The B.C Cattleman’s Association (BCCA), working with a major B.C. food retailer, is embracing the concept of producing natural,
hormone free beef.
It isn’t a statement that natural is any better than commodity or conventional beef, says Kevin Boon, BCCA general manager, it is simply recognizing if the market is there, B.C. ranchers can produce it.
The BCCA has just announced its Beef Industry Alliance Program and it is creating a lot of buzz among B.C. cow-calf producers. It is a program that will encourage a percentage of B.C. ranchers to produce a “natural” beef product, which may mean no-added hormone and antibiotic-free beef, for a specific branded retail market. The details of the protocol have not been confirmed.
The proposed protocol at this point is looking for cattle that are B.C. born and raised and grain finished (they might be finished somewhere else, but they got their start in B.C.), were produced without antibiotics, received no added hormones, were not supplied beta-agonist feed additives, were produced on farms and ranches certified under the national Verified Beef Program (VBP) and are cattle registered with the Beef Information XChange System (BIXS). (BIXS is a voluntary national program where individual producers register their farms and enroll their beef herd in a system that allows them to track individual animals through the production system. Basic production information for each animal is included in the record keeping system as animals go through the production chain. Some of the basic values of BIXS is to allow beef producers to receive information on how cattle performed and graded, and it also allows others in the chain to help source cattle that meet specific feeding or marketing requirements.)
The alliance program is not going to change the face of beef production in B.C., says Boon, noting the majority of cattle will still be commodity or conventional beef. But there will be opportunity for any and all producers to participate in the program if they meet the final criteria.
BCCA, like many other provincial associations, winced a bit when a national fast-food restaurant chain recently announced it was switching to all natural beef products. The idea wasn’t bad, but the insinuation, which raised some hackles, was that natural beef was somehow better or safer than commodity beef.
“I have been eating commodity beef all my life without any ill affects,” says Boon. “And there is no scientific evidence that suggests there is anything in our conventionally produced beef that is harmful…it is some of the finest and safest meat products in the world.”
So Boon is clear on the point, the Alliance program itself and any advertising that goes with it isn’t suggesting there is anything wrong with or bad about commodity beef — natural beef is just produced…well, naturally.
“Consumers are becoming more demanding and more are asking for certain types of products,” he says. “Retailers are sensing that demand and simply going back to the producers to see if it can be supplied.”
When the BIXS program was launched a couple years ago, BCCA asked retailers then if they wanted to use BIXS simply to identify B.C.-raised beef sort of in a buy-local program. That didn’t attract much interest, but now a major retailer has come back to BCCA to see if a branded natural beef program can be established.
“And that was one of the objectives of BIXS— to help establish a record keeping and tracking system, so animals produced with certain genetics and certain production practices can be identified in the system,” says Boon.
While BCCA is making producers aware of plans for the alliance and the natural beef program, the actual details of sourcing and supplying natural beef to the retailer will be handled by a third party.
“We see it is an opportunity where the system and programs we have in place will add value for those producers wishing to participate,” says Boon. “Consumer trends are changing, we have a retailer who has identified a market, and we have a system which allows us to produce and source the animals to meet that market need.”
While details of the alliance are still being worked out, Boon says the target is to have branded natural BC beef in the retailer meat counter by early next summer of early fall 2014 at the latest. Boon notes too, as this natural beef program gets rolling it may tie in very nicely with whatever future opportunities might come along in supplying more beef to the European Union.
Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]