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Revised NAFTA agreement a relief to Canada’s beef producers

Image Credit: KCL Cattle Company Ltd.

After more than a year of negotiations, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have reached an agreement on NAFTA. The new, proposed agreement is called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).

The agreement is good news for Canadian beef producers, as it preserves the duty-free trade in live cattle and beef, which has benefited all three partners under NAFTA. The existing rules of origin and the mechanisms for fair dispute settlement also remain intact.

Brian Innes, president of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA) issued a statement on the new agreement: “We welcome an agreement to renew NAFTA. Free and fair trade has made our agri-food exporters globally competitive. We’re very pleased that free and fair trade of North American agri-food products will continue.”

The U.S. is Canada’s largest trade partner for beef and live cattle, and the new agreement ensures that will continue. “USMCA gives the Canadian beef industry critically important ongoing access to our largest markets: U.S. and Mexico,” said Bryan Walton, ACFA’s president and CEO. “This is an integrated industry here in Canada and free trade in North America benefits producers in all three countries.”

Why diversification still matters

The uncertainty over NAFTA has been trying for Canada’s beef producers, and it has highlighted the need for Canada to expand its global reach and forge new trading partnerships.

Trade with Asia recently received a boost with the signing of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Speedy ratification of this deal is of the essence for Canadian producers to ensure Canada is on the ground floor when it comes to securing lower tariffs with other partners. 

Europe is another market that provides export opportunities to Canadian beef producers. The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is designed to encourage free trade between Canada and Europe, although Canada doesn’t currently fill its quota for beef exports because there are not enough Canadian packing plants qualified to send beef to Europe.

“The most important thing that we got out of reaching this USMCA agreement is we’ve removed most of the cloud of uncertainty that was hanging over the Canadian economy and discouraging investors from moving forward,” said John Weekes, former chief negotiator for NAFTA.

The pursuit of an ambitious international trade agenda is one of the key tenets of Canada’s National Beef Strategy, which is designed to ensure that Canada’s beef producers are positioned to weather challenges and take advantage of opportunities. You can read more about that in ‘4 reasons the National Beef Strategy is important to Canada’.

Alberta sunshine provides an environmentally friendly energy source to cattle feeders

Alberta’s cattle feeders work hard to reduce their environmental footprint, and many are turning to solar energy for help.

KCL Cattle Company is one feedlot that’s taking advantage of Alberta government subsidies to install solar panels. Check out this short video in which Les Wall is interviewed about their decision to use solar energy:

Other initiatives to help reduce the environmental footprint of Alberta’s beef industry include ongoing emissions research, environmental impact studies and collaboration with organizations such as the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) Policy Advisory Group and Agri-Environmental Partnership of Alberta.

Read more about beef production and the environment in ‘The beef industry and sustainability: how are we doing and where could we improve?’.

Is grass-fed beef better?

Image Credit: KCL Cattle Company Ltd.

Eating well is no simple matter. Our global marketplace offers a world of choices, and the information available on those food choices can be contradictory and complicated. In today’s blog post we explain the difference between grass-fed and grain-finished beef and explore their nutritional values and environmental impacts.

Grass-fed and grain-finished beef explained

All cattle eat grass and forage for most of their lives. This means they graze in the pasture during the summer months and are then fed forages such as silage (fermented grass crops) or hay during the winter.

Some cattle are grass- and forage-fed for their entire lives.

Other cattle are slowly moved to a diet consisting of grains such as corn or barley, for about three or four months before they go to market. This diet helps the cattle put on weight faster, and produces a higher quality, more marbled meat. This generally takes place in a feedlot.

A nutritional comparison

According to Canada Beef, grass-fed beef is leaner than grain-finished beef by about two to four grams of fat per 100 grams of trimmed meat. Dietitians agree this is an insignificant amount in the context of the amount of fat we consume on a daily basis. 

Both types of beef contribute nutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin B, calcium and potassium, as well as small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, and both contain the same amount of cholesterol.

You can read more about the dietary impacts of beef in your diet in ‘4 ways proposed changes to the Canada Food Guide could be bad for our health’.

Environmental impact

Beef production, perhaps surprisingly, benefits the environment in many ways, because the industry is helping preserve Canada’s natural grasslands. Pastures help maintain watersheds, sequester carbon, prevent erosion, support biodiversity and provide habitats for a variety of different species.

That being said, grain-finished beef has a lower carbon footprint than grass-fed beef because of the higher efficiency of this finishing method. Grass-fed cattle are typically harvested at between 20 to 24 months of age, and at a weight of 1,000 to 1,400 pounds. Grain-fed cattle, on the other hand, are harvested at about 14 to 18 months of age and at a weight of about 1,400 to 1,500 pounds. 

