The Canadian Beef Advantage
How we as Canadians, through our cattle production and processing systems, put the best of Canada into our beef.
Every region in Canada has its own climates, landscapes, people and stories to tell. It is this variety that makes Canada, and being Canadian, so great. In celebrating these differences wrapped in a proud Canadian flag, we showcase what makes being Canadian so special to the world, a message that our research has told us is meaningful across the globe.
At the core of Canada Beef’s strategy is the need to unite the beef industry, leveraging the diversity of each province.
By uniting under a single brand, our industry is greater than the sum of its parts. Canadian beef is the national and global brand of excellence. In order to create and sustain brand loyalty, the focus and mandate of Canada Beef is to drive brand and resulting go-to-market initiatives in alignment with strategic business development priorities. The end result will be increased demand-pull, which in turn will enable commercial opportunities.
The Canadian Cattle Association (CCA) is the national voice of Canada’s 60,000 beef farms and feedlots. Founded by producers and led by a producer-elected board, CCA works to address issues that concern Canada’s beef producers.
Represents Canada’s federally registered meat packers and processors as well as the industry’s suppliers of equipment, technology and services. The Council advocates on behalf of the needs of its members to secure and improve Canada’s global meat competitiveness and ensure Canada is trusted as a world leader in the provision of safe and wholesome meat.
The CBBC represents, supports and promotes the Canadian purebred beef cattle industry. It works in collaboration with various government and industry organizations in order to collectively assist and promote seedstock producers and connect its members on the domestic and international scales.
The CRSB is a multi-stakeholder initiative developed to advance sustainability efforts within the Canadian beef industry. Through leadership, science, multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration, continuous improvement of sustainability of the Canadian beef value chain will be achieved and recognized.
The National Cattle Feeders’ Association is the unified voice for Canadian Cattle Feeders on national issues and works in collaboration with other cattle organizations and governments to strengthen and improve the cattle feeding industry.
The CBGA is a private, non-profit corporation accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency
to deliver world-class grading services for beef and veal in Canada.
The Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) is a non-profit, industry led organization established
to promote and protect animal health and food safety concerns in the Canadian cattle herd.
The BCRC is committed to position the Canadian beef cattle industry as a global leader in beef quality, animal health, food safety and environmental stewardship.
The Canadian beef industry is firmly committed to growing demand for Canadian beef by meeting the expectations of our consumers. Our four pillars make up the foundation of the Canadian Beef Advantage.
Our community of ranchers and farmers tend to the cattle and land with values that we all hold dear: honesty, hard work and resourcefulness. We base our practices on years of experience and what is proven.
A land that stretches across seven and a half time zones, touches three seas and embraces 2.5 million lakes and rivers. It is a place as lofty as the Rocky Mountains, as vast and fertile as the Prairies and as ancient and enduring as the Canadian Shield. And it is a climate and an environment filled with fresh air and clean water, perfectly suited for grazing cattle.
It is also a country of people who celebrate their interdependence with the land and the animals they raise. It is a society of hard-working, creative individuals who have developed innovations and expertise over great distance. Through our best practices, Canada has become an example to the world for understanding the role of humans and animals in nature, and working at home and abroad for peace, order, and doing what’s right.
Canada itself is what shapes our values and inspires our work. Canadian beef has become the remarkable brand and product that it is through the dedicated work of Canadians, who put the best of Canada into our beef. High quality beef production begins at the cow-calf level, where Canadian farm families combine our world-renowned genetics with exceptional animal care. All Canadian beef is kept safe and wholesome through our world class standards and a commitment to quality.
Cattle production has been an essential part of the Canadian agricultural tradition for more than 300 years. Settlers coming to Canada in the 1600s relied on cattle for their meat, milk, and leather. Production expanded and at present there are more than 68,500 beef cattle farms and ranches across Canada. The Canadian cattle industry is dedicated to the production of nutritious, high quality and safe beef and veal products for our customers around the world.
