How a verified quality assurance initiative that boosted Canada’s wine industry could have lessons for beef producers

VQA

This is the third post in our Spotlight on the Speakers series, featuring speakers from February’s Alberta Beef Industry Conference.

This week we spoke with Mark Sheridan, president of Hester Creek Estate Winery in B.C., to learn more about the Vintners’ Quality Alliance (VQA).

The wine industry’s VQA program was instigated in the late 1980s when NAFTA eliminated the differential tax structure. At the time, Canadian wine producers lost their preferential tax rates, and realized they needed a recognizable quality standard to give their industry an edge with consumers.

“It gave us instant credibility on the worldwide market because it’s a verified quality standard that is in line with other standards from around the world,” said Mark.

How a similar program could work for beef producers

The wine industry’s quality assurance program assures consumers that they are buying a product that will meet their expectations.

“Consumers are increasingly wanting to know the story behind the wine – Where is this wine from? Where were the grapes grown? What makes that area unique and important?” said Mark.

VQA

Consumers also want to know where their beef comes from, how it was raised, and how it was cared for. The beef industry’s Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) program has the potential to provide consumer assurances in a similar way to VQA, but is currently evolving and has not yet attained certification from a recognized certifying body.

Another program that provides the assurances demanded by today’s consumer about animal health and welfare is the National Cattle Feeders’ Association’s Canadian Feedlot Animal Care Assessment Program, which is certified by the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO) and recognized by both the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and the National Farm Animal Care Council.

How would a quality assurance program differ from beef grading?

In an earlier post we explained how beef grading provides a quality rating for individual cuts of beef. A quality assurance program could provide the deeper level of information increasingly demanded by consumers – for instance, where the beef comes from and whether it was raised humanely.

In a highly competitive global marketplace it would give a further edge to Canada’s beef producers. “We have the best beef in the world so let’s take advantage of all the good things we do and position our product to get the best return we can”, says Bryan Walton, president and CEO of the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association.