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Quiz: how has cattle feeding contributed to 150 years of Canadian prosperity?

2017 is a momentous year for Canadians, as we celebrate our nation’s 150th birthday. But did you know that the Canadian beef industry has been around for about that long too?

As we move toward Canada 150, we thought we’d have a little fun with a look at how the cattle feeding industry has contributed to Canada over the last century and a half. Take this quiz to find out how well you know your feedlot history:

Canada’s come a long way in 150 years – and so has the beef industry! You can learn more about the history of Alberta’s feedlots in ‘From Start to Finish: An Illustrated History of Cattle Feeding in Alberta’ (PDF).

 

If you enjoyed this quiz, you might also enjoy this earlier one from our blog: ‘How well do you know your beef?’

Food safety, antibiotics and Canadian beef – can the 3 go together?

This is the final part of our three-part series on the use of antibiotics (or more accurately, antimicrobials), in food animals.

To conclude this series, we’re looking at the measures in place to ensure food safety when antibiotics are given to food animals. We continue our conversation with Dr. Sherry Hannon, research team lead and veterinary epidemiologist at Feedlot Health Management Services Ltd.

Animal protein is important in maintaining human health and combatting global food shortages,” said Sherry. “But at the same time, animal welfare needs to be supported and we don’t want animals to suffer because we are afraid to use antimicrobials to treat them, or because regulation will not allow the use of antimicrobials in animals.”

Food safety practices

Farmers play an important role in producing safe, healthy food, while protecting public health. But the care and welfare of their animals is an equally important priority for them. That requires a balance of sound science and responsible practices.

“Stringent food safety practices can help us ensure that the use of antimicrobials is safe for humans while allowing the best in animal care. The food safety practices for controlling bacteria during slaughter and processing are excellent, regulated and effective,” Sherry stated.

She stressed that, for the consumer, proper cooking of all food is the best way to protect against bacteria that has become resistant to antimicrobials.

Regulation of antimicrobials in Canada

Antimicrobials are subjected to a series of rigorous tests, clinical trials and field studies before they can be approved for use in animals or people. And even after a product is approved, testing and monitoring continues.

“Government, public health, veterinary, and livestock agricultural industry sectors have all been working to improve antimicrobial use protocols, monitoring, and transparency,” said Sherry.

“Soon, loopholes will be closed which allow antimicrobials to enter Canada without monitoring (‘own-use importation’ and the import of active pharmaceutical ingredients). The practice of buying antimicrobials at a farm store for use in animals will also no longer be allowed.”

The use of antimicrobials in animals strictly for growth promotion is another practice that’s on its way out. Regulations are soon to be introduced ensuring that the treatment must be required for health reasons.

To treat or not to treat?

In the balance, the benefits to animal welfare and food safety far outweigh the concerns surrounding the use of antimicrobials (including antibiotics) in beef cattle. There are valid concerns though, and they are being taken seriously. Changing regulations and practices will continue to address the issues around their use.

To learn about another food safety issue, check out  ‘Beef and hormones: what the science says’.

Should Canadians be concerned about antibiotics in food animals?

Last week in part one of this three-part series, we explained why and how antimicrobials (of which antibiotics are one type) are used in beef cattle. This week we’re exploring the causes for concern over that use.

We continue our conversation with Dr. Sherry Hannon, research team lead and veterinary epidemiologist at Feedlot Health Management Services Ltd.

How long do antimicrobials stay in an animal’s system?

There are many different antimicrobials labelled for veterinary use in cattle in Canada. Each is classified according to its uses, its effect on bacteria and the way it works.

“As part of the label, a ‘withdrawal period’ – a period of time before which the animals are not allowed to enter the food chain – is specified. Some antimicrobials have a zero day withdrawal period (they are eliminated from the body within a very short period of time), while others are known to stay in the body for much longer periods,” Sherry explained.

Causes for concern in the use of antimicrobials

Sherry explained that there are two main concerns related to the use of antimicrobials:

1. Antimicrobial residues

A residue is a remnant of the antimicrobial molecule itself or a degradation product of that molecule, left in the animal after harvest.

“For each antimicrobial, a level of residues (usually extremely low) has been deemed to be acceptable for human health through rigorous safety trials,” said Sherry.

