Will consumers pay more for verified sustainable beef?

Canada’s beef farmers hope to learn whether their customers, and ultimately consumers, will pay more for sustainably produced beef coming from a verified production system.

Farmers plan to get answers to their queries as part of a one-year pilot project launched in earlier this fall by Cargill, Canada’s largest beef processor. Currently the pilot is only open to Canadian cattle processed at Cargill’s High River, Alta. plant.

The project, called the Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration pilot, uses a number of existing beef industry programs, including the radio-frequency identification tag system. The Beef Info-Exchange System, commonly known as BIXS, is used to track cattle from the time farmers tag the animals until they’re processed at Cargill’s High River plant.

Sustainability auditing and standards

Verified Beef Production Plus is the certifying organization to audit farmers. The Canadian Roundtable on Sustainable Beef developed the sustainability standards farmers must meet.

Cargill’s beef sustainability manager Gurneesh Bhandal says one of the pilot’s goals is to meet “growing consumer demand for transparency about where food comes from.”

Research shows consumers want to know how animals are raised and how national resources are managed in beef production, Bhandal says. “This project is about creating that transparency for consumers to learn about beef production.”

Financial incentives

Farmers can earn quarterly credits for all cattle that result in beef coming from the fully verified supply chain. Some of Cargill’s customers helping to fund the pilot include McDonald’s Restaurants, Loblaws and the Swiss Chalet restaurant unit of CARA Operations Ltd.

Bhandal says the amount of the credits and the number of participating producers won’t be known until the end of the pilot’s first quarter next year. Farmers don’t have to specifically sign up with Cargill to participate in the pilot.

All farmers who are verified by VBP+, registered with BIXS and uploading their cattle data on the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency database are eligible for the financial incentive. The incentive is only paid if the cattle go through the entire verified supply chain from cow/calf to processor.

Bhandal says the first financial credits will be paid out to qualified farmers in early 2018. The amount of the financial credits will depend on “how many head of cattle make it through the system.”

Farmers await answers

Calgary-area cow/calf and feedlot operator Bob Lowe, a participant in the pilot, says farmers want to know if customers and consumers will pay for “everything they’re demanding us to do.”

The pilot project “will either say consumers will pay for their demands or whether they won’t,” he says. 

Bottom line

A one-year beef pilot project will help to build the supply of meat coming from certified sustainable farms.

Article by: Susan Mann