The process of raising cattle for beef production begins on the cow–calf farm where breeding typically occurs in the summer, followed by birth of the calf the following spring. After weaning, calves are provided with feed, shelter and bedding throughout the Canadian winter. During this period the snow and cold temperatures act as a natural barrier to disease. When animals reach a target weight of 300-350 kg they are fed a carefully formulated diet of grain to promote well-marbled, flavourful and tender meat with firm fat.
The Canadian beef industry is firmly committed to growing demand for Canadian beef by meeting the expectations of our consumers. Canada is one of the leading beef-producing nations in the world. For many years Canada has exported approximately half of its beef production to international markets.
Canada is the second largest country in the world and has an abundance of fresh water and wide open spaces. In Canada, one in three acres of land is not well suited to other types of agriculture and cattle production allows these areas to be used productively. Cattle are also an important contributor to a balanced and productive agriculture system. They utilize the forages and legumes which are part of a crop rotation system to improve soil fertility and decrease soil erosion. Between 1981 and 2011, the Canadian beef industry reduced its green house gas (GHG) footprint by 15% through advancements in technology and management that enabled industry to produce the same amount of beef in 2011 compared to 1981, all with 29% less breeding stock, 27% fewer harvested cattle, and 24% less land.
The qualities that give Canadian beef its advantage are defined by four brand pillars that represent both emotional consumer related connections, and Canadian beef’s functional, and science based proof points. Canadian beef represents a commitment to excellence without compromise. Canadian beef is shaped by our unique landscape and environment. Canada has always taken a leadership role in raising cattle sustainably and Canadian beef is a symbol of those efforts. Canada itself represents safety and good governance and Canadian animal agriculture is emblematic of this. Canadian beef, in its vast complexities, represents all that it is to be Canadian, and that is something that the world needs to hear about.
Canadian beef is shaped by the land and enjoyed at family tables globally. It’s our livestock genetics, family farms, cold climate, rich grasslands and grain feeding, that all make for high-quality beef.
Canada is one of the largest grain producers in the world. In the western provinces, more than 75,000 farmers grow crops of barley and wheat. In Eastern Canada, the climate supports the growth of significant amounts of corn. Given the abundance of feed grains, Canada can supply beef produced from cattle that are fed diets containing barley, wheat and corn, as well as producing milk fed or grain finished veal.
Feeding corn, barley and wheat grain contributes to well-marbled, flavorful and tender Canadian beef with firm, white-coloured fat. Canada’s feeding practices enable more than 85% of cattle raised for beef production to be harvested at 2 years of age or less. A younger age at harvest enhances tenderness and overall eating quality.
The CFIA administers a national livestock feed program to verify that livestock feeds are manufactured and sold in accordance with the federal Feeds Act. The program includes evaluation by Feed Section personnel of products before sale, as well as post-market inspection and monitoring by CFIA field staff located throughout Canada.
There are approximately 10,000 purebred breeders in Canada. These breeders take tremendous pride in raising their animals while at the same time focusing on improving genetics with each successive generation. Canada is recognized as a world leader in beef cattle production and we export genetics around the world. The Canadian environment is the ideal place to raise beef cattle, with a cooler climate best suited for Bos Taurus breeds such as Angus, Hereford, Simmental, Limousin and Charolais. These breeds along with several others consistently produce a tender, flavourful product that consumers around the world desire. Canada raises more than 30 Bos Taurus breeds and cross breeding is used to combine the best characteristics of several breeds into one animal. Combined with the sophistications in Canada’s beef cattle production system, these breeds become some of the most feed efficient in the world, requiring less inputs to produce a premium product resulting in lower impact on the environment.