Because the grain-finishing phase is so much more efficient than grass-finishing, resulting in more food in less time, grain-fed beef has a lower carbon footprint than grass-fed.

‘4 things you should know about beef production and the environment’ explains more about the environmental impacts of the beef industry.

How regulatory changes could help trade with the U.S.

This week, we’re exploring recent changes to federal regulations that will help ease the trade in live cattle between Canada and the United States. It’s a follow-up to an earlier post in which we explained why trade with the U.S. is so important to Canada’s beef producers.

The governments of both Canada and the U.S. have strict regulations under which cattle can be imported into their respective countries.

One particular concern is to identify where an animal was born in the event of a disease outbreak. The required inspections, paperwork and documentation can be onerous. 

The Restricted Feeder Cattle Program

The Restricted Feeder Cattle Program was implemented to simplify keeping track of feeder cattle imported from the U.S. to a feedlot in Canada and then directly to the processor. The program allows importation without test requirements on a year-round basis but with proper identification and certification. 

The movement of these feeder cattle must be direct to a feedlot registered with the program, and from there, direct to processing. Because these cattle will not be going anywhere else, it makes them much simpler to trace back, so it was possible to relax the regulations.

Why there was a need for change

Typically, more feeder cattle and finished cattle are shipped from Canada to the U.S. than in the other direction.   But in 2017, market conditions changed, and between 150,000 and 200,000 head of feeder cattle were imported into Canada from the U.S. 

The National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) recognized that changes to the Restricted Feeder Cattle Program could make the process easier and less costly for Canadian feedlot owners, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) accepted NCFA’s suggestions. 

A summary of the changes

Recent changes to the Restricted Feeder Cattle Program have focused on the following areas:

1. Identification – including the information to be included on RFID tags.

2. Vehicle sealing – making allowance for rest stops for cattle en route.

3. Documentation for importation and border requirements – including allowances for shipments contained in multiple trucks.

4. Inspection at destination, approved feedlot – which can, in some cases, be completed electronically, based on a reading of the RFID tags.

For feedlot owners who are importing large numbers of feeder cattle, these changes will have a  significant impact on their costs, and their ability to justify the import of cattle from the U.S.

Maintaining a regulatory regime that protects people and animals, while simultaneously facilitating free and open trade, will promote a continued, mutually beneficial relationship. That’s why livestock producers will be watching negotiations to update the North American Free Trade Agreement closely.

You can read more about this in the post, Why free North American trade is good for the beef industry and Canada.

Myth or fact? 5 beef myths debunked

Have you ever heard people say that eating meat is bad for our environment and our planet? In this latest Myth vs Fact post, we’re exploring some common misconceptions about beef production, so you can eat that next steak with a clear conscience.

#1 Beef cattle are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions

Cattle account for only 2.4 per cent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – compared to 28 per cent for transportation. Cattle in Canada also produce some of the lowest GHGs in the world thanks to best practices developed through ongoing research. 

#2 We don’t need to eat meat – we can simply substitute it with plant proteins

Plant proteins such as beans and lentils are wholesome, nourishing foods. But it is wrong to assume that they can provide the same amount of protein per unit of food as beef. One 75 gram (2.6 ounces) serving of beef contains the same amount of protein as about two cups of beans. The plant-based protein is also not as easily digested and is missing important nutrients such as Vitamin B12 and heme iron – the type of iron most readily absorbed by the body.

Like beef, plant proteins have an important part to play in a balanced diet, but they cannot be compared, portion for portion, as a substitute.

#3 We need to eliminate beef production for the sake of the environment

Eliminating beef production would help reduce our GHG emissions by a small amount, but there are other significant reasons why pastureland is good for the environment:

    • Only 26 per cent of our native rangelands remain intact in Canada, and those would be lost without grazing animals to maintain their health. As an ecosystem, those grasslands support biodiversity and help retain water.
    • Grasslands provide important habitats for migratory birds, species at risk and other wildlife.
    • Grasslands store carbon, which would be released into the atmosphere if they were cultivated.

The relationship between cattle and wildlife is recognized by the World Wildlife Fund in its ‘2017 Annual Plowprint Report’.

#4 Feeding cattle is a waste of resources that should be used to benefit people

Cattle and other grazing animals in Canada are typically raised on land, and fed foods that might otherwise be unusable:

    • Most pastureland is unsuitable for crop production.
    • 86 per cent of all cattle feed in Canada is not fit for human consumption. 
    • Only nine per cent of cropland in Canada is used to grow grain specifically for cattle feed.
    • Food animals also play a huge role in recycling the by-products of human food production. For instance, cattle are fed the leftover grains from the production of beer, whiskey and other alcohols, which would otherwise be considered waste.

