Canadian Program for the Export of Beef to the European Union: Understanding the benefits of enrollment to Ontario Cow-Calf Producers


Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

For cow-calf producers, farm profitability is dependent upon the financial return generated by calves at the time of sale. To maximize the value of calves at the time of sale, cow-calf producers should aim to produce calves that appeal to the broadest set of buyers. As an example, OMAFRA market research in 2018 demonstrated that calves marketed through special calf sales received a premium of between $0.20-$0.35/lb when compared with regular sales. There are a wide range of programs available that cow-calf producers can participate in that help add value to calves. The Canadian Program for Certifying Freedom from Growth Enhancing Products (GEPs) for the Export of Beef to the European Union (EU) is one of the programs that has the potential to generate significant added value for cow-calf producers.

Participation in the EU beef export program also means that those cattle are generally eligible for participation in many provincial “free-from” or “natural” beef programs* and the Canadian Beta Agonist-Free Beef Certification Program, which is required for beef exports to China. Having cattle eligible to participate in as many programs as possible broadens the number of buyers available to purchase cattle, which in turn leads to better prices through increased demand. Participation in such programs may incur some additional costs but this is usually more than off-set by the increased financial return at the time of sale.

The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) came into force on September 21st, 2017. CETA gives Canada duty-free access to the EU for 64,950 tonnes of Canadian beef made up of 35,000 tonnes of fresh/chilled beef, 15,000 tonnes of frozen beef and 14,950 tonnes “Hilton”** quota shared with the U.S. Canada also continues to have access to the existing shared, duty-free 45,000 tonne quota for high quality grain-fed beef which is available to Australia, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Uruguay and Argentina. It is not allocated, but offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Considering that 50,000 tonnes is available for Canada alone, plus the shared quota, there is significant opportunity to grow export sales into the EU.

The EU is one of the largest and highest priced beef markets in the world, with a population of 515 million people and per-capita beef consumption in 2020 estimated to be 20.75 kgs. Per capita beef consumption in Canada is estimated to be 24.4 kgs for 2020. The EU Agricultural Outlook for Markets and Income 2019 – 2030 predicts tariff rate quota imports (of which CETA is a part) will increase from under 400,000 tonnes currently to over 400,000 tonnes by 2030. This expected increase in beef import requirements by the EU presents Canadian beef producers with an exciting opportunity to significantly increase exports to a high value market.

EU consumers have conflicting expectations towards food which extend beyond food affordability to issues such as health, origin, convenience, environment, climate change and animal welfare.The National Beef Strategy mission for Canadian beef to be “recognized for superior quality, safety, value, innovation and produced using sustainable production practices which protect animal welfare and the environment” is in alignment with European consumer food demands and EU public policy. This fact presents an enormous opportunity for Ontario beef producers to use their competitive advantage to resonate with European consumers and capitalize on the requirements of consumers in this high-priced beef market.

In order to supply beef into the EU, farms and feedlots must be registered under the Canadian Program for Certifying Freedom from Growth Enhancing Products (GEPs) for the Export of Beef to the European Union and cattle must remain enrolled in the program from birth through to slaughter. This means that cow-calf producers (the herd of origin), feedlots and slaughter facilities must be registered under the program to maintain the chain of enrollment. Cattle that transfer between farms can only transfer from the registered farm of origin to a registered feedlot and be slaughtered at a federal slaughter facility registered on the EU program. In order to build Ontario’s EU export potential, it is critical that a greater number of cow-calf producers and feedlots register in the program to produce enough volume of beef to make it economically viable for a registered slaughter facility to export beef to the EU. The demand for Canadian beef exists in the EU – it’s now about developing the supply chain.

The program is composed of 10 mandatory elements. However, there are many of elements of the program cow-calf producers already comply with. The program can be summarized into 4 basic pillars: (a) enrollment in the program, (b) animal identification and traceability, (c) prohibition on the administration of growth enhancing products (GEPs) for the animals’ entire life and (d) maintenance of records.


For most producers, enrollment in the program is straight forward. To enroll in the program, the first contact is a CFIA approved veterinarian who will complete the enrollment form. As part of the enrollment process, the veterinarian will carry out a GEP assessment on the farm and, where successful, will issue a certificate of compliance. This certificate of compliance is required when cattle are transferred to a registered feedlot or to a slaughter facility. An annual review by a CFIA approved veterinarian is required to maintain enrollment. A premises ID is also required for enrollment.

