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How membership in the World Organisation for Animal Health helps Canadian beef exports

The 86th session of the general assembly of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), which took place from May 20-25 this year in Paris, France, concluded with some positive changes for Canada when it comes to beef exports.

The Canadian delegation was led by Dr. Jaspinder Komal, Canada’s Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) and included ACFA’s president and CEO, Bryan Walton.

Setting international standards for the livestock industries

The OIE is an international organization whose primary objective is to set international standards for animal health and the safe trade of animals and animal products.

It was created in 1924 in response to an outbreak of rinderpest disease in cattle in Europe. Since then, its membership has grown from the original 24 European countries to its current membership of 182 countries from around the world.

Member countries follow the standards created by OIE by incorporating them into their own national animal health legislation. The standards are recognized by the World Trade Organization, and are used as a guide to mediate trade disputes between countries.

How Canada takes a leading role in the OIE

We spoke with Dr. Komal to learn more about Canada’s participation in the OIE.

“The development of these standards is democratic,” said Dr. Komal. “Ad hoc working groups draft the initial standards, which are then sent to all member countries twice before the standard is adopted in a general assembly attended by official delegates from all member countries.”

Canada is known for its strong reputation and expertise in animal health. As a global leader and because of the importance of international standards to trade Canada actively influences the development and finalization of OIE standards by providing expertise on ad hoc working groups and specialist commissions, and by sending the official delegate to the general assembly where these standards are adopted. Canada also works with like-minded countries such as the U.S., New Zealand and Australia to influence the development of these standards.

Outcomes from the 86th general assembly

Dr. Komal explained that, in addition to the general assembly meetings, side meetings also take place between delegates to discuss trade issues. This year, Canada advanced trade discussions with 14 countries. Some of the positive trade outcomes include:

    • The Canadian and Chinese delegates met to discuss harmonization of the audit process for pet food or rendering products. They agreed to meet later this year to finalize this harmonization, recognizing each country’s systems and potentially streamlining our trade of pet food with China.
    • The US agreed to collaborate on the Northern Border Port entry project under which Canadian feeder cattle will not be unloaded from the trailer when presented for inspection at the US port of entry. This will help streamline cattle movements across the Canada–US border and address animal welfare issues.
    • The U.S. delegation recognized Manitoba as being free from bovine tuberculosis, which means that breeding cattle being exported to the U.S. no longer require testing.

Dr. Komal concluded by saying, “It’s important to feed the world, and the OIE standards help protect against diseases that can be transmitted from one animal to another, and from animals to humans.”

Next week on this blog we will learn more about Dr. Komal’s role as Canada’s chief veterinary officer.

Why graded beef is good for producers and consumers

Canadian beef is known across the world for its consistently high quality. Here in Alberta, the factors that contribute to great beef production include not only our high standards of animal care, but also our unique weather and farming conditions.

Thanks to a stringent grading system, it’s not only possible to rely on the quality of Canadian beef, but it’s also possible to quantify it.

The Canadian Beef Grading Agency, (CBGA), assesses and grades beef at federally inspected packing plants, based on standards set by the federal government. The five grading criteria are:

  • Maturity (age), as this affects the tenderness of the meat
  • Gender, as the hormone levels in some bulls affects meat colour and tenderness
  • Muscling
  • Fat, including the amount of fat and colour
  • Meat colour, texture and marbling

A top grade will only be assigned if the carcass meets all five quality attributes. The amount of visible marbling will determine the segmentation within Canada’s top grades – Canada Prime, AAA, AA or A. The CBGA also assesses meat yield using a specialized grading ruler and assigns a yield grade. Canada currently has 3 yield grade classes Canada 1, 2 or 3.

Why grading matters to beef producers

Cindy Delaloye, general manager at CBGA, says more than 99 per cent of the meat coming from federally inspected processing plants is graded, even though grading is voluntary.

