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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.

How people in 58 countries enjoy Canadian beef

In an earlier post on this blog we explored the contribution Alberta’s beef industry makes to our province’s economy. We explained that exports make up an important part of that contribution, because we produce more beef than Canadians eat.

To learn more about beef exports, and where they go, we spoke with Rob Meijer, former president of Canada Beef. “Many agricultural commodities, like beef cattle, have a high dependence on exports,” said Rob, “and every year, Canada exports approximately 45 per cent of its beef production.”

Canada’s main beef export marketsCanadian Beef Exports 2015

Canadian beef is shipped to 58 countries, but 71 per cent goes to the United States. China, Mexico, Japan and Hong Kong together represent another 24 per cent (source: Canadian Cattlemen’s Association).

Market growth

The good news for Canadian beef producers, and for the economy, is that the first half of 2016 saw an 11 per cent increase in exports, by volume. “These increasing export volumes have been supported by larger domestic beef production which is up nine per cent so far this year,” said Rob.

“While new markets do occasionally open to Canadian beef,” he continued, “what is often more significant to the industry is the expansion or liberalization of trade with existing markets. For example, on June 28th of this year, Mexico announced that, effective October 1st, the full range of Canadian beef products will be eligible for import. Then, on July 8th, Taiwan reopened its borders to boneless and bone-in beef from cattle under 30 months of age.”

Both Mexico and Taiwan had previously banned imports of Canadian cattle and beef, after the 2003 outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The resumption of trade is a testament to the fact that the Canadian beef industry produces safe, high quality beef.

Why beef exports matter

Rob explained that exports allow producers to add value to their products by giving them access to customers who use different parts of the carcass than Canadian customers do. “In fact, over the last 10 years, export markets have added an average of $510 per head of additional value,” he said.

For an industry that contributes $33 billion worth of sales of goods and services, either directly or indirectly, to the Canadian economy, it’s clear that exports represent a valuable part of the business. And of course exports allow millions of people across the world to enjoy our beautiful Alberta beef!