Can Data Sharing Help Producers Manage Change

by Deborah Wilson, Senior Vice-President, BIXSco Inc.

Change is a constant—so the saying goes. And Ws a saying that seems particularly appropriate for the beef industry right now BSE changed the cattle industry forever, along with computers, the Internet, and social me& With social media has come "Value Branding" Mitich relates to changing public values around health, the environment, and animal welfare.

As a producer, I know this issue is not going away. And the best way to respond is to become more connected to others within the industry; and to communicate more effectively with consumers.This is an industry that likes tradition, bur change can be a challenge, or an opportunity—depending on how you look at it. As Cherie Copithome-Barnes, Chair of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef says, the nick will be to respond in away that is manageable for the entire industry, and at a speed we can all handle. One program that's helping the industry respond to changing consumer demand is the McDonald's Verified Sustainable Beef program.

Starting next year, in 2016, McDonald's will begin purchasing a portion of its beef from verified sustainable sources. Beside working with a diverse set of stakeholders in the Canadian beef community to develop a way for producers and processors to demonstrate what "sustainable beef' means, the program has focused on gathering producers to participate in the program. Their goal is to have 300 operations verified by next spring. But the biggest focus of the program has been on the verification side of the process—finding a consistent way to demonstrate sustainability outcomes specific to Natural resources, Community and People, Animal health and welfare, Food and Efficiency and Innovation. These issues arc important to not only McDonald's, but should be important to all Canadian beef producers. Being verified is not a pass or ail situation, it is a journey of demonstrating improvement within your operation, the willingness to improve in respect to the animals, the environment, safety and efficiency. I emit think of many producers who don't try every day to do the right thing by their animals and operations.

One of the truths about sustainability is that it's a journey and not a destination. Ironically, you can never actually "arrive" because the focus is on continuous improvement Part of the reason McDonald's picked Canada to pilot the VSB program is because in many ways, were well ahead of other countries.

"We're not the only ones working on sustainability, but we're significantly further ahead," James Bradbury, Marketing Manager for Canada Beef told me. "As beef prices increase, consumers will become more selective about what they buy. If were deemed at any point to be unsustainable in any sense, that could be a real problem for beef producers. We're already a leader on sustainability—and have been for years. Now it's a matter of measuring it, verifying it, and communicating it consistently."

James adds that consumers don't need to know all the details, but there are certain topics like animal welfare they concerned about "For a consumer, just knowing this stuffs being looked at and measured and that farmers and others in the supply chain are regulating what they do, and that it's being verified by an independent third party—that's the information they're looking for, and it's not going to change.

" Matt Sutton-Veimeulen, project manager for McDonald's VSB program also told me that the pilot has been gaining momentum largely because of Canada's existing systems such as the Verified Beef Program, the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency and The Beef InfoXchange System. It's exciting to realize that these systems are allowing us to measure, verify and track sustainability in ways that no other country is yet able to do.

"From an information sharing standpoint, were now three months into running reports using BIXS. The capacity that BIXS is demonstrating is beyond our expectations and continues to improve every month," he said. "BIXS is demonstrating that we can share information efficiently while maintaining confidentiality. That's good news and critical to the success and credibility of the pilot. We need to have data that is value driven, and action oriented, so that people upstream and downstream can access it appropriately without getting into privacy issues.

"As a member of the BIXS team, I'm proud that Matt has been impressed by our efforts. "Your team is demonstrating their capacity at a high level and that's not easy," he told me. "You don't buy these programs off the store shelves and you are making it easy for other IT providers to beef producers to share animal tracking information without compromising their own value propositions with their clients." 

Economics is the centre-point of sustainability, and Man added that Canada's ability to offer verified sustainable beef will create the long term opportunity to differentiate Canadian beef on a local, national and global basis. "The new team at BIXS is walking the talk when it comes to continuous improvement and traceability is critical for the long term viability of the Canadian bed' industry," he said. He also mentioned that the McDonald's pilot is creating opportunities for collaboration between the Canadian roundtable for sustainable beef and its US counterpart south of the border.

What's the bottom line from a producer perspective? Its that it's time to get in the game. "Producers are highly trusted by consumers. It's vitally important they have a hand in measuring, verifying and reporting their sustainable outcomes," said James from Canada Beef. Matt echoed that sentiment. The voice of the producers who are involved in the pilot will drive the future of the program. If you're participating, your voice will be amplified.

" This is an industry that likes tradition and resists change the way we all like our favourite pair of boots, and we usually wear them beyond the point they should be retired. Participating in BIXS and VSB is a little like putting on new boots, once broken in they feel as good as the old ones." 

So what are you waiting for? You can sign up for the VSB here — www.ysbpilot.ca and sign up for BIXS here - www.bixs2.ca. Trust me, it's not that bad!