Breed Associations incorporated under The Animal Pedigree Act of Canada, are responsible for ensuring accurate pedigrees, breed improvement programs and the development of producer education programs. Canadian producers select breeding stock based on the level in which animals are efficient, healthy, and phenotypically correct (body structure) while at the same time producing a high quality product. Statistical analyses of animal data called Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs), incorporate genomic information as well as production records and are used to identify and select superior animals. This is an effective tool that guides the decision-making process, resulting in consistent genetic improvement that
A carcass may be graded only after it has been inspected and received the meat inspection stamp, indicating that the beef satisfies all food safety requirements. Quality and yield grades are assigned to carcasses by a Canadian
Beef Grading Agency (CBGA) certified grader. Each grader must successfully complete a comprehensive training program. Once certified, graders are regularly audited by CBGA officials and through the National Grade Monitoring Program administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). These ongoing audits ensure that grading is performed in a manner which is consistent and accurately reflects Canada’s national standards.
Canada is a global leader in beef grading. To satisfy consumer demand for consistency in the end product, Canadians designed the grading system by customizing and combining the best practices from around the world. Each quality attribute requirement must be satisfied to qualify for the Canada A, AA, AAA and Prime grades and any deficiency cannot be offset by other traits. The objective of grading is to place carcasses into uniform groups of similar quality, yield and value. This grouping facilitates marketing and production decisions and provides consumers with a consistent product with a predictable eating experience.
Canada’s quality grades for beef from youthful carcasses are Canada A, Canada AA, Canada AAA and Canada Prime. To assign these grades, a detailed assessment of the carcass is made by a certified grader following chilling. Attributes evaluated include maturity, sex, meat colour, fat colour, carcass muscling, fat coverage and texture, meat texture and marbling level. The yield grade is a measure related to the amount of lean tissue or muscle in the carcass. In Canada the highest values for lean yield percentages will be given the Canada 1 yield grade. Yield grade is determined by measuring the fat depth and ribeye size at the grading site between the 12th and 13th rib.
In the effort to meet consumer demands, Canada harmonized its system of marbling standards with those utilized in the US in 1996. The minimum marbling standards used for USDA Prime (slightly abundant), Choice (small) and Select (slight) are the same minimum standards used in Canada to segregate the youthful quality carcasses into Canada Prime, AAA and AA respectively.
CARCASS MATURITY – The Canada A, Canada AA, Canada AAA or Canada Prime high quality grades require that the maturity must be assessed as youthful on the basis of skeletal development observed in the split carcass. A younger age at harvest enhances tenderness and overall eating quality.
FAT AND MEAT COLOUR – Consumers consider meat and fat colour as important indicators of beef quality and freshness. To qualify as Canada A, Canada AA, Canada AAA or Canada Prime the carcass must have bright red meat colour and the fat cannot have a yellow tinge.
CARCASS MUSCLING – A well-muscled side will provide high yields and permit more efficient fabrication into cuts.. Canada’s high quality beef grades do not permit carcasses with deficient muscling.
BEEF TEXTURE – Beef texture must be firm to meet the requirements for high quality Canadian beef. Texture influences how the beef feels in the mouth during chewing, and is an important contributor to eating quality and consumer satisfaction.
FAT TEXTURE AND COVER – To qualify for the Canada A, Canada AA, Canada AAA and Canada Prime grades the fat cover must be assessed as firm and consistent. Optimal fat cover enables the carcass to cool in a way which maximizes eating quality.
MARBLING LEVEL – To assess marbling, the exposed cross-section of the ribeye muscle is evaluated for the amount, size and distribution of intramuscular fat deposits. Official photographic standards are utilized to ensure consistent and accurate assessment of marbling levels.
GRADE STAMP – When all required examinations have been completed the grade is applied using edible ink. The official grade stamp is applied to the short loin and rib of both sides of the carcass. Grading stamps are maintained at all times under the supervision of the Canadian Beef Grading Agency.
World-class standards are in our nature and define Canada’s quality assurance and food safety systems. We strive to establish and respect regulations for the good of us all. Safe, high quality beef is part of our Canadian culture.
The Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) is a non-profit, industry-led organization incorporated in 1998 and is dedicated to the implementation of technologies and services supporting Canada’s national cattle identification program. The agency is led by a board of directors made up of representatives from all sectors of the Canadian industry, including cow/ calf operations, feedlots, auction markets, processing plants and veterinarians. Due to strong industry and government support for its activities, the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency has become a global leader in animal identification.
