I will be the first to admit I was disappointed with last month’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament. I failed to fill out a bracket on time, and my alma mater, Kansas State University, lost in the first round to the Wildcats of the University of Kentucky. In full disclosure, this article is being written in the middle of the tournament, and by the time you read it, there will be a champion. To that team and that school, I offer my hearty congratulations.

While the tournament’s first two rounds have seen a number of upsets and countless gravity defying plays, one thing that piqued my interested was Coke Zero’s challenge to the fans. Taking advantage of the power of social media, this corporate sponsor of the tournament asked fans to #ProveIt that they were real fans. Through quick video clips, witty one-liners or photos of outrageous game get-up, fans could Tweet at Coke Zero using the hashtag #ProveIt to show their school pride.

What’s this have to do with the cattle industry?

In the ongoing debate about what the term “sustainability” means to the industry and what its long-term impacts will be, I think cattlemen and women are being asked to #ProveIt on their operations. And I think they’re up to the challenge.

There’s not a singular agreed to definition for what sustainable beef production encompasses, but we’re getting there. In March, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) took a step forward in this process by releasing a set of principles and criteria for global sustainable beef and asked for comments from the public on their work. The group, which from the beginning has said a sustainable beef system must be environmentally sound, economically viable and socially responsible, proposed five core principles revolving around responsible use and conservation of natural resources; protecting and respecting human rights, and recognizing the importance of every individual involved in the beef value chain; respecting and managing animals to ensure their health and wellbeing; producing safe and quality products; and encouraging innovation and efficiency to reduce waste and add to the economic bottom line.

The GRSB did not dive into specific practices, measures or metrics to rate sustainability because, as they said, a “one-size-fits-all” global standard is unrealistic. I agree. Now it is up to national and regional groups to work with producers, universities and corporate partners to develop the details.

It wasn’t that long ago that many thought the Internet was a fad that wouldn’t last. We are more connected today than ever, and that’s not a trend going away. Similarly, the whole concept of sustainability appears to be here for the long run, and it’s time for us to get in the game.

McDonald’s has announced its intent to source sustainably produced beef in the not-so-distant future, and there will be more to follow. But I don’t think this one term is going to fundamentally change what we do. We’re just going to have to #ProveIt. For example, according to research by the Beef Checkoff Program, between 2005 and 2011, the beef industry has reduced emissions to soil by 7 percent, greenhouse-gas emissions by 2 percent, acidification potential emission by 3 percent, emissions to water by 10 percent, water use by 3 percent, land use by 4 percent, resource consumption and energy use by 2 percent, and occupation accidents and illnesses by 32 percent. Cumulatively, the environmental and social footprint of the beef industry has been reduced by 7 percent in six years. That’s just one measure of it, but I bet if you take a look at your operation, you’ll find increased efficiencies, improved conservation and a safer workplace. But what are you doing to #ProveIt?

Thirty years ago, consumers demanded a leaner, more consistent product. Producers responded and today’s products meet those demands with almost 30 beef cuts meeting government guidelines for lean. While there is a chorus out there who try to claim otherwise, beef plays an important role in a healthy, well-balanced diet. And consumers like it. Now it’s up to cattle producers to #ProveIt once again — to show proof that they are taking steps to continuously improve and then continue to do it.

While it might cause questions and skepticism, and could result in changes related to how we document what we do, it’s time to get on board to determine our future. A great fan is one who cheers louder when his team is down by 4 with 15 seconds left on the clock and the entire starting line-up is on the bench. That fan is going to do his best to #ProveIt to his team that he’s in it for the long haul. Now it’s time for us to do the same — accept the challenges, adjust the game plan, and go out and #ProveIt to the world that the U.S. cattle industry has been, is today and will continue to be the epitome of sustainable.


This editorial appeared in the April 2014 issue of Drovers/CattleNetwork.