“The livestock industry sees the value in having their beef graded because it provides a guarantee to their customers that the product in the box is what it says it is,” she said. “In Canada, we’re barbecue demons, so it’s important for us to have the quality and consistency to know that we’re going to have a good eating experience.”

Feedlot operators pay a portion of the grading fee in conjunction with the processor, and grading provides them with an opportunity to command a premium price for a premium product.

What Canadian beef grading means to consumers

Marty Carpenter, CBGA’s board chair, said consumers have learned to trust the grade because the beef they purchase consistently meets expectations.

“We have an exacting grading standard in Canada, whereby if the product doesn’t reach a particular standard in all criteria it doesn’t make the grade,” he said.

Restaurateurs – and retailers particularly – are buying based on quality and want to have confidence that whenever they buy Canadian beef it will have the attributes they expect.

Marty also explained that different cultures value different aspects of the product. “Hispanic buyers in the U.S., for instance, value the fact that Canadian beef is graded on colour as that is an important indicator of freshness to them. Canadians like red meat and white fat. People buy with their eyes,” he said.

Beef grading and exports

Grading is one more way of helping Canadian beef stand out in the global marketplace , helping cement Canada’s reputation as a producer of world-class beef.

Why our high standards of animal care make Canadian beef the best

Canada’s beef producers are committed to raising their cattle in a comfortable, low-stress environment. Healthy animals under good care produce a better product. Our producers realize that caring for, and respecting, the animals that feed us is the right thing to do.

“We’re proud of our production practices and how we look after the cattle in our care,” said Bryan Walton, ACFA’s president and CEO. “The way we raise our animals is integral to providing premium Alberta beef to the world.”

Here at ACFA, we have championed several initiatives that help our members meet or exceed best practices and regulations:

National Beef Code of Practice

In association with industry partners and the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), we helped develop the National Beef Code of Practice. The code, which was developed in conjunction with animal welfare and enforcement representatives, as well as experts in beef cattle behaviour, health and welfare, defines the base standards of animal care.

Canadian Feedlot Animal Care Assessment Program

This fully auditable program, which is certified by the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO), provides cattle feeders with a way to assess their animal care practices and demonstrate their high standards. Consumers increasingly rank animal welfare as an important factor in their buying decisions and this program provides confidence in an integral segment of beef production.

Industry collaboration

We collaborate with important animal care organizations like Alberta Farm Animal Care, and participate in programming such as the Canadian Livestock Transport Certification Program. This is a standardized course offering certification that is recognized throughout Canada and the United States. The program is led by an industry initiative to address the need for increased accountability and improved handling practices in livestock transport. One of the main strengths of Canadian Livestock Transport is that the courses present the current regulations for animal transport in Canada.

The basis for these programs is scientific knowledge about the needs of animals. Through training and experience, and with the guidance of accredited veterinarians and animal nutritionists, our industry members produce healthy, delicious food in an ethical, sustainable, and socially responsible manner.

If you’re still not convinced that Canada’s beef cattle are cared for in the most compassionate, respectful way possible, check out ‘3 feedlot myths busted’.

New partnership gives a boost to transpacific trade

Canada’s beef producers rely on international trade to keep their industry growing in a global economy. That’s why the National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) was thrilled when the Government of Canada announced it has reached a trade deal with ten of Asia-Pacific’s fastest growing economies.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) will provide tariff-free and/or competitive access to key markets in the Asia-Pacific region. It is to be signed in March and must then be ratified by the Canadian Parliament and by the governments of the ten other member countries.

We spoke with Claire Citeau, executive director of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA), to learn why the agreement is so important for Canada’s agri-foods producers, including beef producers.

“Overall the CPTPP will reduce tariffs and non-tariff barriers, open new, growing markets for Canadian agri-food products, and support jobs and prosperity here at home,” said Claire. “It will provide the sector with unprecedented access to the important Japanese market and rapidly growing Asian markets like Vietnam and Malaysia.