Unlike older bar code systems, the RFID tag does not require “line of sight” to facilitate tag reading. Use of passive RFID technology enables the tag to store the animals unique identification number without the need for batteries, ensuring the information is available for the life of the animal.
Accurate and Efficient Information Transfer Canada maintains a strong commitment to the control and elimination of serious animal diseases through its National Animal Health Program. This program administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) requires ongoing surveillance for disease. The Canadian Livestock Tracking System is vital to trace backs conducted to investigate reportable diseases and other conditions.
Each RFID tag has a unique number assigned by the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA), only approved CCIA RFID tags may be used.
Each animal must have a CCIA RFID ear tag when leaving the original herd. The CCIA and the Government of Canada recommend that birth dates are registered with the Age Verification System.
Cattle can not be sold at an auction without a CCIA RFID ear tag. The tag number and the date of processing for export must be reported to the CLTS database.
Upon arrival at the feedlot, all cattle are checked to ensure the presence of a CCIA RFID ear tag. The unique tag number can be used to track production information and report animal movement events.
Packers are required to record and report numbers from tags on the cattle they receive to the CLTS database. ID numbers from harvested cattle are then retired in the CLTS database.
AUDIT AND ENFORCEMENT
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is the government agency which is responsible for auditing and enforcing the Canadian National Cattle Identification Program.
As Canadians, we ensure that the health of Canada’s breeding herd is protected by strict controls on importation of livestock genetics. The Terrestrial Animal Health Division of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) determines if importation of animals, embryos or semen will be permitted based on a detailed risk assessment, including a review of the exporting country’s animal health status. Canada maintains programs for point of-entry inspection and quarantine as well as foreign animal disease (FAD) testing at the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease.
The CFIA Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit works to detect potentially emerging animal diseases and monitor the effectiveness of control programs. Through the formation of a nationwide network, the disease detection capabilities of Canada’s veterinarians, provincial and university diagnostic laboratories and the federal government are combined. If disease is detected, the ability to rapidly and accurately identify the herd of origin of affected animals
is supported by the Canadian Livestock Tracking System. Canada communicates the results of its surveillance for reportable diseases to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The exchange of information is an important part of Canada’s commitment to work with other nations
to establish the best approaches to protecting both animal and human health.
Under the Canadian Food and Drug Regulations, all veterinary drugs must be authorized by Health Canada prior to their use in the cattle industry. These veterinary drugs are an important tool in the production of healthy animals which are destined for use as food. Acceptable limits of residues of animal health products in beef are called maximum residue limits (MRLs). An MRL is based on the type and amount of residue considered to pose no adverse health effects if ingested daily by humans over a lifetime.
Canada’s National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program (NCRMP) tests samples of beef fat, muscle tissue and internal organs for chemical residues. Testing is performed for veterinary drugs as well as other agricultural and industrial chemicals. Any finding of chemical residues is evaluated to determine if there is a violation of Canadian MRLs which are enforced under the Canadian Food and Drugs Act. In the very rare event that a violation is found, an investigation is conducted and further compliance testing is performed.
Canada is well known for its safety and assurance measures.In Canada food safety is a priority and an expectation for all Canadians no matter the type of food. Canadian beef exemplifies this globally and leads the way. The systems for food safety are the result of years of researching the very best systems in the world, then creating our homegrown solution; one that has been proven effective. Potential threats to human health are found and reported, exemplifying Canadians’ commitment to doing what’s right. Canada’s Food Safety Enhancement Program is based on the principles of the HACCP system developed by the global approval body, Codex Alimentarius. The Codex Alimentarius or “Food Code” was established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization in 1963 to develop harmonized international food standards, which protect consumer health and promote fair practices
in food trade.
Canada is committed to the ongoing enhancement of its food safety systems through a partnership between industry and government. The development of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) food safety systems is a requirement beyond traditional meat inspection programs. The focus of HACCP is the prevention of foodborne illness, which continues to be the most important priority of the Canadian beef industry.
