In 2014, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef commissioned a study to assess the beef industry’s performance in social, economic, and environmental areas.
The results from the two-year ‘farm to fork’ assessment were published this week, along with a strategy for advancing and measuring sustainability efforts going forward.
The findings, which were shared at the Global Conference on Sustainable Beef in Banff, provide a comprehensive picture of the industry’s sustainability performance at the national level, explains CRSB chair Cherie Copithorne-Barnes, a rancher from Jumping Pound, Alta.
Deloitte was hired as a third party to compile the environmental and social data, including standard environmental life cycle topics, such as climate change, fossil fuel use, water use, and air and land pollution, along with biodiversity and carbon storage. In the social category, they looked at animal health, welfare, and antimicrobial use.
“It is important to have a balanced approach when assessing the beef industry’s environmental performance, understanding both the impacts and the benefits. I feel like we achieved that balance with this study because we examined a very broad range of indicators,” says Dr. Tim McAllister, principal research scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. “This study is grounded in science—we made sure the best data and methods were used—and the third-party review also lends additional credibility.”
Canfax Research Services conducted the economic assessment, measuring producer viability and consumer resiliency.
“There is great diversity in the beef sector with a wide range between the high cost and low cost producers. There is no one right way,” says Canfax manager Brenna Grant. “We also know that there are times in the cattle cycle when margins are negative. Producers need access to risk management tools to navigate those years.”
The CRSB plans to review the goals identified in the sustainability strategy and the benchmarks from the assessment every five years, to evaluate progress and update them as new information becomes available.
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Snapshot of Results (courtesy the CRSB)
- Canada is a very efficient beef producer in regards to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with a total footprint of 11.4 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of live weight. From a value chain perspective, the farming stage accounts for 74% of the industry’s GHG footprint, followed by consumption (10%); processing (6%); retail and transportation (4% each); and packing (1%).
- Approximately 19% of edible bone-free meat is wasted from secondary processing through to consumption because of trimming, spillage, discarding of expired meat, and other reasons.
- Land used for beef production accounts for 33% of agricultural land and 68% of the potential wildlife habitat on the agricultural landscape. This land also currently stores approximately 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon.
- The blue water footprint of Canadian beef is 235 litres per kilogram of live weight, relatively low due to low rates of irrigation on feed and the presence of highly efficient systems. From a value chain perspective, the farming stage accounts for 74% of the industry’s blue water footprint, followed by consumption (10%); processing (6%); retail and transportation (4% each); and packing (2%).
- Industry scored well on the social impacts related to working conditions and very well on the animal health and welfare indicators.
- Antimicrobial misuse was found to be a low risk in Canada due to the uptake of best management practices, training, and measuring and monitoring.
- The beef industry is characterized by small margins at every production stage. In 2013, cow-calf enterprises covered short-term (i.e., cash costs) and medium-term (i.e., including depreciation) costs. Three of the four typical farms also covered long-term costs (i.e., including opportunity costs). In this case, opportunity costs largely represent unpaid labour.
- Average long-term margins for a 200 head cow-herd provides an annual income of $17,559. Between 74% and 85% of cow/calf operations rely on off-farm income.
- The ability of the industry to distinguish between trends and fads as well as respond to consumer demands were identified as important to the economic sustainability of the beef industry.