Industry representatives give go-ahead to keep developing a strategy for Canadian beef

Trio of leaders in beef sector gives first look at skeletal framework, gets input from summit attendees

The broad outlines of a plan to revitalize the Canadian beef industry received a welcome reception at a recent industry summit in Calgary.

After stinging critique of their sector by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute last fall, Kim McConnell, Dave Andrews and John Kolk were asked in November to consult with industry players and create a framework for a comprehensive strategy.

“One of the big things we have learned is that increasingly, the world of beef is changing, it’s changing fast and it’s changing big time,” McConnell said at the meeting, which drew representatives appearing from producers, processors, retailers and other industry players.

That was also the conclusion of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, which accused the Canadian beef sector of being complacent and lacking a strategy to succeed. In its report last September, the institute highlighted a number of troubling issues, including that in 2001, Canada received $3.74 for each kilogram of beef it sold in the U.S., while Americans sold us their beef, often from Canadian-raised cattle, at an average of $6.55 a kilogram. Even then, American beef was displacing Canadian beef in this country. It also noted American global beef exports had, on a value basis, increased 280 per cent since 2005, while Canada’s only grew by 45 per cent during that time.

“Canada’s beef industry is falling behind and opportunities are being eroded by a failure to work together,” said David McInnes, the institute’s president and CEO, following the report’s release.

But the Calgary summit suggested that’s changing, with attendees giving a strong endorsement to a five-point plan put forward by McConnell, Andrews and Kolk.

“I’m stunned at the consensus,” said Andrews in a post-summit interview.

Kolk added the goodwill was surprising, but it suggests there has been an attitude shift and the realization that industry has to win together.

Throughout the day-long meeting, McConnell outlined the framework the trio put together, with industry stakeholders offering input via table discussions and electronic voting. He said the perceived value in our beef is the “Canadian beef advantage,” namely high-quality, safe, grain-finished beef raised in the Canadian environment by committed producers and processors as part of an agile system that provides transparency, traceability and respects the desires of customers and consumers.

To capitalize on that, the trio said five things are needed:

  •   An information sharing system, accessible to all and with the full backing of major industry players;
  • A clear set of goals, with a simple way to measure progress in achieving them;
  • Twice-yearly meetings to bring the entire industry together;
  •  Industry-wide financial support of the promotional efforts of Canada Beef Inc., which currently relies on producer checkoffs and government funding;
  • And a commitment to have the industry speak with a single voice.

The trio said a task force needs to be struck to flesh out the framework, but emphasized the entire sector needs to get involved and move the effort forward.

“Now it’s about process and deadlines,” Kolk said.

McConnell was hopeful that would happen.

“There was a lot of harmony here today and this is an industry that is not used to a lot of harmony,” he said.

The trio will continue their work, which includes further development on the strategy, forming various teams, and arranging the first meeting to bring the industry together.

They said many people volunteered to work on the various task force teams which will be set up.

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