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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.

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.

Beef and hormones: should Canadians be concerned?

These days we hear a lot in the media about the use of hormones in food production. In fact, ‘hormone-free’ has become a common advertising theme. This week on this blog, we’re taking a look at why food producers use hormones, and whether Canadians have any cause for concern. Read more