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Getting to the meat of the new Beef Code

Ryder Lee of CCA provides insights on the process and what matters for producers, as the public comment period hits the stretch run

Posted: February 19, 2013

The new draft Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle has entered a two-month public comment period. This is an opportunity for beef producers and others to review the draft and provide feedback before it is finalized and implemented as an important tool for managing beef cattle welfare in Canada.

There has been a lot talk about the Codes of Practice for livestock species in recent months as several are moving through the development process, which is coordinated through the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC).

Ryder Lee, manager of provincial / federal relations for Canadian Cattlemen's Association (CCA) has been the point person representing beef producers at the NFACC table during this process. In a webinar hosted by Alberta Beef Producers, he provided insights on the process and what matters for producers, as the two-month public comment period that began January 8 gets set to wrap up on March 8. In no particular order, here are highlights of some of the key perspectives he provided.

Eight perspectives on progress

1. NFACC model has advantages. NFACC is a unique organization in the world with its multi-stakeholder structure for coordinating a national approach to farm animal welfare. It brings together livestock industry representatives such as CCA with representatives of the veterinary and research community, processors, transporters, animal welfare groups, enforcement and government. "We all sit at the same table and move things forward by consensus," says Lee. "The fact that the Code comes from this multi-stakeholder process rather than any one group has a lot of benefit. I think it results in a better document that has greater credibility and is more defensible. The process and the outcome hold up better with the public and the different interest groups."

2. Tackling the 'creep' issue. The draft Code is organized in a way that clearly separates "requirements" from "recommendations." There has been some concern in the industry that practices identified as recommended could over time 'creep' into becoming requirements. In fact, the intent is exactly opposite, says Lee. "Recommended practices are not meant to be deal breakers in terms of Code compliance now or in the future. One of the measuring sticks of requirements is they have to be applicable for everyone. Practices that don't fit that but can still be very positive stay in the recommended category."

3. Impact depends on the individual. It's the most common question surrounding the draft Code: "How is this going to affect producers?" For Lee, it's important each individual producer asks themselves that question. "Everybody should have a read through the draft Code and consider how their current practices fall in relation to the text. If things are really different, then examine why they're different and consider if comments need to be made into this process."

4. Kick starting constructive discussion. One of the most important roles of the Code is simply to advance the discussion on animal welfare, says Lee. "I think for the most part producers aren't going to be affected by the Code in a major way on a day to day basis. But I think it will help reinforce good practices. It will make people stop and think more about how they can do things better. We want to support that culture of continual improvement."

Click here to review and comment on the Beef Code.

5. Will the Code provide a weapon for industry critics? If anything, the Code will likely serve the industry in protecting against attacks, says Lee. "If there's no Code, it's easy for someone to look at an industry practice and say it's not right or not good enough. With the Code we have something to point to, to reinforce we have accepted standards in place that we follow."

With today's increasing scrutiny of animal welfare practices and the rising activity of activist groups, it's more important than ever that livestock industries are clear on what they do or do not support, he adds. "We've seen time and again how instances of bad welfare practices get caught on video and spun in the media as the way things are done in the industry. The Code gives us a tool to fight against that and show what's actually the accepted practice."

6. Common sense rules the day. The draft Code covers all parts of the livestock lifecycle, with chapters on environment, feed and water, animal health, husbandry, transport and euthanasia. "Producers who are reasonable in looking after their cattle and address situations when distress arises are not going to have major issues in complying with the Code, he says. "The vast majority of what's in the Code is common sense and reflects the common industry practices."

Examples of new elements in the draft Code include pain control requirements for castration and dehorning of older calves and requirements for veterinary relationships and certain health protocols, he says. "A lot of this is what you likely want to be doing anyway. There are not only welfare advantages, but also economic and management advantages."

7. Benefits outweigh costs. There are always costs associated with any practice change, says Lee. What's harder to measure is the cost of not having something. Tools such as the Code help industry address the concerns of society and build a strong future. "What's the value on being able to maintain a freedom to operate without a lot of restrictions or regulation? I would argue the benefits of developing and following a Code of Practice far outweigh the cost."


Ryder Lee of CCA

8. Reasons for optimism. On a personal level, Lee says having been involved in the process of developing the draft Code, he is encouraged there are more opportunities than hurdles ahead for the beef industry in managing the farm animal care issue. "I think it gives us a basis to keep getting better and to manage this issue better," he says. "An example is research. Going through the process has helped identify where we need to invest more in research to help us improve recommendations and improve options."

9. Mindset makes a difference. Being open minded to change is another key to success, he says. "Because something has worked well in the past doesn't mean there can't be new and better ways to do things. I think in the beef industry we are practical, common sense people and that will be an important asset as we continue to look ahead."

Not everyone is going to like everything in the Code, says Lee. But the indications are it's a big step forward and on the right track. "The comments I've heard to date have been mainly positive. They've tilted toward the opinion this is a workable, livable document that will serve the industry well. But the most important thing right now is to participate and have your say, however you feel about it. The feedback opportunity is a critical part of the process and it's going to have an influence on the final document."


Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.


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