“The 11 countries in the CPTPP region include some of our main export markets, including Japan and Mexico, as well as seven new countries,” continued Claire. “Japan in particular is the big prize as it is our third export market and a high value market for Canadian agriculture and agrifood  – it is the largest economy in the CPTPP region, and the third largest in the world. Vietnam and Malaysia are other countries that could represent expanding markets.”

Some of Canada’s main competitors, such as Australia, have free trade agreements with countries in this region, which has given them a huge advantage over Canada when it comes to exports. The CPTPP will help to level the playing field.

Since the U.S. dropped out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and does not have free trade agreements with Japan, CPTPP will give Canadian producers a distinct advantage over the U.S. in the Japanese market.

Why speedy ratification is crucial

John Weekes, senior business advisor at Bennett Jones, former ambassador to the WTO and Canada’s chief negotiator for NAFTA, said he attributes Japanese leadership to TPP coming back to life again as the CPTPP – because they saw it as an important way to fill the vacuum that was left in the Asia-Pacific area when the U.S. retreated from the original TPP negotiations early in 2017. The Japanese came to the conclusion that it would be important to have a trade agreement with the sort of provisions that are in the CPTPP, in that part of the world. If Canada had turned its back on CPTPP, we could have faced not having a trade agreement with the Japanese for at least a decade.

John Weekes speaking at a Canadian International Council event in Ottawa on February 12, 2018.

When addressing attendees at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference in Red Deer on February 23, 2018 John stated,

Canada should approve CPTPP in parliament as soon as possible so we get in on the ground floor on tariff reductions and secure lower tariffs as quickly as possible.

Claire Citeau explained that the CPTPP will enter into force 60 days after at least six members ratify it. “We may lose the ‘first mover advantage’ if Canada is not among the first countries to ratify,” she said. “If our competitors ratify and implement the CPTPP before Canada, they will benefit from the initial rounds of tariff cuts and we won’t, putting us at a further disadvantage.”

“Having better and more competitive access to markets like Japan will create further growth and help create jobs in urban and rural areas in Canada,” concluded Claire.

Stay tuned for future blog posts, in which we will keep you updated on the ratification process.

How population changes are driving the beef industry

This is the first in our Spotlight on the Speakers series, featuring speakers from February’s Alberta Beef Industry Conference. This week, Andrew Ramlo, executive director of Urban Futures, spoke with us about the changing faces, places and consumption patterns of the Canadian beef market.

How age, ethnicity and lifestyles are changing the domestic market

Andrew, whose company, Urban Futures, specializes in demographics, explained that the domestic market for beef, and indeed all agricultural products, is undergoing a significant change on three major fronts:

Age: For the first time in decades, the baby boomers are no longer the dominant generation in terms of numbers. There are now more Millennials and Generation Xers than post-war boomers. This shift is having an impact on all factors of the market, including  what people consume and how they consume it.

“This younger generation demands to know where their food comes from, and how it was produced, giving rise to the popularity of niche products such as hormone-free, grass-fed and organic,” Andrew said. They are also increasingly in tune with diet and health, and this affects their food choices.

Lifestyle: “One of the major drivers of the market will be convenience,” Andrew said. “People have busy lives and kids to feed, so they need to have convenience in the ways things are prepared and packaged.”

Ethnicity: With a population that is increasingly ethnically diverse, the types of food eaten by Canadians is changing, and so is the way it is purchased and prepared. Canadian food producers must pay attention to the ethnicities of their consumers, and their eating habits or preferences.

An export market driven by growth

While the domestic market is being driven more by change than by the potential for significant growth, growth can be expected in the export market.

“The Asia-Pacific markets are going to be very significant,” said Andrew. “Particularly in China, there are a lot of consumers who have not historically eaten beef, but who are starting to be able to afford it.”

