After three years of in-depth scientific analysis, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef released its second National Beef Sustainability Assessment and Strategy report earlier this month.
The report and assessment highlights the progress the industry has made in Canada between 2014 and 2021 on sustainability indicators such as greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, carbon storage, health and safety, animal care, economic contributions and more. It also contains sustainability strategies identifying key areas for continuous improvement.
The report, released on Jan. 15, was completed thanks to over $2.8 million in funding for the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CSRB) under the federal government’s AgriAssurance Program — National Industry Association Component, an initiative that falls under the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership.
The biggest improvements seen across the industry included a 15 per cent reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions that are given off to produce one kilogram of beef (boneless and consumed) since 2014. The CRSB attributes this improvement to increased efficiencies in cattle growth, leading to a smaller overall carbon footprint as fewer resources such as land, water and feed are required to produce the same volume of beef.
The reduction is quite exciting, said Ryan Beierbach, chair of the CRSB and a Saskatchewan beef producer.
“In Canada, we do a really good job of producing beef with a low environmental footprint. We’re a country where we’re predominantly grasslands naturally, so it’s not like we’re having to convert land; it really fits into the ecosystem,” he said, adding that the 15 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions puts the industry on track to achieve the industry’s goal of a 33 per cent reduction by 2030.
Another key finding of the report showed that the land used for beef cattle production stores an estimated 1.9 billion of soil organic carbon. With the overall loss of habitat that species at risk are facing across Canada, Canadian beef farmers and ranchers play an important role in preserving intact critical habitat they need for reproduction and feeding, the report said.
Beierbach is proud of the Canadian beef industry’s commitment to continuous improvement and the progress it has already made to be more sustainable, he said.
“This assessment demonstrates the important role Canadian beef producers and our members play in advancing sustainability, and what we can accomplish when we work together towards common goals.”
Under health and safety, the report noted conversations around farmer stress and mental health have grown, increasing awareness, and that animal care continues to be a top priority for the Canadian beef industry.
“On the animal welfare side, we’ve got strong regulations and good understanding on the producer side on what we need to do to take care of animals,” Beierbach said.
The Canadian beef industry was hit hard by multiple supply and demand shocks in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic led to lock downs in Canada and other countries around the world, Beierbach said. This was directly followed by drought in Western Canada that persisted for years.
But despite this, the report says demand for Canadian beef remains strong with consumers across the country and around the world — up five per cent nationally, and 16 per cent internationally.
The cattle industry contributes $51.5 billion to the production of goods and services, $21.8 billion to the Canadian GDP and $11.7 billion in labour income, the report says.
While the good news in the report is significant, measuring sustainability is only the first step, the CRSB says.With the creation of a National Beef Sustainability Strategy, it will now focus on clear goals and actions. To do that, the CRSB will focus on three pillars — the environment, social responsibility, and the economy.
In addition to reducing primary production of greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 33 per cent by 2030, the CRSB also wants to safeguard 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon stored on land managed by beef producers, and an additional 3.4 million tonnes of carbon every year.
The organization also seeks to reduce food waste, increase the value of AAA and Prime carcasses and support improved food safety and technology throughout the food chain. In addition, through supporting the economic viability of beef producers, it aims to maintain 25 million acres of native grassland and protect wildlife habitat.
Goals also include improved soil, efficient water use in the beef industry and advocacy for the protection of wetlands, which protect against flood and drought, filter water and act as carbon sinks.
“The Canadian beef sector is committed to transparency and continuous improvement in sustainability,” Beierbach said. “We look forward to further collaborations and innovations to make a positive impact and meet our goals for the Canadian beef industry’s social, economic and environmental performance.”