Features / The New Farm

The lowdown on homegrown beef, Canadians' top meat for summer

Our country's beef has a story to tell. An initiative created by farmers aims to distinguish their product and consumers are responding.

Under the Ontario Corn Fed Beef program, participating farmers sign up to raise their cattle to audited, exacting standards. The initiative is meant to distinguish beef farmers’ product.

Sian Richards

Under the Ontario Corn Fed Beef program, participating farmers sign up to raise their cattle to audited, exacting standards. The initiative is meant to distinguish beef farmers’ product.

When it comes to BBQ season, beef is king.

Tasty Canadian burgers and steaks are by far Canadians’ top choice for the sizzling summer grill.  In a national survey last year, 98 per cent of respondents said that when it comes to point of origin, buying Canadian beef is very important or somewhat important.

But when you search out beef, how do you know where it’s from? Sometimes it’s hard to identify. Meat such as beef has long been sold generically, presented simply in clear packaging with little fanfare or description about the product within.

So beef producers across Canada have engaged in distinct product labelling and promotion, consumer education and brand identity.

For example, in Ontario, beef farmers have created an initiative to distinguish their product, called the Ontario Corn Fed Beef program.

“Our beef producers want consumers to share the same pride they themselves have in their products,” says Jim Clark, executive director of the Ontario Cattle Feeders’ Association, which runs the program.

Here’s how it works.

Participating farmers sign up to raise their cattle to audited, exacting standards. For example, for at least 100 days before the cattle are sent for processing, they’re fed a nutritionally balanced diet of 80 per cent Ontario corn. Many leading chefs globally believe grains like corn, barley and wheat give beef a distinct, sweet taste.

Many chefs believe grains like corn, barley and wheat give beef a distinct, sweet taste.

Sian Richards

Many chefs believe grains like corn, barley and wheat give beef a distinct, sweet taste.

Corn is one of Ontario farmers’ most popular crops. That makes it readily available for feeding cattle.

The program goes beyond feed. Participating farmers must follow strict, sustainable and verifiable health and humane production practices, for the likes of vaccinations, housing and transportation.

And consumers are responding. In Ontario, cattle from the corn-fed beef program have grown to account for about 65 per cent of all cattle marketed there. That’s as many as 7,500 animals per week, from 500 participating beef producers.

In June, Ontario Corn Fed Beef received a prestigious three-star superior taste award from the International Taste and Quality Institute. One judge called it “authentic in style with a very pure and genuine juicy taste. Very attractive to all senses.”

It’s also become a hot export commodity, to countries such as the United Arab Emirates that have traditionally imported less expensive Australian beef.

Mexico is a growing destination for Canadian beef exports, particularly for high-end restaurants and resorts.

Heralded Mexican chef Zahie Téllez, a guest chef at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel for a special Canada Beef event in June celebrating our sesquicentennial, cooed about our many beef-friendly assets: a clean environment, superb livestock genetics and responsible animal welfare.

“These factors add up to make Canadian beef distinct,” she said. “We can’t raise beef like this in Mexico.”

James Bradbury, brand officer at the Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence in Calgary, says it’s no wonder we love our beef -- it’s rooted in our very identity.

“Canadian steak on a barbecue is as iconic as a hockey stick or a Mountie or a beaver,” he says. “Canadian beef has an emotional side, a story to tell. To consumers, that connection is important.”

How to spot Canada’s best beef
Canada’s best beef sports labels that says it’s Canadian and that declares its grade (a quality designation). Top of the line beef is officially called Prime. Next, in order: Canada AAA, Canada AA and Canada A. For tips on selecting or preparing beef, download Canada Beef’s free app called The Roundup.

A bright future for beef
A $15.5-million beef research centre being built at the University of Guelph’s Elora agricultural research complex has Ontario beef farmers stoked. “This will ensure we have the capacity to continue advancing beef cattle research in meaningful and integrated ways for years,” says Joe Hill, vice president of the Beef Farmers of Ontario.

Beef-buying habits

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