How immigration could affect beef production

We know immigration is affecting what Canadians eat, and how they prepare their food. But there is also the potential for more immigrants to be employed in the beef production industry.

“The Canadian government has increased their immigration targets from what it has historically been – between 275,000 and 300,000 – to about 340,000 by 2021,” said Andrew. “This is being done by and large in response to our aging population; to give us the ability to fill in the labour force as the baby boomers head toward retirement.”

“The government really needs to look at aspects of our labour market and do more targeted recruitment among potential immigrants.”

You can read more about the impact of demographics on the beef industry in Changing demographics mean changes at the dinner table.

Watch for future ‘Spotlight on the speakers’ posts.

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.

Why ‘hormone-free’ beef is no better for people or the environment

Last week on this blog we busted some common myths around beef production, including the ‘hormone-free’ myth. This week, we offer more facts about hormones and beef.

Foods and hormones

Dr. Roy Lewis, a veterinarian at Westlock Veterinary Center in Westlock, AB, told us that roughly 98 per cent of cattle in Canada are implanted with hormones, but in quantities significantly lower than would be naturally present in an intact (uncastrated) bull.

“In fact,” he continued, “many healthy, nutritious foods contain more hormones, serving for serving, than beef – foods such as cabbage, eggs, alfalfa sprouts and soy”.

Hormone levels in foodsNo one would suggest eliminating these healthy food options because of their naturally occurring hormones, and yet beef contains considerably less.

Research has also shown that hormones consumed in food are broken down in the stomach during digestion. They do not result in hormone spikes, even when consumed in high levels.

The environment and hormones

Cattle are implanted with hormones to promote growth. “This allows beef producers to produce more beef using less grain, less water and less time,” said Dr. Lewis. “The environmental benefits of producing more with less are significant.”

How marketing creates misconceptions

“There is no such thing as ‘hormone-free’ beef,” said Dr. Lewis. “All animals and plants produce hormones as part of their natural life-cycle.

The ‘hormone-free’ movement is a marketing scheme that attempts to create a differentiation that doesn’t exist. It seems to me that we’re taking a step backwards to promote this as something special, because there are no food safety benefits, and they’re suggesting that a less sustainable production method is somehow superior.

You can learn more about beef hormones, and read about food safety research on Alberta Beef’s Worried about Hormones? web page.

Check out the other myths we addressed in ‘Busted! 5 beef myths that don’t stand up to the facts’.

The Top 5 blog posts of 2017

Thanks for reading our blog this year. We hope you’ve enjoyed the information we’ve shared about how Alberta’s cattle feeders operate, the innovations they’ve introduced and the challenges they face.

As we head into 2018, we’re looking back at the most popular blog posts from 2017. Here are the posts most read and shared by you, our readers:

New program customizes farm safety for feedlots. Cattle feeding is a unique industry, and the requirements of a feedlot safety program cannot be met by standardized programs. In this post, we explained a safety program that feedlot operators can customize to their own operation.

5 feedlot issues to watch for in 2017. Transportation, traceability, trade, safety and infrastructure were all flagged as important issues for Alberta’s cattle feeders, and which we covered in posts during the year.

Why Lethbridge County cattle feeders could be leaving via new roads. This was one of several posts discussing proposed legislative or tax changes that could impede the profitability of cattle feeders.

Meet the team: Ryan Kasko, vice-chair of the board. In 2017, we introduced Ryan as our vice-chair, and this year we look forward to having him serve as our new Chair. Martin Zuidhof will become the Past Chair. The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association is fortunate to have such committed and knowledgeable individuals serving on its board.

Canadian beef in demand: feeding the European market and why it matters. The importance of international trade to Canada’s beef industry has been a theme throughout the year. In this post, we introduced one of the few Canadian feedlots that produces beef that meets the requirements of the European market.

We’re glad you enjoyed these posts, and we’re already hard at work planning a great series for 2018. Stay tuned – and in the meantime, Happy New Year!

