Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Verified Beef Program moves ahead on new modules

Progress on new biosecurity, animal care and environmental stewardship additions

Posted: September 4, 2014

It's been a very active year on the sustainability front for Canada's beef industry. One of the most intriguing aspects was the announcement that the Verified Beef Production (VBP) program, the established on-farm food safety program for beef producers, would add new modules as part of the industry's efforts to anchor a new generation of on-farm sustainability.

Tentatively named VBP Plus, modules for biosecurity, animal care and environmental stewardship will be added to the on-farm food safety platform. NewStream caught up with national VBP program manager, Terry Grajczyk for an update.

What's the status of VBP module additions?

TG: We've made good progress on all fronts. A steering committee has been formed to provide overall direction. Comprised of value chain representatives including packers, retailers, food service, cow calf, feedlot and some marketers that committee has met a couple of times and help set the program off on solid footing.

In addition, working groups have been established for each module. These include representatives from across the livestock sector, including veterinarians, extension and producers themselves. VBP staff will help by doing the related technical work.

The first step for these working groups is to conduct a generic risk assessment for each module to identify priorities for education and auditing. It's important to state here that we will not reinvent the wheel in adding these modules, but will use existing tools, materials and programs wherever possible. And we are not saying we will audit in each of these areas. We are using a systematic analysis based on our experience in on-farm food safety to establish what we may need to audit if that need arises.

Animal care and biosecurity risk assessments will be done first. We are fortunate because there is already a nationally agreed upon best management document in each of these two areas. On environmental stewardship, while there is no one national document, there is a lot of good work done that can be used including Environmental Farm Plans and progress from the national and global roundtables for sustainability.

What do these changes mean for producers in or considering joining VBP?

TG: It should be a seamless addition as each module is finalized. For the longer term our goal is to use this program change as a basis for continual improvement. The important message for producers is that we want to keep this practical, and at low or no cost.

As we work through these changes the focus is on as education, collaboration and communication. We will work with producers to find best solutions. For example, modules launches will be staggered. We may base an annual assessment on what VBP already has, which is a records assessment and self-declaration. Producers already audited under VBP will not have to be re-audited.

How does this tie into existing efforts such as the Global and National Roundtables on Sustainability?

TG: We will dovetail with and complement those efforts and use their information and programming. Our risk analysis will give us our priorities and tell us what is already being covered where. And VBP will be a supporting resource for that broader effort.

What are the timelines for VBP Plus?

TG: The sooner the better is the general guideline, but we know we need to take time to get it right. The first risk assessment will be animal care which is slated for September 2014. Funding for developing these modules which comes from Growing Forward 2, is over next four years, but bulk of work will be done in next 18 months. The final year will be a tune-up and development of material or extending existing material to fit on-farm needs.

What has reaction been to the announcement of adding modules?

TG: We were pleased to see that generally the first reaction has been positive. It has taken a while for the industry to digest the announcement and for the various organizations across the country to react.

People seem to feel that this is proactive and that looking around the world and adapting our efforts will help us keep competitive. We have also had good support that the VBP platform is the right one to build on because it was designed by and for producers.

Some people have indicated that this is exactly what VBP needed, to move it toward providing more programming for the marketplace. However that won't necessarily be easy, and operationally, we know a key challenge for VBP Plus will be to keep the effort practical and at low or no cost. We will use a systematic approach to developing these modules, and having our risk assessment based on VBP, which is a recognized program, helps give it credibility.

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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