#5 Our food production is being taken over by huge, corporate factory farms

Ninety-eight per cent of Canadian farms, both large and small, are owned and operated by families. Some have been in the family for five or more generations. These farmers have been raised on the land, and they care deeply about preserving it for their own children and generations to come. 

They work hard to raise their animals in comfortable, low-stress environments. 

They understand that if animals are unhealthy or stressed they will not grow to their full potential. Even in an intensive livestock setting, healthy, well cared for animals help ensure the health of the operation.

So, next time you’re at the grocery store, wondering what to make for dinner, you won’t do better than a good serving of Canadian beef. It’s good for you, and raised ethically, sustainably and humanely.

For more in our Myth vs Fact posts, check out ‘3 feedlot myths busted’ and ‘Busted! 5 beef myths that don’t stand up to the facts’.

How 5 freedoms help ensure excellence in animal care

A lot of progress has been made since Alberta’s livestock producers banded together 25 years ago to promote excellence in animal care.

Commodity organizations, including the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association, founded Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC) in 1993 to ensure that all producers have access to the resources and information they need to provide a comfortable, low-stress environment for their animals.

“We are a non-profit, multi-species animal welfare organization,” said Kristen Hall, marketing and membership manager at AFAC. “We were formed by the livestock industry, for the livestock industry, to be a collective voice for animal welfare within the province.”

The notion of animal care is based on the five freedoms:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  4. Freedom from fear and distress
  5. Freedom to express their normal behaviours

 

Some of the free resources AFAC provides for livestock producers include guidelines, videos, codes of practice and factsheets.

On Sept. 7 and 8, AFAC is partnering with the Foothills Forage and Grazing Association to host a Stockmanship Clinic. The two-day course will be taught by Dylan Biggs, cattle handling expert and specialist in low-stress animal care.

“We find people are very keen to learn,” said Kristen. “Even though they might have been caring for animals their whole lives and they’re already doing a good job, for the most part they’re still willing to take the opportunity to learn more.”

As well as providing resources for livestock producers, AFAC also advocates for the industry. “We do a lot of public education, at events such as the Calgary Stampede and Aggie Days,” said Kristen. “We also do classroom sessions in schools, teaching students how food animals are raised.”

Each year, AFAC hosts a Livestock Care Conference. The next one is scheduled for March 20 and 21, 2019, in Olds, AB.

You can read about some of the other programs that promote animal care and welfare, including the Feedlot Animal Care Assessment Tool, in ‘Animal care is a top priority for Alberta’s cattle feeders.’

5 priorities for cattle feeders in 2019 

Canada’s cattle feeders are urging politicians to consider the needs of beef producers in their platforms for the 2019 federal election. 

Agriculture and Agri-Food is a $100-billion industry that employs more than two million Canadians. The government has identified the sector as one of a few with the potential to spur economic growth.

Canada is in a prime position to benefit from increasing global demand for agricultural products, but the industry requires government support in removing constraints and barriers to growth. 

The National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) cites five urgent challenges:

Rural infrastructure

Most agricultural operations are in rural municipalities with a limited tax base to provide infrastructure. With little federal funding, some municipalities have implemented counterproductive measures, such as the livestock head tax in Lethbridge County. This is eroding the competitiveness of cattle feeding in southern Alberta.

It is crucial that the federal government identifies critical infrastructure investments in rural communities and dedicates financial resources to make them happen.

Labour shortage

A chronic labour shortage of about 60,000 workers is costing primary agriculture producers about $1.5 billion in unrealized farm cash receipts each year. 

Farmers have been forced to turn to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to fill positions that cannot be filled by Canadians, but the process is expensive, time-consuming and complicated. 

The program’s processes need to be streamlined and clear a pathway set for permanent residency for temporary foreign workers.

Regulatory barriers

The industry is ever-evolving with new technologies and industry developments. But when regulations don’t keep pace, it hinders our ability to compete in the global marketplace.

In 2016, NCFA released a detailed study entitled The Competitiveness of the Canadian Cattle Feeding Sector: Regulatory and Policy Issues(PDF)

, Costs and Opportunities. It highlighted six areas – enhanced traceability, export regulation and impediments, veterinary drug harmonization, inspection practices, transportation and labour – where reforms could generate an additional $495 million in revenue across the beef value chain.

International market access

Canada exports 45 per cent of its beef production, and those exports are primarily to the U.S. To grow, the industry needs to expand into other markets, including the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

Agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Canada-EU Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) should be a government priority. They will have a tremendous impact on our ability to trade effectively with these regions.

