Sustainability closely linked to the marketing of beef
You could say that the commercialization and sustainability of the Canadian beef industry is hip. Without one, the other suffers.
Dorothy Erickson, manager of veterinary services for Zoetis in Saskatoon, believes that constructive marketing of beef requires an understanding of its relationship to sustainability.
“When we look at the big picture, I think it’s appropriate to look at sustainability as a commitment rather than an achievable goal,” says Erickson. “And when we’re sustainable, we’re marketable. “
Buzzwords are plentiful today, especially around food and consumer acceptance of various production practices, but she says the answers run deeper than on the surface.
“Rather than just a buzzword, sustainability is really a process. A large part of the process is the critical appraisal of our regular management practices and the ongoing reassessment of those practices. We need to make sure that we are doing what is best for all partners taking into account production, animals, the environment and our business model. Continuous improvement will be at the heart of the action.
Aspects of progress
Erickson defines the maintenance and commercialization of the livestock sector as dependent on ensuring that current practices are compatible with long-term viability. To make this possible, the financial, environmental and social perspectives must be taken into account.
“It is imperative that we look at the different aspects and realize that some will remain consistent across different operations and systems in geographies, but others will vary. No universal set of criteria will determine sustainability in the livestock industry. What works in one geography may not work in another.
Erickson believes that intensive production and niche marketing fits a sustainable model and says consumers will buy food that they believe directly matches their values. This may be due to environmental impact, processing or local sourcing.
“If it’s important to the consumer and they can afford to pay more, there will be a market for these smaller niche systems,” she says. “On a large scale, however, intensive production is needed to feed a growing population. “
Erickson urges those in the beef industry to continue fighting the misconception that big is bad or that large farms automatically use bad practices and compromise animal welfare. The good and the bad happen regardless of the scope of the operation.
Common themes will promote commercialization and sustainability, but Erickson stresses that the way participants in the production chain treat animals – welfare and handling – is non-negotiable. Regional and climatic differences must be taken into account. For example, shade blankets are vital in some places while they are not as essential in others. Geographic variations must be respected while common themes are underpinned, driving these initiatives across markets.
Technology and interaction
Erickson says the application of new technologies is key to advancing production practices and ensuring sustainability. The industry is called upon to feed a growing population while being pushed to increase production, while limiting the environmental impact.
“It’s crucial to assess technologies and examine how they fit into our sustainable practices,” she says. “For advances to truly support a viable model, they must ultimately be accepted by the consumer. If they do not match their values or are not understood, they will probably choose to stop buying our product.
To address hesitations and concerns, she stresses the need to continue sharing information to gain consumer trust and acceptance of the technology. She explains that the financial benefit is not always the reason technologies are integrated. Basically, the beef industry seeks to protect the environment, animal welfare and all the different components that keep it strong.
At a recent general meeting of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, some interesting survey data confirmed that the voices of critics of animal agriculture are strong, but that the majority of society is ready to listen and to learn.
Most people aren’t diametrically opposed to meat and dairy, but there is a lag and a lack of understanding of food production in general. There is mistrust and misinformation, but Erickson believes most consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it is produced, and to have confidence that it is safe and supports their values.
“It is essential that we continue to share the positives of the beef industry and what it does well. Counter the negative messages and keep telling the story of Canadian beef. We already have great practices in our industry that help us point all aspects of marketing and sustainability in the right direction. “