Cattle feeders’ Christmas crossword puzzle

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas filled with plenty of fun, family, friends and good food. In the spirit of the season, we’re having some fun with this week’s blog post – print out and fill in the crossword puzzle below to find out how much you know about the business of cattle feeding.

Hint: the answers can all be found on the website, but if you have any trouble tracking down the answers, just click the link in each clue for the information you need.

Cattle feeders’ Christmas crossword puzzle:

Across

3. Grasslands help the environment by sequestering _______________
5. Burger restaurant that proudly supports Canadian beef and is helping build a verified sustainable program
6. A greenhouse gas emitted during the digestive process of cattle
8. Award-winning veterinarian (first name)
9. One of ACFA’s four strategic priorities
10. An under-serviced market that is crucial to the growth of Canada’s beef industry

Down

1. New beef processing plant where innovation is setting new standards
2. An organization dedicated to teaching students about agriculture
4. First name of ACFA’s CEO
7. Trade deal between Canada, U.S. and Mexico that has produced a strong, integrated beef industry

crossword puzzle

Did you find all the answers? If you’re missing any of the answers, you’ll find them below. In the meantime, we wish you all the best of the season. See you back here in the new year!

 

Across answers:

3. Carbon

5. McDonalds

6. Methane

8. Joyce

9. Collaboration

10. Europe

 

Down answers:

1.Harmony

2. InsideEducation

4. Bryan

7. NAFTA

The 7 stages of beef cattle production

That delicious Canadian beef meal you’re enjoying is the product of a series of businesses and producers, each of whom plays a distinct role in the process. Here’s a quick rundown of the steps taken, and the hard-working players involved, in bringing beef to your table.

Cattle breeding: This is the first step in the beef production chain, and can take place naturally or through artificial insemination. Cattle breeders work to raise cattle with specific and superior genetics that can be sold to cow-calf ranchers. There are about 10,000 breeders of registered beef cattle in Canada. Our national herd was originally built on traditional British breeds such as Angus, Hereford, Shorthorn and Galloway. French breeds such as Charolais, Simmental, Limousin and Maine Anjou were introduced later.

Cow-Calf Ranching: Cow-calf producers keep a herd of cows that are bred annually to produce a crop of calves. These cow-calf pairs are raised on pasture. 

Auction Markets: This is where cattle are bought and sold. There are many different types of sales.  Some sales are cow-calf pairs that can be purchased by ranchers. Feeder calves that are ready for finishing are bought by cattle feeders. Cattle are also purchased at auction by beef processors. Every year a Canadian Auctioneer Championship is held by the Livestock Markets Association of Canada (LMAC) to enable auctioneers to improve and showcase their unique skills.

Cattle Feeders: Cattle feeders typically purchase feeder calves anywhere from 600-900 pounds. These cattle enter a feeding operation where they are fed a high energy ration of forage and grain such as barley, wheat, or corn. Cattle can spend anywhere from 60-220 days at a feeding operation until they reach market weight of 1,400 to 1,500 pounds. In 2016 Canada fed 2.7 million cattle, and produced three billion pounds of beef. Most of these cattle came from modern feedlots that use modern production technologies to improve quality, enhance environmental sustainability, and build the international competitiveness of Canada’s beef industry.

Beef Processing: The meat-packing industry handles the processing of cattle and the harvesting of beef, as well as the packaging and distribution of beef products.

Retail: The end beef product is sold by packers to the final consumer through grocery stores and other retail outlets.

Export: Approximately 39 per cent of Canadian beef goes to export markets, such as the US, Asia, and Europe.

Food Service: This includes any business, institution or company that prepares meals outside the home for resale, and includes restaurants. 

All of these “sectors” in the beef value chain are supported by a variety of industry associations and organizations that help look out for the interests of their members and collaborate to grow and strengthen Canada’s beef industry. Check the interactive image to learn more.