The first time you read this, it sounds unlikely or even contradictory, doesn’t it? But hear us out, it’s important. Not many people know this, but the Canadian prairies and other natural landscapes are some of the world’s most endangered ecosystems. With 74% of our native grassland already gone, more than 60 Canadian species are at risk and so is the prairie’s capacity to act as an incredibly effective carbon sink.
How do cattle fit into this? It’s simple.
To survive and thrive, the grasslands need grazing animals.
Grazing cattle raised by Canadian ranchers preserve natural landscapes like the prairies, duplicating what the bison did on the same land for hundreds and thousands of years.
Raising cattle and producing Canadian beef products in a sustainable, environmentally and socially responsible way means habitat conservation; it means wetland and bird protection; it means a biologically diverse ecosystem, and it means that the more than 44 million acres of Canadian grassland will be preserved for generations to come.
Canadian beef farmers and ranchers are truly the guardians of the grasslands, and are committed to preserving them today and for future generations.
Canadian beef is some of the best beef in the world – and helps support a healthy planet.
Grassland bird populations have decreased 87% since 1970.
Much of their remaining habitat is managed by beef farmers and ranchers.
Concerned about GHGs? Canadian beef production contributes only 2.4% of Canada’s overall GHG emissions, and only 0.04% globally.
Land managed by beef producers provides 68% of the wildlife habitat on only 33% of Canadian agricultural land.
Beef cattle production helps preserve approximately 1.5 BILLION tonnes of carbon in Canadian soil.
Reducing meat waste by 50% could save up to 31 billion litres of water.
Grazing cattle on native grasslands is critical to a healthy, balanced ecosystem.
95% of the water used in beef production falls as rain or snow, whether cattle are on pasture or not. Much of that water is recycled back into the soil through grazing.
Crops and cattle are an integrated cycle – both are needed to support a thriving food system.
Canada is a global leader in sustainable beef production – with GHG emissions less than half the global average.
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Canadian Grasslands – Cooperation and Conservation
If I were to ask you to name an endangered ecosystem you would probably mention the rainforest, melting arctic ice or the coral reefs; you be right on all accounts. BUT… did you know that one of the worlds’ most endangered ecosystems can be found right here in Canada?
In our modern life, this legacy lives on as our grasslands are home to our Canadian cattle. But there is a third partner in this contemporary ecosystem – and that’s us! As Canadians are becoming increasingly aware & proactive regarding the environment, the precious natural spaces that encompass our Canadian grasslands also require careful planning and initiatives towards their preservation.
It’s a huge task, and an even bigger responsibility… but thankfully those with mutual interest in the continued health of the Canadian grasslands are working together to ensure a bright and sustainable future.
Check out this partnership of heroes doing their best to preserve these precious ecosystems.
What you may have thought was the problem, is really the solution.
The Great Plains grasslands are one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems. As we reach new critical levels in the loss of these iconic landscapes, there are important truths we must face about humanity’s relationship with the land and our food. Among these – that cattle, rather than being part of the problem, are actually one of the keys to the survival and prosperity of this valuable ecosystem. More about Guardians of the Grasslands.
Beef sustainability is centered around five main principles that encompass environmental, social and economic perspectives.
People & The Community
Animal Health & Welfare
Efficiency & Innovation
In Canada, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) works with partners across the beef supply chain to advance beef sustainability and enhance natural ecosystems.
✓ We measure and set strategic goals on the above principles.
✓ We recognize excellence in sustainable practices used to raise Canadian beef through a 3rd party on-site certification program, known as CRSB Certified, that enables food companies to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and provides assurances for consumers looking for sustainably-raised products.
✓ We show progress against our sustainability goals through a projects inventory and much more.
Want to learn more about how Canadian beef helps support a healthy planet? Read further about some commonly asked questions. If you don’t see what you are looking for here, contact us.
At the heart of the definition of sustainability is continuous improvement. It is a constantly evolving journey, not an end-point.
In Canada, we have adopted the same definition and principles of beef sustainability as the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, or GRSB. A socially responsible, environmentally sound and economically viable product that prioritizes the planet, people, animals and progress. This means that farmers, ranchers, processors and everyone in the supply chain that is involved in bringing beef to your table are dedicated to conserving the land, water & air, raising animals responsibly, caring for our families and communities, and embracing technology and innovation grounded in science to make improvements.
The five principles that encompass beef sustainability are:
Natural Resources The global beef industry – from farmers to processors and retailers – manages natural resources responsibly and enhances ecosystem health.
People & The Community Global sustainable beef stakeholders protect and respect human rights, and recognize the critical roles that all participants play in their community regarding culture, heritage, employment, land rights and health.
Animal Health & Welfare Global sustainable beef producers and processors respect and manage animals to ensure their health and welfare.
Food Global sustainable beef stakeholders ensure the safety and quality of beef products and utilize information-sharing systems that promote beef sustainability.
Efficiency & Innovation Global Sustainable Beef Stakeholders encourage innovation, optimize production, reduce waste and add to economic growth.
