development, and other activites. As individual organizations and as an industry, the goal is to persist in the pursuit of continuous improvement.

“I want to thank everyone who took the time to engage in the discussion and to vote in the plebiscite,” said Ryan Kasko, ACFA chair. “ACFA will continue to work in a collaborative fashion with ABP, drive operational efficiencies, and work diligently with partners to ensure the health of the industry.” 

Alberta’s beef industry faces remarkable potential and ACFA will continue to take the lead and leverage opportunities for the benefit of its members, the cattle feeding sector, and the industry as a whole.

You can read more about how funds from a non-refundable check-off would have been used in ‘How funding for the new era beef industry will benefit all beef producers’.

The rising cost of hiring temporary foreign workers puts cattle feeders at risk 

Many of Canada’s agricultural producers rely on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to help keep their operations running. Even though they would prefer to hire from within the domestic labour pool, there are three main reasons why it is hard for them to find local workers:

1. Farm work is often seasonal, and many Canadian candidates choose to seek year-round work elsewhere.

2. The work can be extremely physical and strenuous, which limits the number of people interested in, or able for, such work.

3. While baby boomer farmers are retiring, young people are leaving rural areas for cities, creating a labour gap.

The agricultural industry collaborated to create a Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan and have urged the government to adopt their recommendations for addressing the labour crisis.

Why new changes to the temporary foreign worker program will impact cattle feeders

In October 2018, the Alberta government changed the prevailing wages for temporary foreign workers.

For example, the minimum wage for the NOC (national occupational classification, or occupational group) that includes specialized livestock workers and supervisors has increased from $18.43 per hour to $21.63 or more, across the province. That’s a wage increase of more than $3 per hour.

These minimum wages are in addition to other requirements such as supplying housing for workers, so the total cost of hiring a temporary foreign worker can quickly become prohibitive for agricultural producers, even though they desperately need help.

The Agriculture Industry Labour Council of Alberta (AILCA) has written a letter to the federal and provincial governments asking for support, because it is concerned that proposed changes to two programs intended to help farmers with a worker shortage will make it even harder to access labour. You can read more about that in ‘Alberta’s agricultural leaders ask government for help with labour crisis’.

To learn more about the agricultural labour crisis, read ‘12 must-know facts about the agricultural labour shortage and why it matters to Canadians.’

How funding for the New Era Beef Industry will benefit all beef producers

This fall, Alberta’s beef producers will vote in a province-wide plebiscite on the industry’s checkoff program. The issue at hand is whether the refundable payment should become non-refundable.

Why the checkoff is currently refundable

The beef industry checkoff has been around since 1969 as a levy paid to the Alberta Cattle Commission (later to become Alberta Beef Producers, ABP). Funds from the levy were used for industry research and marketing, but it was somewhat contentious from the start. In 2009, the Alberta government passed a bill making the checkoff payment refundable – meaning that producers were able to apply for full reimbursement.  

Why a change to the non-refundable checkoff makes sense

Despite these early challenges, ACFA believes the associations and organizations representing different sectors of the beef industry production chain must join together and work for the benefit of the entire industry.

In 2017, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association and ABP reached an agreement founded on their shared belief in collaboration and mutual support between different beef production sectors. The New Era Beef Industry (NEBI) is the result of that agreement, and it heralds a return to a mandatory beef cattle checkoff, with revenues to be shared by ABP, ACFA and a new Alberta Beef Industry Development Fund (ABIDF).

The ABIDF will provide project funding for market development, research, education, consumer advocacy and industry collaboration, for a stronger, more profitable beef industry. The fund will be governed by a council comprised of three representatives selected by ABP and three selected by ACFA. The six council members will select a chair who is not a member of the board or of either organization.

ABIDF will help compensate for the loss of the Alberta Meat and Livestock Agency, which provided funds for industry development until it was shut down by the government in 2016.

Under the New Era Beef Industry, the total checkoff payment will be $2 per head of cattle. It will be distributed like this:

  • 5 cents to the remitters of the checkoff 
  • $1.30 to ABP 
  • 25 cents to ACFA 
  • 40 cents to the Alberta Beef Industry Development Fund (ABIDF)

If the plebiscite in the fall results in a vote for the refundable checkoff, ABP will continue to collect the mandatory checkoff, and producers can still request a full refund if they wish. If the plebiscite results in a vote for NEBI, it will provide a unique opportunity for crucial industry research and development.

The checkoff was just one of the issues that new ACFA board chair, Ryan Kasko flagged as important to cattle feeders this year. You can read about the other issues in ‘Finances are among cattle feeders’ top issues’. 

Finances are among Cattle Feeders’ top issues

Ryan Kasko, ACFA’s new board chair, talks in this blog about priority issues for the upcoming year.

Non-refundable checkoff

ACFA is working on a plan to collaborate with Alberta Beef Producers to build a new path forward that would include an Alberta Beef Industry Development Fund, Ryan said.

“We will be asking producers to vote in a plebiscite this fall to return to a non-refundable checkoff,” he said. “The money generated will be used to finance marketing activities, research and other projects that will benefit the Alberta beef industry.”

Ryan said the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) used to provide $20 million for industry research and marketing initiatives. The funding has been eliminated, so it is hoped the checkoff proceeds will at least partly offset the lost funds. “We’re hoping to work with the government to show the value this investment is providing, and to hopefully get more government funding,” he said.

Farm safety

The association is also heavily invested in making sure its members understand recent changes to the Alberta Labour Code. “We’re offering a feedlot safety program to ACFA voting members so that feedlots can get up to speed on farm safety, specifically in reference to those changes,” Ryan said.

Trade

NAFTA is at the top of cattle feeders’ minds. “Although we’re not directly involved in negotiations, we work alongside the National Cattle Feeders’ Association and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association to support them in their efforts to make sure the beef industry remains part of NAFTA.”

Looking for a new CEO

Bryan Walton, ACFA’s president and CEO, will retire this fall, and a search for a replacement has started.

“We will be sad to see Bryan go,” said Ryan. “He’ll be a hard person to replace. But at the same time, any change provides an opportunity for new ideas, and we’re looking forward to that process.”

You can learn more about Ryan and his work as a cattle feeder in an earlier Meet the team post.

6 issues cattle feeders will discuss at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference

Beef producers from all over Alberta will convene in Red Deer next week for the Alberta Beef Industry Conference.

This annual event is a chance for industry members to find out what’s new and network with others in the industry. As the event approaches, here’s a look at some of the pressing issues ACFA has been following, and that industry members will likely discuss.

#1 The Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP)

The government has allocated $3 billion to invest, over the course of five years, in five areas: innovation and research; environmental sustainability; risk management; product and market development and diversification; and public trust. ACFA will look at devising projects and programs to advance the cattle feeding industry, which could attract funding under CAP.

#2 Labour

The Federal Department of Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) is currently reviewing the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. This program is a life-saver for cattle feeders when they are unable to find workers from within the Canadian workforce. Past government reviews have accepted ACFA recommendations but there is still room for improvement.  ACFA will continue to be engaged in this file.

#3 Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)

Last month the government announced it will sign onto the new CPTPP trade agreement. This is good news for the beef industry and should result in reduced tariffs in a number of export markets, especially Japan. ACFA will continue communicating with government to stress the importance of the agreement for Canada’s beef industry until it is fully approved and ratified by Parliament.

#4 Other trade issues

NAFTA and trade with China are two other pressing trade issues of great importance to cattle feeders. In June 2016, the U.S. secured approval from China for greater access to that market. Canadian producers need the same access. A new pilot program to export fresh and chilled Canadian beef to China is expected in 2018, but ACFA will continue to press for the same access given to the U.S.

#5 Competitiveness

About 10 years ago, ACFA commissioned a study to assess the competitiveness of cattle feeding in Alberta. The industry’s ability to compete effectively in the international market will continue to be a priority and there will be discussions about whether it is time to update this study.

#6 Industry governance and financing

The mandatory levy on beef sales, known as the check-off, is used to fund research and marketing activities on behalf of the entire industry. ACFA and the Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) have come together to devise a new governance and funding model for the provincial beef industry, and its use of check-off dollars. A plebiscite may be required later in 2018 for a final decision.

As well as conversation and networking, the conference also features a full program of speakers, including former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

For anyone interested in Alberta’s beef industry, its challenges and opportunities, this is a must-attend event.

Can industry and consumers find common ground on beef?

Cattle producers and feedlot operators work hard to ensure that the industry operates in a responsible, sustainable way, but many Canadians know little about the beef that’s on their plates. It’s not because they don’t want to know — they have questions about things like how cattle are raised, how the industry contributes to Canada’s GHG emissions and the use of hormones.

These are important questions — ones the beef industry is trying to better answer. Consumers and industry share common concerns, but we don’t always speak the same language. We’re working to change that through events like this year’s Alberta Beef Industry Conference.

The annual conference, which takes place February 15 to 17, is hosted jointly by the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association, Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Livestock Dealers and Order Buyers Association, Alberta Auction Markets Association, and Western Stock Growers Association. This year’s workshops and sessions have been planned to help  producers understand the concerns and perspectives of their consumers.

How cattle producers and consumers can reach an understanding

The beef industry requires a market for its products, and consumers want to make informed decisions about what they feed their families. Is it possible to satisfy both parties? Conference participants will explore this pivotal question, focusing on:

  • Consumer perceptions of the beef industry
  • How to effectively communicate with consumers
  • Branding and storytelling
  • Economic and market outlooks

By gaining a greater understanding of the local and global marketplace, and the attitudes and beliefs of consumers, cattle producers will be better equipped to communicate their stories and provide helpful information. That way, the industry can start to educate Canadians about its high standards of animal care, safety and sustainability and be seen globally as a socially responsible supplier of premium beef.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be interviewing some of the conference speakers to gain their perspectives on this key topic. Stay tuned for next week, when we will speak with Doug Lacombe, of Communicatto, about changing consumer tastes and trends.

Beef and hormones: what the science says

In a recent post on this blog, we explained why hormones are used in beef cattle production, and explored the implications for both animals and people. This week we continue that topic with a look at the science behind hormone use.

To find out whether Canadians should be concerned about the use of hormones in beef production, we spoke with Reynold Bergen, science director with the Canadian Beef Research Council (BCRC).

What the research says

“Hormone use has been the subject of numerous independent studies,” said Reynold. “In 2014, James Magolski and his co-workers at North Dakota State University, published the results of a study that used pigs to find out whether growth implants used in beef production could cause young girls to hit puberty sooner. The results provided us with a great deal of insight.”

Reynold explained that the main findings of the study were as follows:

    • Pigs were fed one of four diets. Two contained beef, either from cattle raised without hormone implants, or from cattle implanted with hormones. Two were vegetarian diets (containing canola meal low in natural plant estrogens, or a soy meal high in natural plant estrogens). Estrogen levels were the same in the diets that contained beef from implanted cattle, unimplanted cattle, or canola meal. Estrogen levels were higher in the soy-based tofu diet, because of naturally occurring plant estrogens.
    • None of the four diets – whether they contained high or low levels of estrogen – resulted in a higher level of estrogen or progesterone in the animal’s blood. This is because stomach acids and digestive enzymes break down the vast majority of hormones consumed in the diet; very few of them are absorbed into the bloodstream.
    • The effects on the test animals’ growth and reproductive characteristics were the same for all four diets.

“In other words,” Reynold explained, “there are more hormones in the bun than in the burger. But, in any case, neither has any effect on the person consuming the food.”

You can learn more about this study in the BCRC blog post ‘These little piggies ate a quarter pounder a day.’

Stay tuned for an upcoming post in which we will be discussing another topic that is both controversial and subject to misinformation – the use of antibiotics in beef cattle production.

The top 5 cattle feeding posts of 2016

We’ve been publishing our cattle feeders’ blog for a full year now – and as 2016 draws to a close, we thought it would be fun to look back and see which posts were the most popular. Here’s the list of the top five blog posts of 2016: Read more