Consumer education and trust

Government and industry need to work together to ensure consumers are able to make informed choices when it comes to their food, whether the issue is environmental impact, health, or production methods.

Public education should be a pillar of any new national food policy, and Canada Food Guide revisions should reflect the most recent scientific, medical and nutritional research.

In an earlier blog post, we featured John Weekes, an independent business advisor who has worked with NCFA on international trade issues. You can learn more about his work in Meet the international trade expert who is helping support the beef industry abroad.

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.

Excellent reasons to attend this year’s Alberta Beef Industry Conference

On Feb 21-28, members of Alberta’s beef producing industry and their suppliers will gather at the Sheraton Red Deer Hotel, along with journalists, politicians and others interested in beef and the people who bring it to our tables.

The 15th annual Alberta Beef Industry Conference is a chance to find out what’s new, learn about the industry’s achievements and challenges, and make connections.

As always, the conference is packed with a great lineup of speakers. Here are a few highlights:

Andrew Ramlo: This strategic management consultant specializes in helping organizations develop strategies to address industry challenges and opportunities. He will be sharing his insights into everything from the changing consumption patterns of domestic and export markets, to issues of production and labour force trends.

Mark Sheridan: The president of Hester Creek Estate Winery will speak about the evolution of B.C.’s wine industry and the value the Vintners Quality Alliance has brought to wine producers in British Columbia.

John Weekes: As a senior adviser with Bennett Jones, John has worked with the National Cattle Feeders’ Association on many trade files, providing business and strategic advice. He will comment on NAFTA, Canada’s trade agreement with the United States and Mexico; the EU and the implementation of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA); efforts to bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) into force without the U.S.; and trade relations with China and India.

Bruce Cameron: This veteran pollster will explore the challenges our democracy faces in a world where truth is relative. Using timely examples, he will show how integrating new social media metrics with established polling techniques offers a way to reduce margins of error and restore truth in politics.

The conference promises to be packed with great information. To learn more about these and other speakers, visit the conference program page.

Busted! 5 beef myths that don’t stand up to the facts

When it comes to the food you eat, you want to know the facts. Is it sustainably and ethically produced? Is it good for you? Unfortunately, the many misconceptions surrounding beef production make it hard to get accurate, reliable information. Here are five of the most common myths:

Myth #1 Pastureland is a waste of good agricultural land

Most cattle are pastured on land that is unsuitable for crop production, for instance, because it is too hilly, stony, boggy or dry. Those grasslands also help maintain watersheds, sequester carbon, prevent erosion and support biodiversity.

In the feedlot, the animals are typically fed grains that do not meet specifications for human consumption and would otherwise be wasted.

Myth #2 Beef is bad for your health

Red meats are the best source of high-quality dietary protein relative to caloric intake, as well as being rich in nutrients, such as zinc, iron and Vitamin B12.

Recent research has shown that the advice to eat less red meat could result in an increased incidence of iron-deficiency anemia – and it has been documented that Canadians, on average, are not consuming the recommended serving of red meat within the current Canadian Food Guide recommendations for meat and alternatives.

Myth #3 Antibiotic-free beef is better for you

The use of antibiotics in food animals is strictly regulated, and feedlots work closely with veterinarians to ensure they are used appropriately. There are mandatory withdrawal times between the use of an antibiotic and the harvesting of an animal, to ensure the meat is antibiotic-free.

Without the use of antibiotics, animals can get sick, suffer and die, even though there are no known food safety benefits.

Myth #4 Cattle in feedlots are kept in cramped, unsanitary conditions

Cattle in feedlots are provided with spacious pens that allow each animal ample room to move and interact naturally. To ensure the cattle are comfortable during their stay, bedding is added regularly for resting as well as warmth in the winter. Timely removal of animal waste helps keep animals healthy and ensure their well-being. Cattle are also given ample amounts of clean, fresh water and a nutritious, easily digestible, high-energy diet consisting of 80% grains and 20% forages.

Myth #5 Hormone-free beef is better for you

Research has shown that any hormones in the meat we consume are broken down by digestive enzymes and stomach acid. Very little reaches the bloodstream. For those concerned about hormones, there are two important points to note:

    • No meat is hormone-free! All animals have hormones naturally occurring in their systems.
    • When you eat a burger, there are more hormones in the bun than in the meat.

Next week on this blog, Roy Lewis, of Westlock Veterinary Center, north of Edmonton, will explain why the use of hormones in food animals is not just safe, but also an environmentally responsible way to raise food.