The Canadian beef industry is a recognized global leader in sustainable production. For example, under the environment pillar, the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint, or the emissions per kg of product produced, for Canadian beef is about half of the global average.
But we always have lots more work to do. For example, under the social pillar, we aim to reduce the work hours for Canadian farmers and ranchers. We also seek to do things like reduce food waste between processing and the consumer, support workers in the processing sector, and higher family incomes for farmers to alleviate their need to work off-farm. Read more about how we are doing in the National beef Sustainability Assessment & Strategy and our 2020 Interim Report.
The Certified Sustainable Beef Framework, known as CRSB Certified, is a voluntary certification program developed by the CRSB with input from its diverse membership spanning the whole beef industry and beyond. It aims to recognize and drive advancement of sustainable practices in beef production and processing, to help food companies meet sustainable commitments, and assure Canadian consumers that their beef is raised responsibly. Canadian beef farms, ranches and processing facilities are certified by independent auditors against sustainable production and processing standards that encompass the five principles of beef sustainability (see “What does beef sustainability mean” above). Beef sourced from certified operations is tracked at every stage to ensure a fully certified supply chain.
Because you care – about the environment, your community, animal welfare and having food for the future. By purchasing CRSB Certified beef, you are supporting sustainable production practices, continuous improvement and all the people involved in bringing it to your table. Look for this logo on a restaurant menu, in your favourite fast food chain, or on the grocery shelf – it represents beef that has met rigorous sustainability standards at every stage of production and processing. And if you don’t see our logo — ask your restaurant or food store to look into sourcing top quality, Canadian beef from certified sustainable farms and ranches.
Yes! The CRSB’s Certified Sustainable Beef Framework is relatively new, and we are continually working with industry partners to build the systems to provide beef raised on certified sustainable farms and ranches for Canadian consumers. Several restaurants have already started sourcing a portion of their beef from Certified Sustainable farms and ranches, and demand is growing. Right now, these restaurants include McDonald’s, Chop Steakhouse Bar and Harvey’s, and most recently, the Gordon Choice brand of Gordon Food Service. Look for the CRSB Certified logo, and keep up to date on where to find it here: https://www.crsbcertified.ca/consumers/where-to-buy/
In short, it depends. Sustainable practices are about how the cattle are raised, environmental stewardship and how people are treated, rather than specific product attributes (such as grain or grass finished or raised without added hormones). Production practices differ across the many diverse landscapes and farm operations in Canada and the CRSB aims to recognize responsible practices across all types of production systems.
Actually, beef production in Canada only contributes 2.4% to the country’s overall greenhouse gas footprint (0.04% globally). And, the carbon footprint of producing each unit of Canadian beef has decreased by 15% since 1981, according to research conducted by the University of Manitoba and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Sources: Animal Production Science 56(3) 153-168; National Beef Sustainability Assessment, CRSB 2016
Cattle are a natural part of the carbon cycle, utilizing carbon captured by plants to produce nutritious food for people. It is true that a small part of that carbon is temporarily transformed into methane. However, when methane emissions from cattle are not increasing over time, such as in sustainable production systems like we have in Canada, they are not contributing to increased global warming. This is because methane has a lifespan in the atmosphere for 10 years, so anything that’s emitted is also being destroyed. Land used for beef production in Canada helps preserve (store) over 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon.
Furthermore, if emissions can be decreased, cattle can actually be a part of the climate solution. You may also be interested to know that in Canada, GHG emissions have decreased by 15% since 1981.
On the surface, switching from meat-based to plant-based protein may seem like the right thing to do to lessen GHG emissions. While it’s true that raising cattle does have some impact on the environment – ALL food production does – what you may not know is that at its core, there is actually a cycle of methane, CO2 and water. Cattle are unique in their ability to contribute to cycling nutrients and sequestering carbon in the soil. The reality is that we need BOTH crops and animals, and these food production systems are intricately linked.
Converting our precious grassland ecosystems into cropland would release all those billions of tonnes of carbon in the atmosphere, not to mention the loss of critical plant and animal habitat that would forever change the ecosystem.
Considering that beef production in Canada contributes only 2.4% of our country’s overall GHGs, and only 0.04% globally, the impact of beef production is a lot lower than you may think. Add to this that 70% of the world’s agricultural land is not suitable for growing crops, cattle are utilize this arable land and turn it into a high quality, nutrient-dense protein source necessary to feed the world’s growing population.
Sources: National Beef Sustainability Assessment, CRSB 2016; Canadian Cattlemen’s Association
The Canadian rangelands are home to over 1000 plant, animal and insect species. In the past 150 years however, grassland ecosystems in Canada have plummeted to an estimated one-quarter of their former range. Today for example, 98 per cent of Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan is a critical habitat for many endangered species, including sage grouse, black-tailed prairie dogs, burrowing owls and the tiny swift fox.
