Con­sumer con­nec­tion in home­grown beef

Cana­dian corn-fed beef is a hot ex­port, and you can taste the dif­fer­ence

Toronto Star - - SPECIAL REPORT: THE NEW FARM - Owen Roberts Ur­ban Cow­boy Owen Roberts is an agri­cul­tural jour­nal­ist at the Univer­sity of Guelph. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @TheUr­banCow­boy.

When it comes to BBQ sea­son, beef is king.

Tasty Cana­dian burg­ers and steaks are by far Cana­di­ans’ top choice for the siz­zling sum­mer grill. In a na­tional sur­vey last year, 98 per cent of re­spon­dents said that when it comes to point of ori­gin, buy­ing Cana­dian beef is very im­por­tant or some­what im­por­tant.

But when you search out beef, how do you know where it’s from? Some­times it’s hard to iden­tify. Meat such as beef has long been sold gener­i­cally, pre­sented sim­ply in clear pack­ag­ing with lit­tle fan­fare or de­scrip­tion about the prod­uct within.

So, beef pro­duc­ers across Canada have en­gaged in dis­tinct prod­uct la­belling and pro­mo­tion, con­sumer ed­u­ca­tion and brand iden­tity.

For ex­am­ple, in On­tario, beef farm­ers have cre­ated an ini­tia­tive to dis­tin­guish their prod­uct, called the On­tario Corn Fed Beef pro­gram.

“Our beef pro­duc­ers want con­sumers to share the same pride they them­selves have in their prod­ucts,” says Jim Clark, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the On­tario Cat­tle Feed­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, which runs the pro­gram.

Here’s how it works. Par­tic­i­pat­ing farm­ers sign up to raise their cat­tle to au­dited, ex­act­ing stan­dards. For ex­am­ple, for at least100 days be­fore the cat­tle are sent for pro­cess­ing, they’re fed a nu­tri­tion­ally bal­anced diet of 80 per cent On­tario corn. Many lead­ing chefs glob­ally be­lieve grains like corn, bar­ley and wheat give beef a dis­tinct, sweet taste.

Corn is one of On­tario farm­ers’ most pop­u­lar crops. That makes it read­ily avail­able for feed­ing cat­tle.

The pro­gram goes be­yond feed. Par­tic­i­pat­ing farm­ers must fol­low strict, sus­tain­able and ver­i­fi­able health and hu­mane pro­duc­tion prac­tices, for the likes of vac­ci­na­tions, hous­ing and trans­porta­tion.

And con­sumers are re­spond­ing. In On­tario, cat­tle from the corn-fed beef pro­gram have grown to ac­count for about 65 per cent of all cat­tle mar­keted there. That’s as many as 7,500 animals per week, from 500 par­tic­i­pat­ing beef pro­duc­ers.

In June, On­tario Corn Fed Beef re­ceived a pres­ti­gious three-star su­pe­rior taste award from the In­ter­na­tional Taste and Qual­ity In­sti­tute. One judge called it “au­then­tic in style with a very pure and gen­uine juicy taste. Very at­trac­tive to all senses.”

It’s also be­come a hot ex­port com­mod­ity to coun­tries such as the United Arab Emi­rates, which have tra­di­tion­ally im­ported less ex­pen­sive Aus­tralian beef.

Mex­ico is a grow­ing des­ti­na­tion for Cana­dian beef ex­ports, par­tic­u­larly for high-end restau­rants and re­sorts. Her­alded Mex­i­can chef Zahie Tellez, a guest chef at the Fair­mont Banff Springs Ho­tel for a spe­cial Canada Beef event in June cel­e­brat­ing our sesqui­cen­ten­nial, cooed about our many beef-friendly as­sets: a clean en­vi­ron­ment, su­perb live­stock ge­net­ics and re­spon­si­ble an­i­mal wel­fare.

“These fac­tors add up to make Ca- na­dian beef dis­tinct,” she said. “We can’t raise beef like this in Mex­ico.”

James Brad­bury, brand of­fi­cer at the Cana­dian Beef Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence in Cal­gary, says it’s no won­der we love our beef — it’s rooted in our very iden­tity.

“Cana­dian steak on a bar­be­cue is as iconic as a hockey stick or a Moun­tie or a beaver,” he says. “Cana­dian beef has an emo­tional side, a story to tell. To con­sumers, that con­nec­tion is im­por­tant.”

“Our beef pro­duc­ers want con­sumers to share the same pride they them­selves have in their prod­uct.” JIM CLARK EX­EC­U­TIVE DI­REC­TOR, ON­TARIO CAT­TLE FEED­ERS’ AS­SO­CI­A­TION

SIAN RICHARDS PHO­TOS FOR THE TORONTO STAR

Paul Martin, feed­lot man­ager of Schaus Land & Cat­tle Farm­ers, says hello to one of his cows. Farms par­tic­i­pat­ing in the On­tario Corn Fed Beef pro­gram must fol­low strict, sus­tain­able and ver­i­fi­able health and hu­mane prac­tices.

Corn is a pop­u­lar crop, which makes it read­ily avail­able for feed­ing cat­tle.

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