“Therefore, meat that goes for sale to people must be at or below that level. The withdrawal period for each antimicrobial defines the amount of time that must have elapsed from the last dose before an animal can be harvested for meat, thus ensuring any possible residues are below the acceptable level and safe for human consumption.

As an added step of food safety oversight, meat at processing plants is regularly tested for residues on an ongoing basis as part of quality assurance and compliance monitoring.”

2. Antimicrobial resistance

According to Sherry, of greater concern than residues is the issue of antimicrobial resistance, which for many reasons, has become a global health issue. As the use of antimicrobials continues, for people and animals, there is increasing development of bacteria that are resistant to them.

“There is a potential for the presence of bacteria on meat or in the environment which carry resistance genes for particular antimicrobials, and this relates to the possibility that these bacteria could multiply or infect people,” she said.

The role of continued research and monitoring

“The above concerns are actively addressed through continued research, regulatory requirements, veterinary oversight, antimicrobial stewardship practices, and producers’ commitment to provide safe and nutritious beef,” noted Sherry. “In addition, appropriate cooking of beef further protects against these concerns by inactivating any residues present, or by killing any viable microorganisms,” she stressed.

The Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS) monitors and describes antimicrobial resistance (and some use) in retail meat, on farm and in animal and human populations.

Stay tuned for part three of this series, in which we’ll discuss how food safety is ensured when antibiotics are used in cattle – and ongoing changes to regulation.

In the meantime, check out part one, ‘Antimicrobials and food production: 4 reasons antibiotics are given to beef cattle’.

Antimicrobials and food production – 4 reasons antibiotics are given to beef cattle

Some Canadians have questions about antibiotic use in farmed animals. In an earlier post, we looked at the science behind the use of hormones in beef cattle. This week, in part one of a three-part series, we’re exploring another hot topic – antibiotics.

First up, an explanation of what antibiotics are, and how and why they are used.

Antibiotic or antimicrobial?

An antimicrobial is any agent that is used to treat microbial infection. An antibiotic is one type of antimicrobial, specifically made from natural microorganisms.

When looking at the safety or issues of using antibiotics in beef cattle, it makes the most sense to discuss the use of antimicrobials as a whole, rather than only antibiotics.

We spoke with Dr. Sherry Hannon, research team lead and veterinary epidemiologist at Feedlot Health Management Services Ltd. to learn more about the use of antimicrobials in feedlot animals.

Sherry explained that there are four main reasons for the use of antimicrobials in feedlots:

#1 To treat disease

“Diseases such as respiratory disease, arthritis and other lameness, abscesses, etc., are effectively treated with antimicrobials in injectable or oral form,” said Sherry.

#2 After surgery or injury

Antimicrobials are used to prevent infection in individual animals after specific events.

#3 As a preventative

Antimicrobials are sometimes used when animals have been exposed to disease, or unfavourable environmental conditions, and are at risk from an outbreak of infectious disease. They are also fed to groups of cattle at specific times to help prevent common diseases.

“Based on clinical field trials, we know that specific groups of animals may already be sick by the time they reach the feedlot after weaning, co-mingling in auction markets, and transport,” explained Sherry. “Antimicrobials help us prevent outbreaks that could spread through the herd.”

#4 To improve growth and production

The use of antimicrobials have historically been used to improve rumen function and enhance growth and production of meat, but this use is declining, and becoming increasingly regulated, due to the risk of antimicrobial resistance. We will discuss antimicrobial resistance further in part two of this series.

When antimicrobials are withheld

When an animal is sick, or at risk from disease, it would be cruel to withhold treatment.

“There are three main health implications when antimicrobials are withheld,” Sherry noted:

    • Poor animal welfare – animals would become sick or die.
    • Greater potential for spreading of disease among animals in a pen.
    • Food safety concerns increase because animals are more likely to have infections when sent to slaughter.

Stay tuned for next week when we will discuss the causes for concern around the use of antimicrobials in beef cattle, and what’s being done to address them.

In the meantime, check out ‘Beef and hormones: what the science says’.

Meet the team: Ryan Kasko, vice-chair of the board

Here at the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association we couldn’t truly represent the interests of our industry without input from our board of directors. Comprised of the men and women who work in the cattle feeding industry every day, our board helps provide direction for all our activities.