In short, the Canadian prairies are now considered one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems. With 74% of our native grassland already gone, more than 60 Canadian plant and animal species are at risk and so is the prairie’s capacity to act as an incredibly effective carbon sink. Preserving the grasslands ecosystem is key to conserving habitat for those species, and grazing cattle is part of the solution.
It is estimated that soils under native grasslands in western Canada may contain up to 200 tonnes of carbon per hectare within the first metre, with estimates of perhaps two to three billion tonnes of carbon within the uncultivated grasslands of western Canada.
Source: Canadian Parks and Wilderness Association
It’s simple. To survive and thrive, the grasslands need grazing animals. Grazing cattle raised by Canadian ranchers protect and preserve natural landscapes such as the prairies, duplicating what the bison did on the same land for hundreds and thousands of years.
Raising cattle and producing Canadian beef products in a sustainable, environmentally and socially responsible way means habitat conservation, it means wetland and bird protection, it means a biologically diverse ecosystem, and it means that the more than 44 million acres of Canadian grassland will be preserved for generations to come.
Looking for more?
Check out the links below that help tell the full story of sustainable beef in Canada and around the globe.
Meet Sandra Vos, a one-woman show farming in southern Ontario. Sandra’s story is very different from many Canadian beef farmers, as she came to farming later in life, and does it all on her own! After a full career in nursing, Sandra took over land that her uncle had owned, and starting from scratch, learned all she could about farming and raising cattle. In 2017, Sandra received the Beef Farmers’ of Ontario Environmental Stewardship Award, honouring her dedication to continuous improvement. Sandra sees firsthand, the benefits of grazing for the diversity of plant and animal species, and the health of the soil. “The bees and the butterflies that come to this farm because I let the alfalfa bloom – it’s like a succession – they move when the cows move.”
KCL Cattle Co.
Les Wall and family
Meet Les Wall and Karleen Clark, a father-daughter duo that together with their family, own and operate a beef operation in Southern Alberta. They embrace innovation, technology, the latest advances in animal care, and more as a Certified Sustainable operation certified to the CRSB’s Sustainable Beef Production Standard. For example, they feed their cattle from crops that don’t meet the requirements for human consumption, thereby reducing overall food production waste, and use byproducts that help improve efficiency.
One of their primary objectives is to ensure that their land remains viable for generation to come, so they can hopefully pass on to their children’s children.
Southern Cross Livestock
Graeme & Heather Finn, Madden AB
Meet Graeme and Heather Finn. Originally from Queensland, Australia, Graeme and his Canadian wife Heather have operated Southern Cross livestock together for 20 years. The ranch now operates on a year-round grazing system that helps to both keep the cattle grazing all year round as well as reducing operational costs. This style of grazing benefits the health of the soil by fertilizing it and cycling the nutrients back into the soil. “We work every day to maintain the environment around us where we operate our business. We start with the soil which feeds the grasses, which feeds the animals that graze it, which in turn, all fertilize and graze to maintain a healthy pastoral environment, all the while maintaining a healthy prairie eco-system.”
Piper Creek Farms
Doug and Bonnie Grey, Castleton ON
Meet Doug and Bonnie Grey, seasoned farmers from southern Ontario who have embraced a wholistic approach to grazing cattle and their commitment to managing the land to provide key habitat for many species at risk like grassland birds. They move the cattle often, utilizing small sections that are grazed for a day or two at a time. This allows the grass to rest and rejuvenate, and to support a healthy herd of cattle when available land is at a premium, such as in their area of Ontario. “When you can save something for a species at risk and create an environment where they’ll flourish – that’s a benefit too.”
Tom and Michelle Teichroeb – Langruth, MB
Meet Tom and Michelle Teichroeb, owners and operators of A8 Ranch in Manitoba. Originally from Alberta, Tom and his wife Michelle relocated to Manitoba and have built this beautiful beef operation on the southwest shore of Lake Manitoba. Tom is a passionate and staunch supporter of the Canadian beef industry having served several beef organizations and his community, and most recently as the president of the Manitoba Beef Producers. Above all else, Tom believes that family and community are at the heart of sustainability, because without the community and the people, everything else really means very little. “Every beef rancher that I know are probably the biggest environmentalists. We are the people that practice it. We’re so proud of every piece that we do and protect inside the ecosystem. It is what we do everyday.”
Bill and Gordon Dibble
Meet Bill and Gordon, as father-son team that operates Dibbhurst Farms, a cattle feeding operation near Ingersoll, ON. “I truly believe that if you want to farm, it has to be in your heart”, says Bill. Gordon and his wife Melanie hope to instill this love of farming in their two young sons, so they can carry on the family operation in the next generation if they choose to. Gordon describes their approach to sustainable farming as working everyday to harvest good crops that grow good feed from the land on a continuous basis without draining the land in any way. The priority is to build a healthy ecosystem so the farm can support the animals in the barn. “It’s all about the animals, really”, he says.
People work hard every day to raise cattle and produce beef responsibly, according to sustainability standards set by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB)