Ten Colonies, One Goal: Beef On-Farm Food Safety

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If a program is measured by the support it receives, the Verified Beef Production (VBP) program just got stronger in Alberta.

By the summer of 2011, a total of 10 of the province s Hutterite colonies had joined the official national beef on-farm food-safety program and proceeded to the voluntary audit stage.

That s a substantial endorsement of the industry s efforts to continually strengthen on-farm food safety, and an important message to all consumers of Canada s beef products, says Eileen Leslie, provincial co-ordinator for the VBP program in Alberta.

Our Hutterite Colonies are typically well-managed progressive operations, and the commitment of this many colonies to documenting on-farm beef food safety is exactly the kind of producer attitude our industry can build upon, says Leslie.

The VBP program establishes a set of standard operating procedures (or SOPs) designed to ensure that proper food-safety procedures are being followed in beef production. The program advocates strong record-keeping to document that SOPs are followed. It also offers an optional process whereby operations can undergo a third-party assessment confirming good adoption of the program, and can earn registered VBP status as a result.

While each colony operates independently, a quick check of some of the 10 involved to date shows some common threads, primarily the need for effective protocols on-farm and a marketing commitment to meeting consumer needs.

Pine Haven: Management and marketing

Pine Haven Colony, near Wetaskiwin, slaughters its own beef and is building a reputation for marketing directly to consumers. The colony was an early adopter of the VBP program and has seen first-hand the value it offers at both levels.

It s important for us to have clear, effective protocols to support good management and get consistent results in our products, says William Hofer of Pine Haven Colony. It also really helps our marketing to be able to show this to our customers. We believe it s the way of doing things for the future.

Pine Haven Colony s beef operations include a feedlot that produces 3,200-head annually and a 400 cow-calf operation, both are officially registered with VBP.

Morinville Colony: Easy to follow

A colony with a smaller scale but one that also has a field-to-consumer scope is Morinville Colony, the second in the province to become VBP registered. The reasons it got on board are simple, says Jonathan Wurz.

It s better for records. It supports safe beef.

The 200 head cow-calf operation is run by Wurz and two other workers. VBP helps them keep well organized and identify simple ways to fine-tune their processes for better results.

It s not a lot of extra work, says Wurz. The program is step-by-step and easy to follow.

Approaches like VBP will become more common with the increased marketplace focus on food safety protocols, he predicts.

We figured if we get a head start and get familiar with it there s an advantage to that.

O.B. Colony: High standards, good precautions

Another early adopter is O.B. Colony near Marwayne. Gideon Hofer says the program s commonsense approach made signing on an easy decision.

It s a good way to make sure the beef we raise and put on the shelf is up to high standards, says Hofer

Adopting the program provided peace of mind that things were being done the right way, in line with well-accepted HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) approaches and other industry best practices, says Hofer.

We ve found it has very good structure and a lot of good reminders and good precautions.

Codesa Colony: Immediate benefits, efficiency

The decision to adopt VBP was a quick one for Codesa Colony.

When we first learned about the program, we were in the process of shipping cattle, says Steven Wipf. We saw the protocols would help us with that job and others. There was no reason to wait and see. We were ready for it.

The program helped the Colony become more efficient, says Wipf.

We re very happy with the changes we made.

Birch Hills Colony: Good practices, more control

That feeling is echoed by Johnathan Tschetter at Birch Hills Colony, who found little to argue with after learning about VBP through workshops.

We just want good management practices. Learning ways to improve is good. Everything in the program is things we should be doing.

Tschetter also appreciated that the program helps the Colony be more self-reliant.

We re not wondering what is the best way or relying on advice. It gives us more control.

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OurHutteriteColonies aretypicallywell-managed progressive operations,andthe commitmentofthis manycoloniesto documentingon-farm beeffoodsafetyisexactly thekindofproducer attitudeourindustrycan buildupon.

EILEEN LESLIE

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