Technically beef producers have been able to sell their product into the EU since 2017 when the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) came into effect.
But in practice a number of regulatory issues have stalled any progress including Europe’s insistence on hormone-free beef and the use of carcass wash not approved in the EU.
Manitoba Beef Producers and the Manitoba Veterinary Association are hoping they’ll be able to address the first issue with on-farm inspections.
“Large numbers of our production are actually raised without the use of growth promotants,” Manitoba Beef Producers general manager Brian Lemon said. “It’s just a question of getting the certification of that fact.”
Veterinarians will be using a federal framework overseen by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, known by the unwieldy moniker the “Canadian Program for Certifying Freedom from Growth Enhancing Products (GEPs) for the Export of Beef to the European Union (EU).” The program is designed to certify cattle meet EU standards on growth enhancers.
Farms wishing to source beef to the EU must be registered with the program, CFIA has said, and the program would also be used to supply to any other markets, like China, that also want beef without GEPs.
Under the program, a farm must be inspected by a veterinarian who has, likewise, been CFIA accredited for the program. Feedlots will have to repeat that assessment every six months, while auction marts and cow-calf operations will require an annual renewal.
The program mimics recent initiatives, such as Cargill’s Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration Pilot, which seek an unbroken supply chain based on a certain standard. Much like that project, the CFIA’s GEPs program requires that registered cattle be moved only onto facilities that are also registered with the program to qualify.
Cattle will be tagged differently under the program, and tags must be immediately obvious during a walk-through inspection before “any processing activity which may lead to administration of GEPs,” according to CFIA.
Farmers can also expect to do more record-keeping on feed. The CFIA will require farms to keep track of all ingredients of mixed feeds or supplements and their sources, and to keep those records for three years after the birth of a calf (or two years after cattle were received, in the case of a feedlot or backgrounder operation).
Lemon, however, says farmers need to be made more aware of the program and that greater communication is needed to connect them with accredited veterinarians.
“What we need is we need to have vets available so producers can call them and have them come out and do that work,” he said.
Andrea Lear, executive director with the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association, says they have been working with the CFIA to ensure local veterinarians can access the program and are keeping a list of accredited veterinarians.
Four veterinarians are currently listed, all in western Manitoba. The association has noted two veterinarians in Roblin, one in Boissevain and one in Gladstone, and the MVMA has asked any other veterinarians who have completed the course to have their names added to the list.
A similar list managed by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association also lists a Dauphin-area veterinarian.
“As demand for inspections increases, I expect we’ll see more veterinarians becoming accredited inspectors,” Lear said, although she could not gauge how much demand there has been for inspections thus far.
Lemon says he would like to see more names appear.
“I don’t know what the right number is, but certainly we’d like to make sure that every producer who wants to get certified is able to get certified,” he said.
Manitoba’s only CFIA-certified slaughter facility hopes it will soon be the last link in the supply chain for beef slated for the EU.
Calvin Vaags of True North Foods says his company is working toward EU compliance and certification.
“Growing our market access is so valuable. With CETA, qualifying Manitoba beef should be able to enter the EU marketplace, and that is very exciting,” Vaags said in a release. “There are already a lot of local producers who are not using hormones, so I can see them looking into and participating in the program so that our high-quality local beef can end up in the hands of European consumers.”
Vaags has previously argued that the relatively small plant should have less issues shifting to meet EU requirements than larger facilities.
On the table are 35,000 tonnes of duty-free fresh beef and 15,000 tonnes of duty-free frozen beef by 2022.