As of this week, Canada officially has a national, audited program for verified beef production.
On Wednesday, the Beef Cattle Research Council and Canadian Cattlemen's Association (CCA) launched the Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) program, offering a voluntary tool for cattle producers to credibly demonstrate the sustainability and care that goes into beef production.
"Producers have always taken a look at these practices and followed them -- that's critically important to their operations — but with VBP+, they can actually show the program they're following and go through a robust validation process that allows them to tell their story to consumers," says Manitoba's provincial VBP+ coordinator, Betty Green.
VBP+ is an expansion of the former on-farm food safety program, Verified Beef Production (VBP), and will include training and auditing for animal care, biosecurity, and environmental stewardship, as well as the previously outlined on-farm food safety practices within the cow/calf and feedlot sectors.
Green explains the expanded program offers transparency, with the audit cycle running on an eight-year time frame.
"The first (audit) is an on-farm complete audit where the auditor goes out to the producer's operation, looks at their standard operating procedures and their records, and completes that assessment," she says. "Over the next seven years, there are records assessments or self-declaration, or in some cases, random audits."
Through the system of audits and documentation, the program will provide retailers and consumers with information on key production practices, so they know the beef they purchase is raised with the appropriate oversight and care.
Green says this is particularly important, given the way consumer interest in food production has evolved.
"We no longer just want to say, 'Believe us, trust us, we're doing it,' — even though that is true," she says, "we're now saying we understand (consumers) want to have some validation, and we're going to step to the plate and provide that."
Work on the expanded program began in 2013 by adding to the VBP program, which came from the CCA's Quality Starts Here initiative. VBP+ is operated by the Beef Cattle Research Council, with funding from the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off and Growing Forward 2.