I was asked by a group to do a research project into the production protocols for organic beef. Thankfully, as of June 30, 2009 the Canadian Organic Standards were implemented, which made the issue of certification easier to understand. Basically, organic certification is now mandatory under the Canadian Organic Standards while CFIA is responsible for compliance certification and enforcement.
Under the new Standards, 95 per cent of the product content must be organic to be labelled as an organic food product. Food product that has a 70-95 per cent organic content can only make that claim percentage and those products under 70 per cent organic must list the ingredient on the ingredient label.
When organic beef production was first started the statement was often made that there were four kinds of organic beef producers: those who adopted the full principles of homeopathy; environmentalists; those that were looking for better return through price; and those that were in such a mess that they tried to revive themselves through organic sales. Certainly, the field was ripe for all kinds of producers as Canada lacked standardization, and certification was left up to the individual.
The strong basic philosophy behind organic production – to do better for the cattle and the environment and to stop being a price taker – stood the test of time and today organic beef production has moved into its own right. Organic beef production has transcended from a production-driven philosophy to a demand-driven market. Organic producers understand and have achieved what the beef industry is only beginning to grasp – that value is established and growth occurs in a marketing system that is demand driven.
VALUE NOT PRICE
Although all beef is good for you and an important part of a balanced diet, consumers of organic product have a value system that is not focused on price but on their perception of health, wellness and environmental sustainability. The organic producer is often driven by the same beliefs. Take for example the statement from Diamond Willow Farms, based in Alberta:
“Organic means the product has been produced in a safe and healthy environment, using natural fertilizers without synthetic pesticides or additives. The cattle are fed only pure organic feed, have access to acres of open pasture, and ranchers are restricted in the use of antibiotics and hormones.”
These words create an image in the readers’ minds and they feel good about their purchase.
Make no bones about it, the organic industry is a healthy one. From a global perspective, annual sales are $23 billion with most of organic food being sold in grocery stores. Store sales growth in Canada is up 189 per cent compared to the eight per cent increase in all other grocery products. In Alberta, of the 240 organic producers, 32 per cent offer organic beef, which equates to over 10,000 head of cattle per year. Of all organic food products, meat is expected to grow at the fastest rate in the area of 24 per cent – 44 per cent, followed by dog food, fabric and clothing, dairy and condiments.
The general principles behind the original proponents of organic production are mirrored in the regulations. The very first paragraph of this 121-page regulatory document states “Organic production is a holistic system designed to optimize the productivity and fitness of diverse communities within the agro-ecosystem, including soil organisms, plants, livestock and people.”
The organic industry is more than a simple value chain; it is a responsible contributor to the meat case that is driven by shared principles between buyer and seller. And that is why the organic beef industry is here to stay.
Brenda Schoepp is a market analyst and the owner and author of Beeflink, a national beef cattle market newsletter. A professional speaker and industry market and research consultant, she ranches near Rimbey, Alberta.