For this week’s post, we sat down with Ryan Kasko, CEO of Kasko Cattle Company in Coaldale, Alberta, and vice-chair of ACFA’s board of directors, for another installment of our meet the team series.

Ryan grew up just outside Coaldale, the son of a cattle dealer, but it wasn’t until after graduating from the University of Lethbridge, with a bachelor of management degree, that he became involved in the industry himself. At that time he joined his father’s business, and two years later they decided to buy a feedlot together.

That was 20 years ago, and Kasko Cattle Company now has feedlots in four different locations. As it has expanded, it has also provided opportunities for other family members – Ryan’s wife, Shannon, is the office manager, and his brother and brother-in-law, and their wives, also work in the business.

“It’s an exciting industry to be in,” said Ryan. “The technologies we are using today are really sophisticated, and we’ve made significant improvements over the last 20 years, in the way we manage people and how we take care of the animals – it’s an industry that’s just been constantly changing and it’s great to be a part of that change.”

Helping the ACFA represent a changing industry to the government

Ryan has been on the ACFA board for five years now, a responsibility he takes very seriously. “It’s important to serve the industry,” he said, “and I’ve done that in different organizations through the years. I think the ACFA does a very good job representing cattle feeders in Alberta and I thought it was important I take my turn.”

“There’s been a lot of things going on recently,” continued Ryan. “New laws around labour standards and safety, and initiatives like the carbon tax have significant impacts on our operations. The ACFA works with government to help them understand the industry, and what we do every day – to help them make decisions that are going to work for our industry and the people involved in it. As a board, we help provide the association with direction.”

The Kaskos at home

With four children – one in middle school, two in high school and one in his first year of college – Ryan and his wife have a very busy family. They enjoy watching basketball together, and while his kids also play, Ryan says that watching is enough for him. For stress relief, though, he plays squash and competes in triathlons.

In other posts in our meet the team series, we introduced you to Bryan Walton, CEO, Page Stuart, past board chair, Martin Zuidhof, board chair, Casey Vander Ploeg, manager of policy and research, and Jennifer Brunette, manager of events and member services.

Former Edmonton Sun columnist Danny Hooper on the evolution of the beef industry

When you think about the beef that’s served on your table, it might seem that the product hasn’t changed much during your lifetime. What has changed, though, is the business of beef production.

With the annual Alberta Beef Industry Conference approaching, from February 15-17, we thought it would be interesting to talk with long-time event master of ceremonies, Danny Hooper, to see what changes he has observed over the years.

As well as being conference MC for over a decade, Danny is a former page 6 columnist for the Edmonton Sun, a recording artist, motivational speaker, fundraising auctioneer and one-time host of the 790 CFCW morning show. He also comes from a farming background, having grown up on a cattle ranch in Tomahawk, Alberta.

Changing times have brought changing issues

We asked Danny what issues have come to the forefront during his time with the conference. “When I did my first year, it was right in the middle of the BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) crisis,” he said. Since then, I’ve seen a succession of different issues. Tech is a big one – it’s interesting to see how technology changes the industry every year. Country of Origin Labelling has been another big topic. Other issues I’ve seen include the economy; the way that changing demographics, as well as social and cultural norms, affect beef producers; politics; regulation and more.”

Food safety in Canada

Danny also said that food safety has been a constant theme at the conference, and he’s always been impressed at the high standards followed by the industry. “I recently returned from a three-week trip to Bali,” he said, “and that was a real eye opener. You can’t drink the tap water, even in a nice hotel, and you’re always wondering about the safety of the food you’re served. In Canada, you don’t have to give food safety much of a thought.”

The adaptability of Canadian beef producers

As consumer demands change, Danny noted, the industry has been able to adapt and respond. “There’s so much information out there, both good and bad – and a lot of misinformation – and it travels at the speed of light. It can affect consumer choices very quickly, and at the other end of the scale, the producers,” he said. “Food producers have to respond, and often have to respond quite quickly, and I think overall they’ve done a very good job of it.”

Danny concluded our conversation with a couple of observations about the industry:

“To me, it’s always an eye opener what big business this is,” he commented, “and all the issues that the producers do face. I don’t think people are aware of that.”

“Another thing I’ve found interesting through the years is the custom branding. A lot of the small independent producers are doing a really good job of branding and marketing their farms and their products.”

To learn more about the consumer trends that affect the beef industry, check out last week’s blog post: ‘Changing demographics mean changes at the dinner table.’ And stay tuned for more from conference speakers in the upcoming weeks.

Changing demographics mean changes at the dinner table

What’s on the table for dinner tonight? Thirty years ago, the answer would probably have been beef, chicken, pork or fish. And it would have been prepared at home. But what about today? Consumer preferences have changed – and that’s the reality now facing the beef industry.

The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association commissioned a research review to better understand the market forces driving demand for beef and other proteins. Digital marketing agency Communicatto was engaged to gather and summarize existing research.

Communicatto president Doug Lacombe will be speaking on the topic at the upcoming Alberta Beef Industry Conference. He sat down with us to share the highlights of their findings. 

“The research shows that people are eating differently in 2017 than they were 20 or 30 years ago. The beef industry needs to understand what mealtime looks like today and why eating habits have changed in order to adapt to meet new consumer demands,” he said.

Today’s meals are different, because today’s Canadians are different

Doug explained that two prominent factors are affecting Canadians’ food choices:

1. Changing demographics

“Our population demographics have changed markedly in the last 30 years. In metropolitan areas, we are approaching the 46 per cent immigrant level, so food choices are driven by different culinary habits, cultural habits and so on. With those kind of profound societal changes, why would we think eating habits would stay the same?”

2. Today’s fast-paced lifestyle

“With two working parents and today’s busy lifestyles, there is an increase in pre-prepared, or semi-prepared meals, a variety of convenience options and dining out. Stopping at the store to pick up a rotisserie chicken on the way home from work is just one of many easy, affordable ways to provide a quick meal.”

Why this matters to the beef industry

The concerns and demands of Canadians, and particularly the Millennial generation, are driving the market, and a successful industry will be one that adapts. Many people consider beef to be a special occasion food and erroneously believe it to be a less healthy choice compared to other proteins.

During his talk at the conference, Doug will be sharing more details about Canadians’ food choices, and the attitudes and perceptions that drive them. He will also look at what this means for beef producers, how they should respond, and what they can do to answer concerns or alter negative perceptions.

“If the farm isn’t supplying what consumers want,” Doug noted, “then we have a disconnect between supply and demand. We need to ask how the industry can cooperate along the entire supply chain, and innovate to meet changing consumer demand.”

To learn more about how the eating habits of Canadians impact the beef industry, check out last week’s post on the need for consumers and the beef industry to find common ground.

You can learn more about what’s in store at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference in the event program.

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.

5 feedlot issues to watch for in 2017

For our first post of 2017, we’re taking a look at some of the issues likely to affect feedlot operators in upcoming months. Here are five topics worth watching:

1. Transportation

The Canada Gazette recently published new regulations on transport times and conditions for cattle on livestock trucks. Cattle feeders provided input into the process, and will be submitting a response in February.

2. Traceability

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency plans to announce new traceability regulations in 2017. This important piece of legislation has been 10 years in the making due to the complexity of tracing and tracking cattle movement, but regulation is a crucial piece in the protection of public and animal health, and ensuring food safety.

3. Trade

With the U.S. election now over and Trump in the White House all eyes are on the trade implications. Cattle and beef are currently traded in both directions between Canada and the U.S. and any changes to Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) or NAFTA will have huge implications for our industry and Canadians.

4. Safety

The Alberta Farm and Ranch Workplace Act, or Bill 6, was a hot topic during 2016, with many farmers and ranchers concerned about the implications for their businesses. As the government’s roundtable consultation sessions wind up, we will all be interested to learn the outcomes, and their implications for farm safety.

5. Infrastructure

Finding the necessary funding to rehabilitate rural roads and replace bridges also emerged as a hot topic in 2016. Cattle feeders have made representations to both the federal and provincial governments on their responsibility to ensure agriculture can move products to market. While the federal government recently announced $2 billion over the next 11 years for rural infrastructure projects, much more is needed. Pressure on this policy priority must continue up to the spring budgets and beyond. 

Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts, as we explain more about these issues, and explore how they affect cattle feeders, the beef industry and even Canadians.