The cattle industry recognized that animal health and care, food safety and environmental stewardship are increasingly important to the general public. Beef retailers and consumers want to understand, at a base level, about our production practices at the farm, ranch and feedlot level. The VBP+ program design began in 2013 to build a program that identifies outcomes for responsible production practices that are practical, credible and meet marketplace expectations.
The VBP Producer Manual and Supplemental VBP+ Producer Manual outline the general production practices producers across Canada follow related to animal health and care, feeding and managing the beneficial aspects for land and conservation. It also helps producers identify the important areas to manage and demonstrate how they do so through responsible stewardship. A module on biosecurity, a set of practices to help stop disease transfer, was also added, which further contributes to overall animal health.
Each module was developed by a stakeholder steering committee, which included veterinarians, audit specialists, researchers, subject matter specialists, government and, at times, the dairy industry who also produce beef. Stakeholders reviewed all areas and came up with outcome-based programming. Associated questions were piloted on-site in BC, AB, SK, MB, and ON then teams pulled out the major areas to focus on. VBP+ was developed through partial funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's AgriMarketing Program - Assurance Systems Stream of Growing Forward 2.
Firstly get educated on what the program is by obtaining a copy of the producer manual and new supplemental producer manual. Then contact the VBP+ provincial coordinator for your region and review the major outcome areas. To enroll, producers need to complete a self-assessment and send this document to the coordinator who will let them know the next steps to move forward with an on-site validation audit. To qualify for a validation audit cow-calf producers will need six (6) months of records at a minimum and for feedlots VBP+ needs three (3) months’ worth of records before an audit can be conducted.
For beef cattle operations already audited and Registered with the VBP+ program, they will need to complete the self-assessment then the VBP+ coordinator will meld in any additional items within the existing annual assessment. That is either a Records Assessment or a Self-Declaration/self-review in the same sequence as with the prior VBP Program.
The McDonalds VSB pilot really helped build momentum towards defining what sustainable beef is. As that pilot wrapped up, and now contributes to the work of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB), feedback will be gathered into a collective goal. VBP+ is designed to meet what has been developed for sustainability in Canada. And to be flexible enough to adjust as the CRSB moves forward with the development of its indicators and verification framework without a lot of interruption.
What is the CRSB?
This is a new group in Canada and one of the first of its kind around the world for beef production that involves stakeholders from gate to plate and interest groups. They are defining what sustainable beef looks like in Canada and how it can be verified. Further collaboration will come as new findings emerge out of the CRSB, including measuring what we do in a way that the rest of the world can understand. (It's about environment, people, animal care, and economics)
The program is built in modules so if producers use other equivalent programs, we are not re-inventing the wheel. The CRSB will be developing an equivalency framework to allow for meaningful comparisons between programs and how they align with the CRSB indicators, which will assist in avoiding duplication. There may be some things covered by one program but not another, but those details can be handled in a flexible audit. We have done this in the past with other programming at the farm level and expect to do so again.
One area that producers can ensure their operation gets credit is to enroll in BIXS or use a software company that uploads to BIXS. All that is needed is to enroll in BIXS and agree to allow us to release your VBP+ Registered status into a protected system that allows cattle at slaughter to relate to their VBP+ status. The McDonalds project demonstrated this can be done and great strides were made to make sure the program works seamlessly with the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency. Canada has a great national ID system and the unique opportunity is there to attach an operation’s VBP+ status to the cattle so value chains can source them.
If there are other programs covering a portion or a whole section of what the VBP+ audit covers, we can work with them. The goal is to have auditors cross-trained where needed so only one auditor comes to the farm or feedlot, which is important to producers. We will continue to work with other groups wherever needed.
VBP+ with its on-farm food safety component meets technical requirements of a protocol designed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and provincial governments. Within the CFIA protocol, we are required to meet international ISO-based standards for a conformance management system and 3rd party auditors. VBP+ has a management system to meet the CFIA requirements, and delivery agents contract qualified third party auditors. Further checks and balances are embedded within the work of arms-length delivery agencies as well as over-sight and internal audits from a national level. It still means a practical system for the producer, but includes a system steeped in international development and delivery standards should we need equivalencies negotiated in future trade and for consumer and retailer confidence.
Beef cattle operations seeking full VBP+ program recognition undergo an on-site validation audit, which is a review of all the "Must Do" practices by a qualified third party auditor. Upon successful completion of an audit and any possible corrective actions, a producer will become Registered with the VBP+ program. To maintain Registration, a producer or feedlot operation submits either a sample of records or a self-declaration checklist each year to the provincial delivery agent. The VBP+ coordinator will review and provide an indication that program outcomes are met.
VBP+ manages independence through an arms-length relationship with cattle groups, and by following CFIA’s requirements for managing conformance systems. This is a set of requirements determined by federal and provincial governments based on several ISO standards for managing certification systems. VBP+ on-farm auditors are considered third party auditors because they work for the on-farm food safety delivery agency, not the producer or Canadian Cattlemen's Association. As well, some audit for ISO-accredited auditing organizations.
The new program does not require an environmental farm plan nor do producers have to vaccinate cattle for biosecurity purposes. If producers have been involved in programs like the Environmental Farm Plan, they will be able to note this in response to the audit interview and for the self-assessment; allowing VBP+ to leverage what has already been done through other programs.
Training, registration and audit costs are set by provincial VBP+ delivery agencies - please contact them for specific costs in each province as they do vary.