A complete HACCP system is mandatory for all Canadian meat plants and requires both prerequisite programs as well as HACCP plans. Only beef plants that are federally inspected are allowed to ship products nationally, between provinces and to export products to international markets. Prerequisite programs are general procedures or good manufacturing practices (GMPs) that enhance food safety for all meat production processes. HACCP plans build on the foundation provided by the prerequisite programs and are designed specifically for each production process.
HACCP plans function through the use of CCPs which are monitored by specially trained employees to control potential food safety risks. CCPs are determined by conducting a comprehensive analysis of possible biological, physical or chemical hazards associated with each step in a meat production process. The effectiveness of the HACCP plan is checked by verification procedures which utilize laboratory tests or other measurable methods approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
A meat product cannot be sold until a HACCP plan for that production process is developed. Suppliers of meat ingredients as well as cold storage and freezer facilities must also have HACCP systems to support food safety throughout the supply chain. To ensure the HACCP system is functioning correctly, each operation is required to undergo verification procedures by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Verification includes a review of HACCP documentation and records, as well as on-site inspection of monitoring and verification procedures for CCPs.
Under Canadian law, each animal must undergo antemortem (before harvest) screening by trained operators to detect potential illness or injury. CFIA personnel then conduct a further antemortem inspection, including a detailed assessment of any animal showing evidence of disease by an official veterinarian. Cattle not meeting animal health requirements are clearly identified, segregated from other cattle, and completely excluded from meat production.
Healthy animals are stunned in a humane manner using only methods approved by the CFIA. Stunning techniques involving air injection or pithing that could result in the contamination of blood with neurological tissue are prohibited by law.
Following the removal of the hide, it is a requirement under the Health of Animals Regulation that the animal ID tag be attached to the carcass to maintain its unique identity. The head is also tagged before separation from the carcass and prepared for inspection by the CFIA.
Following postmortem inspection of the head, the tongue and cheek meat are removed from healthy animals and all specified risk materials (SRMs) are disposed of in a container used exclusively for this purpose. Scientific research has shown that BSE infectivity is concentrated in specific tissues in an animal (such as brain and spinal cord) which have been defined as SRMs. Canada removes all tissues from cattle which are classified as SRMs by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
A postmortem inspection of the thoracic and abdominal viscera including lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, and digestive tract is also conducted by the CFIA following evisceration. Approved offals are removed for chilling and packaging after removal of the distal ileum, as required under Canada’s BSE controls.
The carcass is split and a careful inspection of the external and internal surfaces of the split carcass is made by government personnel.
The carcass is split and a careful inspection of the external and internal surfaces of the split carcass is made by government personnel.
Removal of the spinal cord by an approved method, such as the use of a high power vacuum device, is required by law. Application of the Meat Hygiene Legend to the carcass occurs only after removal
of the spinal cord and successful completion of all postmortem inspection procedures.
Following trimming, the carcass is subjected to one or more washing steps. Due to its ability to effectively reduce any bacteria on meat surfaces, carcasses typically undergo a brief exposure to steam or hot water. Carcasses are then chilled and microbiological testing can be used to verify the effectiveness of the HACCP plan for cattle harvest.
HACCP plans for fabrication and packaging processes are required of all federally inspected Canadian establishments, inclusive of those exporting beef products. These plans must be verified and approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) using the procedures outlined in Canada’s Food Safety Enhancement Program (FSEP).
To ensure fabrication and packaging areas meet Canadian regulatory standards, there are strict requirements for temperature control and sanitation. Each facility is required to have a written Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure (SSOP) which must be approved by the CFIA. Monitoring of the temperatures of room air, carcasses and finished cuts is conducted throughout the day, as required by each operation’s HACCP system.
In addition to meat hygiene controls utilized throughout the production process, inspection of finished products is undertaken to monitor the quality and safety of the beef before packaging. Inspections are performed by quality control personnel and verified by the CFIA. The inspection process operates by utilizing a lot sampling procedure where corrective actions must be taken for the entire lot if the randomly selected sample is found to contain physical, chemical or biological hazards which would impact food safety.
