Sustainability is a hot topic across agriculture and livestock production, and often a contentious one. When it comes to simply defining sustainability, or setting standards for measuring the relative sustainability of individual production practices, disagreements abound.

That’s where the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB), which held its first general assembly meeting in Denver last week, comes in. The U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) is a multi-stakeholder initiative developed to advance, support and communicate continuous improvement in sustainability of the U.S. beef value chain.

The group plans to build upon principles developed by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, including the “triple-bottom-line” approach, based on the concept that beef production should be environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable.

Founding members of USRSB include a diverse group of producers, allied industry such several major animal-health companies, all of the major U.S. beef packers, retailers such as McDonald’s and Walmart and organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund.

Launched in March 2015, the roundtable is in its early developmental stage, and much of the July meeting focused on laying the groundwork for future development of recommendations. The group appointed three working groups to begin the process.

The Indicators and Goals for Progress Working Group has begun identifying and quantifying for use in measuring improvement in sustainable production.

The Verification Working Group will processes and standards for verifying production practices and improvements that support sustainability.

The Field Projects Working Group will plan research and demonstration projects to evaluate the sustainability of various practices and communicating results to stakeholders.

Throughout the meeting, there was general consensus that while the U.S. beef industry already leads the world in production efficiency. But to maintain domestic and international market share we need to engage in a process of continuous improvement and develop objective measures for demonstrating improved sustainability. Members also agreed that standards or recommendations cannot be overly specific or “prescriptive.” They recognize the diversity of production settings inherent in beef production and recognize that a non-sustainable practice in one setting, such as stocking one cow per acre on the High Plains of Wyoming, might be fully sustainable a high-rainfall environment such as in Florida.

Learn more at the USRSB website.