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Sustainable Beef: What Does it Mean for Producers?

“The little green frog”

Many of us have seen it and recognize that it stands for Rainforest Alliance Certified. For many consumers, that frog represents trust in the product they are purchasing.

There are similar examples of certification programs in other sectors and commodities, such as the Marine Stewardship Council for seafood, the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, and Forest Stewardship Council certification in paper products. So why not one for beef? I’m excited that the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) has been working on creating beef’s “ little green frog” and I hope it will help to build public trust and foster continual improvement for Canadian beef.

Established in 2014, the CRSB is a multi-stakeholder organization that has a vision for the Canadian beef industry to be recognized globally to be economically viable, environmentally sound and socially responsible.

So what does “sustainable” mean? Sustainable beef is defined as an economically viable, environmental sound and socially responsible product that prioritizes the Planet, People, Animals and Progress. Under the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic, the CRSB has adopted the same five principles of sustainability as the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB), and is developing indicators under each principle to help define sustainability in beef production and processing as part of a larger verification framework. Underpinning all of the principles is economic viability, which is integral to the long-term success of the industry.

The work of the CRSB was kick-started when McDonald’s, one of its founding members, initiated a Verified Sustainable Beef Pilot Project in Canada. They developed an initial series of indicators to define beef sustainability, and established verification procedures for sustainable beef operations.

When the pilot concluded in 2016, the torch was passed to the CRSB to continue developing a Verified Sustainable Beef Framework for the entire beef sector across Canada. The framework will consist of four main components: sustainability indicators, verification protocols, chain of custody requirements, and sustainability claims. The indicators identify what will be measured to indicate sustainability in beef production and primary processing, and the verification protocols explain how compliance with those indicators will be confirmed across the supply chain.

In order for producers to become “verified sustainable” they will need to go through an audit process. The Chain of Custody guidelines will outline how the verified sustainable cattle and beef will be traced through the supply chain. The CRSB believes the framework, with a series of sustainability claims, will help consumers understand what sustainability means.

The hope is that the claims will be made in places, ranging from farm gate signs to shipping documents and boxed beef, as well as in-store signage coupled with retail branding, restaurant and foodservice menus, and retail packaging.

Initially, there may have been some concern that a “sustainable beef” claim may fragment and create competition in the industry. However, the benefits of on-product labelling will elevate the credibility of the program in the current marketplace.

If you are interested in the resources and programs that were used to create the indicators, please visit

What’s Next?

The CRSB will be launching the Verified Sustainable Beef Framework on December 7, 2017 in conjunction with the Western Canada Conference on Soil Health & Grazing in Edmonton .

The Foothills Forage & Grazing Association is a proud voting member of the CRSB and is representing producers on a national level. Members of our Board travelled to Guelph in April to participate in discussions on the CRSB and development of the verification framework.

As the FFGA Environmental & Communications Coordinator, I am also proud to be a part of the Communications and Marketing Committee for the CRSB. Part of the mandate of the committee is working on the sustainable beef brand and claims as well as the public release process.

The long term goal is that the Canadian Beef Industry will benefit as a whole by proving the sustainability of our ranches and beef processing.

We know we’re raising our beef sustainably; now is our chance to prove it.

Rachel McLean FFGA Environmental, Extension & Communications Coordinator

*Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not necessary represent the opinions of the Foothills Forage & Grazing Association or the CRSB

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Photo Credit: Lee Gunderson

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