Each establishment conducts microbiological testing in accordance with the frequency outlined in their HACCP plan and regulatory requirements. Microbiological testing is used to verify the effectiveness of the sanitation program as well as the HACCP critical control points for cattle harvest and boxed beef production.
As part of the preventative HACCP program, operators of federally registered meat establishments still remain responsible for demonstrating that the construction materials, packaging materials and nonfood chemicals they use in their various processes are safe and suitable. Fresh beef products are typically exported in vacuum packaging with very low oxygen transmission rates because of the ability of this technology to reduce the growth of bacteria which would cause premature spoilage. The use of antimicrobial interventions along the production process enhances food safety as well as shelf life.
A complete HACCP food safety system is mandatory for all federally inspected beef plants. All Canadian beef exported to the international markets is produced by HACCP registered facilities meeting export requirements.
Beef production in Canada is a craft spanning hundreds of years. We take on the responsibility for the resources in our care. Stewardship is the mindset, sustainability the practice.
Sustainable beef production is a growing interest amongst consumers, at home and around the world. Consumers want to know where their food comes from and that it is produced in a responsible manner. In Canada, the discussion around sustainable beef production has been an evolutionary process leading to the formation of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB), one of the first of its kind globally. The CRSB focuses on proactive multi-stakeholder collaboration to advance and recognize the production of sustainable beef in Canada.
1. Sustainable Benchmarking – Assessing the farm to fork impact on society, the economy and the environment using key performance indicators to monitor and measure the industry’s sustainability progress.
2. Indicators & Verification – Maintaining clarity on what will be measured at individual operations throughout the value chain as well as verification protocols to confirm the outcomes
3. Sustainability Projects – Supporting progress while promoting advancements in sustainability allowing for the industry to continuously evolve and improve. Through the efforts of the CRSB, Sustainable Beef has been defined as a socially responsible, environmentally sound and economically viable product that prioritizes Planet, People, Animals and Progress.
Healthy and well-cared for animals are the basis for excellent quality beef using fewer resources with lower impact on the environment. Canada is the second largest country in the world and has an abundance of fresh water and wide open spaces. It makes sense that producers maintain natural habitats for future generations of family ranching. One third of Canada’s abundant, healthy grasslands cannot be cultivated for other forms of agriculture. These natural pasture lands sustain biodiversity in the ecosystem, minimizing disease and significantly reducing the need for antimicrobials. It is also well understood that they promote the capture of carbon emissions, acting as a natural air filtration system for the planet. Soil and water quality are monitored and protected by provincial and federal laws to support sustainable and responsible production of Canadian beef.
Cattle are miraculous animals that convert grass, which we as humans cannot digest, into forms of energy and nutrients that are an essential part of our diet. Canadian producers, as stewards of animal welfare, took the lead in the development of a code of practice in humane handling and care of beef cattle, through a collaborative effort with processors, transporters, veterinarians, regulators and animal welfare advocates. Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council is responsible for the Codes of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals, and industry’s commitment is further augmented by existing laws and regulations.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency enforces regulated standards in the federal Health of Animals Act for transportation of animals, and monitors the humane handling and harvest of cattle used to produce beef for all markets. Maintaining animal welfare is an important responsibility
and an essential contributor to high quality beef production.
Modern production and feed lot practices have evolved to allow for more beef to be produced from fewer animals, improving growth performance with environmental benefits by using less feed per pound of beef, which reduces manure output.
Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) is a program created by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Beef Cattle Research Council. The focus of VBP+ is to enhance sustainability through guidelines related to on-farm food safety, animal care, biosecurity, and environmental stewardship. The program is implemented by cattle producers using standard operating procedures for management practices on the farm as well as record keeping and verification through a third party audit process.
Relative to environmental stewardship, the VBP+ builds on Environmental Farm Plans as well as regional requirements for the care of the land and water. The VBP+ program has been designed to align with the indicators and verification framework developed by the Canadian Round Table for Sustainable Beef. The ultimate goal of the program is to enhance consumer trust and public confidence in Canadian