It’s no secret that the world population is growing – and growing fast. In fact, experts predict the global population to be over 10 billion by 2050. We’re going to need to feed more people with fewer resources. It’s one of the reasons why producing beef in a way that’s responsible to the environment, animals and people is crucial for the health of our planet.
The Canadian Herd
The beef industry spans the Canadian landscape, with 60,000 beef farms spread throughout every province. Nearly all are family owned and operated. Beef farms are usually smaller cow-calf operations with an average of 69 mother cows who are raised on pasture before being sold to a feedlot. Feedlot operations, where cattle are fed up to market weight on a special diet of high-energy grains and oilseeds, are typically larger, housing between 500-20,000 animals at a time.
Canada’s cattle industry mainly produces beef, which is highly sought after and sold into 53 regions around the globe. Cattle production and processing contribute more than $24 billion to the Canadian economy and supports nearly 347,000 jobs (2020-2022 average).
All of this demonstrates that how Canadian farmers, ranchers and operators produce beef is important, environmentally, socially and economically.
Looking towards a more sustainable future
Beef producers know they have a vital role to play as part of the solution to climate change. The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) is a coalition of producer associations, food processors, retail and food service organizations, NGOs, agriculture and food businesses, scientific researchers and academia, government representatives, and others who are committed to making beef production more sustainable.
CRSB defines sustainable beef as “a socially responsible, economically viable and environmentally sound product that prioritizes the planet, people, animals and progress.”
It’s based on five guiding principles:
- Conserving and enhancing ecosystem health by responsibly managing the natural resources.
- Supporting people and communities by respecting and protecting human rights.
- Respecting and managing animals to ensure their health and welfare.
- Ensuring food safety and the quality of beef products.
- Encouraging efficiency and innovation by optimizing production, reducing waste and contributing to economic growth.
Using these principles, CRSB measures the Canadian beef sector’s sustainability performance through robust science-based assessments, sets goals to improve it and identifies areas that still need work.
CRSB Certification: Sharing the sustainability story
A big part of CRSB’s efforts is the creation of the Certified Sustainable Beef Framework. This is a voluntary certification program that tracks every stage of the beef production cycle (from producer to consumer). It measures sustainable practices against a specific set of approved indicators in its production and processing standards. When you purchase beef with the CRSB Certified mark, you can be confident that it has met rigorous sustainability standards at every stage of production and processing.
And you don’t need to take their word for it. Besides having to follow production standards, farmers and processors are assessed on-site by third-party auditors. This is an important step that verifies the industry is doing what it says it is.
The ‘CRSB Certified’ label certifies that both producers and processors have met sustainability standards for food safety, animal health and welfare, natural resources, efficiency and innovation, and people and communities. It’s important that care is taken throughout the supply chain right from the farm to the grocery store or restaurant.
Protecting a fragile ecosystem
You might be surprised to learn that Canadian beef helps protect one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems – native grasslands. To survive and thrive grasslands need grazing animals. One of CRSB’s goals is to make sure beef production supports grasslands in a sustainable, responsible way to store carbon, support biodiversity and provide habitat for over 1,000 plants and animals.
Here are some stats. Cattle production uses about one-third of Canada’s total agricultural land, yet it provides two-thirds (68%) of the wildlife habitat capacity. While grassland bird populations have declined by 87% since 1970—in part as a result of grassland conversion—fortunately, most of the remaining habitat is managed and conserved by beef producers, and grazing cattle on these lands is critical to their survival.
How’s the industry performing?
These are just some of the sustainability advancements the Canadian beef industry has made:
- 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon are preserved in land used for beef production in Canada
- Canadian beef production contributes $24 billion to Canada’s GDP and employs 347,000 full-time equivalent jobs.
- Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cattle production are less than half of the global average.
- Producing each unit of Canadian beef uses 17% less water today that it did 30 years ago, 95% of which is rain and snow that comes down whether cattle are on pasture or not.
And the industry isn’t stopping there. A robust suite of 2030 goals is guiding the industry towards more improvements, such as a 33% reduction in GHG emissions intensity, preserving the 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon and sequestering an additional 3.4 million more each year, and conserving the 35 million acres of grassland in the care of beef producers.
And these ambitions serve us all. “With a viable and productive beef industry we can ensure farming families stay on the landscape and continue to turn Canada’s grassland into a high quality, nutritious, delicious food, that also protects these ecologically-important landscapes,” said Karla Guyn, retired CEO of Ducks Unlimited Canada.
Check in with CRSB to find out more about their efforts to reduce beef’s carbon footprint towards a sustainable beef industry.