1.3 Beef Production

Marketing Beef

The production of Canadian beef and all inputs into beef production for human consumption is strictly regulated to ensure the highest food safety and food quality for those consuming and working with beef.  Canada’s food safety system for cattle slaughter, boxed beef, animal feed regulations and strict grading ensure Canada’s beef is safe to eat and of the highest possible quality for an enjoyable eating experience.

  • Quick Glossary
  • growth promotant
  • feed additives
  • antibiotics
  • Guide to Food Labeling and Advertising
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • ruminant

When you enter the grocery store, there is a wide variety of beef products available at the meat counter with many different labels. Many of these differences have to do with the way in which the animal was raised and what they were fed. Even though these production practices differ they all produce safe, healthy, high quality beef with very similar nutritional value. All consumers should feel confident that they are purchasing a high quality Canadian beef product no matter which type of product they choose. Here are a few examples of different production methods and beef labels.

Grain Finished or Conventionally Raised

Canada is one of the largest grain producers in the world, therefore a steady supply of feed grains including barley, corn and wheat are available to feed cattle. The majority of cattle fed in Canada are grain finished. Feeding grain contributes to well-marbled, flavourful and tender beef with firm, white-coloured fat. Canada’s grain feeding practices enable more than 85 per cent of cattle raised for beef production to be slaughtered at two years of age or less. A younger age at slaughter enhances tenderness and overall eating quality.

Certified Organic

Organic foods and products are derived from agronomic systems that exclude the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, growth promotants,feed additives and antibiotics. Production systems that are certified organic adhere to specific standards and guidelines in their production and processing operations as required by the National Organic Standard, not the CFIA. Organic products can be identified by the federal organic agricultural product legend or logo.

‘Free From’

‘Free From’ is often used when marketing products to indicate that a product does not contain one or more attributes such as growth promoting implants, antibiotics and feed additives. These labels very specifically identify what attributes the product is free from.


In Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulates the use of the words “Nature”, “Natural”, “Mother Nature”, and “Nature’s Way” when it comes to labeling products. These terms are often misused on labels and in advertisements. This may be misleading, as some consumers may consider foods described as “natural” of greater worth than foods not so described.  The CFIA mandates food labelling in the Guide to Food Labeling and Advertising.  In the United States, the definition of natural varies among different brands and programs. Natural beef has no formal certification process. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) describes natural as ‘minimally processed with no additives’

Grass Fed

The USDA grass fed standard states that “the diet shall be derived solely from forage and animals cannot be fed grain or grain by-products and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. With the exception of milk (consumed prior to weaning), grass and/or forage shall be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal.”  Canada has established specific claims for feed.

Marketing Beef

Canada’s Food Safety System for Cattle Slaughter

Prior to slaughter, all animals are screened by trained operators and CFIA personnel for possible illness or injury and to ensure that all animal health requirements are met. Any animals that do not meet these standards are completely excluded from meat production.

  • Quick Glossary
  • bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)
  • Specified Risk Materials (SRMs)
  • World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)
  • offals

Healthy animals are stunned in a humane manner using only methods approved by the CFIA.
The animal’s individual ID is transferred to the carcass to maintain its unique identity during processing.

Scientific research has shown that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) infectivity is concentrated in specific tissues in an animal (such as brain and spinal cord) which have been defined as Specified Risk Materials (SRMs). Canada removes and destroys all tissues from cattle which are classified as SRMs by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) as required by law.
Once inspected, approved offals from the thoracic and abdominal viscera including heart, kidneys, and liver are then removed for chilling and packaging. The carcass is split and a careful inspection of the external and internal surfaces of the split carcass is made by government personnel.  Following trimming, the carcass is subjected to one or more washing steps. Due to its ability to effectively reduce any bacteria on meat surfaces, carcasses typically undergo a brief exposure to steam or hot water. Carcasses are then chilled and microbiological testing is completed. Carcasses are then graded.

Canada’s Food Safety System for Cattle Slaughter

Grading Beef in Canada

The Canadian Beef Grading Agency, a private non-profit corporation has been accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to deliver grading services for beef carcasses in Canada.

  • Quick Glossary
  • Canadian Beef Grading Agency

Grading is intended to place carcasses into uniform groups of similar quality, yield and value, in order to facilitate marketing and production decisions. It may be used as a basis for producer settlement. Grading is used to provide customers a consistent way of selecting beef and therefore greater consistency and predictability in the eating quality of specific grades of beef.

A carcass may only be graded after it has been inspected and approved for health and safety standards and bears a federal or provincial meat inspection legend or stamp. A certified grader assesses a carcass based on several criteria influencing either carcass quality or yield then marks the carcass with a grade stamp.  When beef is fabricated into wholesale and/or retail cuts, a grade label is attached to the box.

Grading Beef in Canada


In the fabrication process, chilled and graded carcasses are cut into quarters and primal cuts.  These portions are then sent to specified fabrication tables.  Here, specially trained employees working under a supervisor further process the portions according to individual customer specifications.  The entire fabrication process is conducted under the supervision of Quality Assurance personnel and the plant managers.

  • Quick Glossary
  • fabrication

Fabrication techniques allow importers, distributors and end users of Canadian beef to realize added value.  After chilling, each side is divided into quarters – the forequarter and the hindquarter, between the 12th and 13th ribs.  The major wholesale cuts fabricated from the forequarter are the chuck, brisket, foreshank, rib and short plate.  The hindquarter produces the short loin, sirloin, rump, round and flank.  From each of these, the retail cuts can be tailored to suit specific market requirements.


Distribution: Packer to Plate

The distributor plays a vital role in the beef supply chain after it leaves the packer and before it makes the next stop at retail and foodservice operations. The distributor may carry many types of meat and carry different cuts and branded beef products that are generally sold over the phone to retail and foodservice clients.

  • Quick Glossary
  • distributor
  • retail
  • foodservice

Distribution salespeople have hundreds of clients that they connect with each week to fill their beef orders. Canada Beef’s role is to educate and build the confidence of these sales people to connect with clients and help them achieve success positioning Canadian beef.

One of the most challenging situations a distributor must face is how to go beyond selling strictly on price as one thing is always true in these situations – someone always has a lower price.  Successful distributors have learned how to position quality and have trained staff how to discuss price vs. quality so that clients understand that quality equals value.

This is often where Canadian beef outshines competitors and develops a reputation that clients continue to demand. Canada Beef has put strong focus on ensuring distributors understand how to communicate Canadian beef quality.

Distribution: Packer to Plate