The Canadian Cattlemen Association's own Dennis Laycraft just took over as the top gun at the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB), a position that should give Canada a more important voice in the world's burgeoning beef business. He's picking up the reins dropped by Forrest Roberts when he left the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

GRSB might be called top heavy with representatives of the big boys in the business. The Board is weighted down by the likes of Cargill, Elanco, McDonald's Corporation, and Royal Ahold. Protecting the 'Sustainable' part are members of Fundacion Solidaridad Latinoamericana, National Wildlife Federation and the World Wildlife Fund.

To give you a better idea of its potential clout, the founding members are Cargill, Elanco Animal Health, JBS, McDonald’s, Merck Animal Health, Fundacion Solidaridad Latino-american, Walmart and the World Wildlife Federation.

JSB's Cameron Bruett, who served as the president of GRSB, spoke at the Colorado Ag Classic in December about what the group means by sustainability. "It’s continuous improvement toward a goal,” he said. “It’s a journey, not the destination. Sustainability is everything, from the workforce used, to the local impact of the operation, to the generational transitioning of the land, to, yes, the environmental footprint and even profit."

Defining the charge of the organization more fully,  that of bringing the 'hands on' people into the conversation, he said, "You cannot have the sustainability conversation without considering who is going to pay for the changes, and the ultimate profitability of the people on the land at the end of the chain—farmers and ranchers."

His main point? "If farmers and ranchers aren’t profitable, we lose rural farm businesses and you’ll see vast declines of towns that rely on agriculture . We have to balance the needs of the society and the environment. We can’t drive farmers out of profitability.”

Of course, the folks who see meat production as the evil Satan of the world's food supply quickly condemned the work of the GRSB. One self-styled pundit wrote, "One result is clear: the clunky prose dished out by the GRSB will give its adversaries, such as PETA, more ammunition in the continuing fight over the meat industry."

Let's ask Laycraft to define the work of the Roundtable, though, and where it might ask the industry to go as it attempts to ramp up production, also known as doing more with less.

Q. Dennis, congratulations on being elected to lead the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. Before we get into the heart of my questions, though, would you describe what GRSB is and what the group hopes to accomplish?

A. The GRSB is a global, multi-stakeholder initiative developed to advance continuous improvement in sustainability of the global beef value chain through leadership, science and multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration. Our first task was to define sustainability and to reach consensus on the principles and criteria that frame that definition. That was completed in October 2015.  Our next task is to support and encourage leading sustainability initiatives including regional and country roundtables.

Q. Current GRSB executive committee members, in addition to you representing the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, include Carlos Saviani of the World Wildlife Fund, Larry Stewart of McDonald's and Cameron Bruett of JBS. The departing chief exec was Forrest Roberts, the recently departed chief exec at the NCBA. It looks like the industry heavyweights are well-represented. Are there other influential stakeholders, especially among smaller organizations? Who are they and what do each of you bring to the table?

A. The GRSB has a broad group of members including producers and producer associations, the commerce and processing sector, retail companies, civil societies and national or regional roundtables. (Editor's note: The membership list is lengthy. Click on each of the categories to see the full list) We have individual producer members right up to global organizations. Everyone is expected to commit to a constructive and respectful dialogue and to work positively to advance sustainability. I am just getting to personally know the full membership and can say I am very impressed with the depth of expertise and commitment to work towards positive and practical outcomes.

Q. Let's look at the pieces and parts of the GRSB. There are regional roundtables in Brazil, Canada, and the U.S. with similar groups in Columbia, Mexico and Europe. They'll each reach conclusions based on what's most important for the health of their home markets. When all of you sit down at a common table, will you be able to harmonize what could very well be conflicting opinions?

A. One of the great strengths of the bovine animal is its ability to adapt to its environment and to convert the forages and feeds that are available into a high quality food. Each area has unique circumstances and it is recognized that there will be appropriate differences. Each member is committed to supporting the vision, sharing information, and demonstrating that they are effectively meeting the principles and criteria that the GRSB has established. Sustainability is not about one type of production or another.  

Q. Last year's general assembly was in the Netherlands. You'll be bringing it home, hosting the GRSB 2016 Global Conference on Sustainable Beef in Alberta. Although it's probably too early to go into great detail about the event, what can you tell me about the date, location and preliminary plans?

A. The next Global conference will be held in Banff, Alberta from October 3-7. There is an industry tour planned for the 4th and the plenary sessions will run from the 5th thru the 7th. It is still early in the planning and we hope to get out more details shortly. We are excited about hosting the meeting in Canada.

Q. The meeting in the Netherlands looked at future initiatives to move the organization forward to support sustainability within the beef value chain. One of the most difficult jobs you'll face is communicating your findings and how they can enhance the perception of the beef industry with the other publics - those beef businesses not involved with GRSB as well as the general public. How will you overcome that obstacle?

A. That is never ending job and one in Canada we are referring to as “changing the conversation." At the GRSB we are updating our communication tools with greater emphasis on social media, enhanced web resources, and an overall more active communications program. It will require a commitment from our entire membership to engage positively where ever and whenever we can and to show the great work that is taking place.

Q. Your Executive Director, Ruaraidh Petre, said “This next year (2016), GRSB will hit the ground running in the sense of more attention to the development of global indicators of sustainability.” What are those indicators and what makes them important?

A. GRSB developed principles and criteria, which are the broad definition of sustainability. Indicators add some more detail, in terms of the things that are measured in different environments so that we know we are making some progress. Many of those are unique to a given environment or system, and are being developed by national roundtables but there are a small number, yet to be finalised, that can be used globally and will help us show the progress that is being made (and has been made ov