Cow-calf producers need to be registered in the program prior to moving animals off-farm and feedlots or slaughter facilities must be registered in the program prior to receiving enrolled animals.

Animal Identification & Traceability:

All animals under the program must be identified with a Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) approved tag prior to leaving to farm of origin. If a farm also has cattle not enrolled in the EU export program, EU eligible cattle must be identified with an additional visual identifier which is easily discernable during a walk-through inspection. Tagging must be completed prior to any processing activity that could lead to the administration of growth enhancing products.

A transfer certificate listing the EU eligible animals must be provided when the animals are transferred to a registered feedlot or slaughter facility. The valid certificate of compliance must accompany the transfer certificate.

If cattle are transferred through an EU program registered auction market, EU program cattle cannot be comingled with non-EU program cattle. Each lot of program cattle to be sold must be sourced from one birth farm. Once sold, program eligible cattle can be comingled with other EU eligible cattle from another registered herd.

Management of Growth Enhancing Products (GEPs)

The single most important element of the program is that program animals must never be administered any growth enhancing products for the duration of the animals’ entire life.

Products which cannot be fed to program cattle include drugs with estrogenic or androgenic actions such as trenbolone and zeranol (both components of hormone implants), drugs with gestagenic action (i.e. drugs that suppress normal cycling in heifers such as melengestrol acetate, well known as MGA premix), drugs containing natural substances such as estradiol, testosterone and progesterone (all components of hormone implants) and drugs defined as beta-antagonists such as ractopamine and zilpaterol.

On mixed farms where GEPs are purchased and fed to non-EU eligible animals, producers must record the date of purchase, use and disposal of these products. Cow calf producers should be aware that progesterone is a component of estrus control/synchronization products that are often used on cow-calf producer farms to manage the breeding season for beef cows and heifers. It is critical that these products are never used on program animals. Where such products are used on registered farms, it’s important to record the purchase, use and disposal of these products.

Record keeping:

Record keeping is central pillar of the program. Producers are required to maintain an annual animal inventory showing all eligible animals on the farm. A self-developed inventory is also acceptable provided it contains all the information required in Annex 5 of the program.

Copies of enrollment forms, GEP assessment reports, certificates of compliance, transfer certificates, tag replacement reports, and GEP administration reports must be also maintained.

Where GEPs are used, a manual of procedures must be developed which shows the GEPs to be used, timing of use, procedures for use and disposal.

Where mixed feed or supplements are fed to eligible animals, producers must maintain a record of feed ingredients used and the source of the ingredients. This is necessary to demonstrate to the approving CFIA veterinarian that the feed for EU eligible animals is free of all GEPs. Where the mixed feeds or supplements to be fed to program cattle originate from a commercial feed mill, the producer must obtain a letter of guarantee from the feed mill that the feed supplied is free of all GEPs.

On mixed farms where feed or supplements are also fed to non-EU eligible animals, producers must develop a written plan which demonstrates how the GEP- containing feeds will be segregated from GEP-free feeds and how EU eligible animals will be managed to prevent access to the feed with GEP’s.

Although the development of plans and manuals of procedures may sound onerous, a simple written plan of items that the producer will carry out is all that is required.

Comprehensive information on program requirements can be found on the CFIA webpage titled: Annex R: The Canadian Program for Certifying Freedom from Growth Enhancing Products (GEPs) for the Export of Beef to the European Union (EU).

Training videos for beef producers are available on the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association website.

*Note: Some “free-from” and “natural” beef programs require that producers also not use antibiotics, which is not a requirement under the EU program.

** Hilton Quota refers to tariff rate quota for the import of high-quality beef into the EU, which was agreed during the Tokyo Round at the Tokyo Hilton Hotel of as part of GATT negotiations in 1979.


Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 2011. Annex R: The Canadian Program for Certifying Freedom from Growth Enhancing Products (GEPs) for the Export of Beef to the European Union (EU)

Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. 2014. Summary of the European Union Protocol Requirements for Cow-Calf Operations

Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. Raising Cattle to be used for Exports of Beef to the EU, Retrieved January 30 2019

Canadian Beef Advisors. 2015. Canada’s National Beef Strategy 2015-19

EC (2018), EU agricultural outlook for markets and income, 2018-2030. European Commission, DG Agriculture and Rural Development, Brussels.

European Commission. 2016. Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada, of the one part, and the European Union, (and it’s member states).

Van Schaik, M., Chaffe, E. 2019. The Value of Special Calf Sales, Virtual Beef, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

Author: James Byrne, Beef Cattle Specialist, OMAFRA


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