Beef sustainability has been in the news a lot lately with McDonald’s announcing that they would start purchasing sustainable beef for their supply chain in 2016. They weren’t sure what sustainable was for beef, but it sure sounded like a good thing to say and get some positive press for the company, while appearing more socially responsible to their customers.
Most of us have defined sustainable beef production as the ability to remain in business from year to year. But now a group called the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) has tasked themselves with the responsibility of defining what sustainable beef is.
The GRSB is comprised of beef industry stakeholders, worldwide, who have a vested interest in ensuring reliable and safe beef supplies. All the major beef packers are involved, as are producers and their associations, processors, retail organizations, civil society groups, other regional roundtables and allied industries like animal health.
The GRSB message is also a response to the United Nations’ essay that came out several years ago, “The Long Shadow of the beef industry.” The publication cast a negative perspective on the global beef industry because of our perceived contribution to greenhouse gas, global warming and general environmental issues.
The GRSB released their draft on Principles and Criteria for Defining Global Sustainable Beef last week for public comment. Strangely enough, it sounds like a government rulemaking process for the beef industry.
But, the GRSB defines sustainable beef as a socially responsible, environmentally sound and economically viable product that prioritizes our planet, people, and animals as a continuous process. Cameron Bruett, head of JBS corporate affairs and President of the GRSB, said, “Our membership has worked in a collaborative fashion to boldly confront the challenges in every segment of the beef value chain. The core principles for global sustainable beef production seek to balance a broad range of issues including natural resources, community and individual development, animal well-being, food efficiency and innovation.”
If you’re waiting for a precise definition from this document with benchmarks and goals, you’re not going to find it. The group realized that beef production is a regional business; what works in Montana won’t work for ranchers on the Gulf Coast.
The document deliberately avoids the equally important, but more context-specific levels of indicators, metrics or practices that are commonly found in other sustainability efforts. No ecosystem is the same.
The guiding mission of the GRSB is to achieve a balance between environmentally sound practices, social responsibilities to people and community and maintaining an economically viable beef operation. They refer to these criteria as the “Triple Bottom Line Approach.” And they stress efficiency and innovation throughout the beef chain.
The GRSB says they do not intend to set any standards or to create a certification program, but rather to provide a common baseline understanding of sustainable beef that national roundtables and others can use to meet their needs. They do expect their principles and criteria to be the baseline definition and common foundation of initiatives aligned with the GRSB mission and vision. They plan on developing more regional-specific indicators, but will not develop any endorsement products.
The GRSB sounds like a good program. It certainly is the most proactive campaign the beef industry has ever pursued.
I’m not aware of any other groups in animal agriculture working to improve their image and perhaps be more transparent about their industries.
Beef cattle have had a bad rap in the past and this appears to be a good effort focused on responsibility and improvement.
However, I am a bit concerned that this non-governmental organization will attempt to persuade national or global policies or laws. I hope that they do not become politically active and produce new regulations. On the surface, this project appears to be a good solid effort to improve beef’s image around the world. And every cattleman I know is already environmentally and economically sensitive, and socially responsible. — PETE CROW