beef cows and calves steve everts/iStock/Thinkstock

Cargill pioneers Canadian beef traceability pilot project

Ongoing, verified, sustainable beef supply is focus for yearlong effort.

According to Cargill, the company’s Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration pilot will, by the end of 2018, move its customers one step closer to providing consumers with beef from operations that have been audited from "birth to burger" using an industry-developed sustainability standard.

The newest initiative, which kicks off this month, has significant scale and will incorporate as well as explore new technologies. It will include only Canadian cattle, starting with animals processed at Cargill’s facility in High River, Alb.

Using the Canadian beef industry’s existing radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag system, cattle will be tracked by the Beef Info-Exchange System (BIXS) from the time cattle producers tag them all the way through processing at Cargill’s High River beef plant. Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) – overseen by the Beef Cattle Research Council and operated with the assistance of provincial cattle organizations – will be the first certification body utilized to audit cattle producers who choose to participate.

A unique aspect of this pilot involves rewarding participating cattle producers as a way to help offset the increased costs associated with implementing and running the pilot. McDonald’s Canada, Loblaw Companies Ltd. and the Swiss Chalet Rotisserie & Grill restaurant unit of Vaughan, Ont.-based CARA Operations Ltd. are the Cargill customers initially participating in this pilot.

“Ever more frequently, our retail and restaurant customers ask us questions about where Canadian beef comes from and how the cattle are raised,” said Gurneesh Bhandal, Cargill’s beef sustainability manager based in Toronto, Ont. “Consumer research tells us there is a thirst for this type of information. We have been listening and learning, and our yearlong 2017-2018 sustainability pilot will help create the infrastructure needed to implement the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef’s standard in our supply chain, providing our customers and consumers with an increased level of trust in the beef they purchase and eat.”

During the yearlong pilot, a variety of technologies will be explored, such as DNA testing and blockchain – a shared, continually reconciled, decentralized and highly accountable internet database tool – to determine their long-term value. Ultimately, the intention is to create a process that is robust while still being practical, scalable and cost-effective.

“We want this to be the best possible model for beef from verified sustainable sources in Canada, and we are energized about the potential benefits for stakeholders across the entire beef value chain,” Bhandal said. “Any technology that could potentially make this process better for the Canadian beef value chain will be considered.”  

Cargill’s 2017-18 pilot builds on what was learned from McDonald’s pioneering beef sustainability effort -- completed in 2016 -- in which nearly 9,000 cattle were tracked through the entire supply chain. The new pilot is also designed to test – for the first time – the standards and guidance developed by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. Cargill is a founding member of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and its Canadian and U.S. offshoots and is the largest beef processor in Canada.

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