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Should Beef Have a Barcode?

Traceability. A current agriculture buzz word, especially when discussing the beef industry. As producers we are constantly told that consumers want to know more about where their food comes from.

Should we use our existing national traceability system to deliver this information and how much information is too much? Narrowing down which information is important is an even greater challenge.

I have spent the last two years visiting beef exporting countries and important markets for Canadian beef to dig deeper into this subject. My studies took me to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, United Kingdom and Uruguay. I spoke with all aspects of the industry and saw many fascinating things; from consumer purchasing methods in China, full processing plant traceability in Northern Ireland to barbecue methods of South America.

I learned that each culture sees beef through very different eyes. Each beef exporting country has a traceability system; export markets and the potential for disease outbreaks have demanded them. There are commonalities among the systems but each is unique. None of them are perfect, nor could they be replicated in another country with the same success. Beef production is as varied as the methods of preparing beef around the globe.

There is no cookie cutter answer to these questions but we must focus on the need to continually strive to differentiate our product. Canadian beef remains a high quality niche product on the global marketplace. The industry should not try to complete on price nor should we forget that we are selling a high quality, high value product.

The majority of consumers want to know where the beef comes from and that it is safe. Period. Safe is defined by food safety legislation in each country and export product is always labeled with a country of origin. Other attributes are for most often seen in a smaller niche market centred in North America and growing in other countries.

Canada has an excellent system but I fear that we will need to amplify our efforts in the future to remain competitive. Recommendations coming from my research are:

¨ Enhance and expand Product of Canada guidelines and investigate the opportunity for an independent organization to oversee and promote the brand on all commodities

¨ Track greater data through our national traceability system and by requiring additional information such as a date of birth assigned to every tag

¨ Have a functional national database to trace value added data and enhance it based on specific branded beef programs needs. As an unified industry continue to work with foodservice and retail outlets to ensure information they present to consumers is verifiable and accurate

¨ Enhance and expand regional Eat Local programs to encourage consumers to source local products and get to know the person behind the food

¨ Redesign labels on beef products and packaging to provide additional information to consumers

¨ Ensure beef producers in Canada understand how important traceability and consumer trust is and the keep that trust.

By: Nuffield Scholar, Cheryl Hazenberg

The full report is available on the Nuffield Canada website, under Scholars and Research OR click here:

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Photo Credit: Lee Gunderson

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