What is sustainable beef? As the saying goes, ask 10 different people and you will get 10 different answers but in my opinion, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the absence of a definitive definition, the beef industry has an opportunity to shape what this important concept will mean for cattlemen.
Beef sustainability isn’t a new concept. According to a study from Washington State University, beef’s carbon footprint decreased by 16 percent over the last decade. The study also found that today’s beef is produced with 30 percent less land, 14 percent less water and 20 percent less feed ingredients that it was in 1977. The study demonstrated that farmers and ranchers are committed to sustaining their industry as well as natural resources and wildlife conservation. New efforts being led by cattlemen will take this commitment to the next level.
Sound science is essential to establishing beef sustainability goals; and cattlemen are committed to investing in the research that helps the beef community continuously improve. Cattlemen and women have invested their beef checkoff dollars in a first-of-its kind, multi-year sustainability assessment that will identify the best opportunities for improvement. By year-end, the entire beef community will have what is needed to develop a sustainable roadmap for the future.
The project is a massive undertaking that started with a hot-spot analysis that incorporates existing environmental research results and feedback from a variety of stakeholders, including industry, academia, government and non-governmental organizations. Most previous assessments only looked at environmental impact of production. This assessment will not only evaluate the environmental inputs and outputs for beef from pasture to plate, but also considers the economic and social aspects of the industry.
To ensure farmer and rancher voices, along with sound science, are being heard, NCBA and the Beef Checkoff Program are making sure producers are at the table where the conversations are taking place. Specifically, NCBA has joined the Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef (GRSB), which is a multi-stakeholder organization founder early this year. The goal is to advance sustainable beef production through the commitment of the stakeholders in the beef value chain. Participating in the panel simply ensures the realities of modern beef production and existing stewardship efforts are heard. Other members of the roundtable include important customer companies like McDonald’s and Walmart, supply chain partners Cargill and JBS and non-governmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy.
Another project in the hopper at NCBA is the establishment of a Beef Sustainability Center to concentrate on balanced solutions, strategic partnerships and collaborative efforts to lead industry principles on sustainability issues. Tours of cattle farms and ranches with sustainability conversation leaders are also in the works.
I cannot stress enough that farmers and ranchers have to be part of the sustainability discussion. It is paramount that we have a seat at the table to avoid a train wreck. We have to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to conversations about beef sustainability or we risk facing unrealistic sustainability standards being imposed on us. NCBA is there to protect the interests of grassroots cattlemen like you and me and to advance our sustainability efforts in a realistic, proactive manner.
Source: Richard Gebhart, Oklahoma cattleman and vice chairman of NCBA’s Federation Division