Dear GRSB Member,

It has been three weeks since we sent out the last Connect, and it is interesting to see an increased volume of news around on the subject of beef and its sustainability. In the mainstream press we read about the launch of meat replacement products, as well as commentary on the damage that beef does to the environment and health.

These articles and interviews often interest me (for example the video interview with Patrick Brown, CEO of impossible foods), because they present facts or perceptions as being damning to livestock production, whereas they may represent climatic constraints to global food production.

In the interview Brown suggests that it is lamentable that ruminant production occupies so much of the land that we use for food production (and yes, ruminant production systems do use about 2/3 of the land we have available for food production, and in fact ruminants have probably occupied that much land for much longer than we have been exploiting them; think of bison and all the plains game in Africa and Asia that are now so diminished in numbers).

However, he does not ask himself why this might be the case – while showing considerable ingenuity in producing vegetable based food, he did not have the curiosity to find out why ruminant production systems occupy so much land. The answer is relatively simple though; ruminants are the only way we have to exploit areas where the only crops that grow are grasses and browse; humans can't digest those, and to get any food from those lands we need to use systems that can convert grass and browse to valuable protein.

As it happens, done right, those very grazing systems can also sequester carbon, and improve soil moisture retention capacity (done badly of course, neither of those things happen and we see rangeland degradation). Another article touching on a negatively presented fact is the Guardian one on water shortage. I certainly do not deny that there is a global issue with water use, that there are shortages in many areas and that these are set to get worse. However, a commonly quoted figure is that around the amount of water "used" to produce a kilogram of beef (15,415 litres / kg is mentioned in the article = 1,850 gal / lb). Figures such as this are presented all over the world in articles and at conferences and seminars, but very rarely explained.

The majority of this water (94% i.e. 14,490 litres or 1,739 gal of it), is actually rain falling on grass and crop lands, or so called green water. Of course, rain falling on grass and crop lands is part of the fundamentally important water cycle, and through good management practices the progress of that water through the cycle can be slowed, it can contribute to the recharge of aquifers and is a very positive thing. The bald figure does not represent the facts – it is simply a lever used to make a case against ruminant production (the figure quoted for sheep is even higher), despite it being a quantitive, rather than qualitative measure particularly given the inability of those grasslands to produce other human foods.

I enjoyed the greenbiz article by Bob Langert for this reason – testing claims that get bandied around is always worthwhile, and getting the public to understand that there is complexity behind the figures is an important step.


Ruaraidh Petre
Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
Executive Director

Sustainability News

Brazilian Beef Industry Moves to Reduce Its Destruction of Rain Forests

Dateline: 05/12/15, Source: By Kelly April Tyrrell, Unversity of Wisconsin–Madison News

Expansion of cattle pastures has led to the destruction of huge swaths of rain forest in Brazil, home to the world's largest herd of commercial beef cattle. But a new study led by the University of Wisconsin–Madison's Holly Gibbs shows that market–driven "zero deforestation agreements" have dramatically influenced the behavior of ranchers and the slaughterhouses to which they sell. PDF: Brazilian beef industry moves to reduce its destruction of rain forests. PDF: Zero Deforestation Agreements

New Report Supporting Zero–Deforestation Cattle in Colombia.

Dateline: 05/19/15, Source: FCMC

It is one of a series of reports relating to how to support a transition to deforestation free commodity production. The objective of this report is to provide an assessment of production practices and their impact on deforestation for beef, dairy, and related products that TFA 2020 companies and their subsidiaries with operations in Colombia use.

The assessment was carried out to identify: 1) key barriers to shifting to sourcing and producing zero–deforestation cattle products; and 2) based on the identification of key barriers, provide a broad set of options to change to more sustainable production practices that will increase productivity while reducing or eliminating deforestation from the production of these goods.

Report Finds Improvement in Beef Industry Environmental Performance

Dateline: 03/25/15, Source: ABC Rural AU

A report which looks at the environmental impacts of producing beef, has found the industry made gains in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and land use in the 30 years to 2010.

Impossible Foods

Source: CNBC

A Stanford biochemistry professor is the latest entrepreneur looking to upend the global food industry. Patrick Brown is founder and CEO of Impossible Foods, a Redwood City, California–based start–up that creates plant–based meat and cheese substitutes. Its first product—the Impossible Burger—is set to launch in the U.S. next year.

Northern Producers 'Not Sustainable'

Dateline: 05/08/15, Source: By Vernon Graham, The Land AU

Only 20 per cent of beef producers in northern Australia are economically sustainable in the long term, says veteran farm business consultant Phil Holmes. The other 80pc have almost no skills in finance and debt management, and little understanding of the key profit drivers in their herds.

Members In The News

"Private Equity and Emerging Markets Agribusiness: Building Value Through Sustainability"

Dateline: May 2015

"Private Equity and Emerging Markets Agribusiness: Building Value Through Sustainability" delivers market insights and sustainability guidance to private equity investors seeking opportunities in emerging markets agribusiness. It highlights environmental and social value drivers and risks when investing in emerging markets agribusiness and makes valuable recommendations to fund managers on implementing an effective Environmental and Social Management System both for themselves and their portfolio companies. The report is a collaboration among five organizations with wide–ranging experience in this area, including CDC, Credit Suisse, EMPEA, IFC and WWF.

Cargill: Avoid Heat Stress in Vows Through Feed

Dateline: 05/14/15, Source: AllAboutFeed

Cargill's animal nutrition business shared new data proving the effectiveness of its customised feeding solutions that help customers manage heat–stressed cows during heat waves..

Cargill, Tesla, PG&E Collaborate at Fresno Beef Plant to Ease California Peak Energy Use

Dateline: Source: Ein News

Cargill has collaborated with Tesla and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), to install Tesla's Energy Storage product at the company's Fresno beef processing facility. Tesla's batteries help to reduce energy costs by storing electricity at off–peak use times, then using it during peak periods. In total, the Tesla batteries have a 1 megawatt capacity that will be charged daily from the existing PG&E electricity grid system during off–peak hours, when electricity rates are lowest. The electricity stored in the batteries will then be used when rates are the highest each day during peak use times. By doing so, Cargill is reducing its contribution to the daily state power peak, when less environmentally friendly electricity generation might otherwise be required to meet demand.

Tyson Foods to Eliminate Antibiotics

Dateline: 05/14/15, Source: AgriView

Tyson Foods Inc. plans to eliminate the use of human antibiotics from its broiler–chicken flocks in the United States by the end of September 2017. The company reported that it has already stopped using all antibiotics in 35 broiler hatcheries. Tyson Foods requires a veterinary prescription for antibiotics used on broiler farms and has reduced human antibiotics used to treat broilers by more than 80 percent since 2011, according to the company.

Food Companies Are Unprepared for Global Water Scarcity, Says New Report

Dateline: 05/07/15, Source: The Guardian

In a report released Thursday, Ceres, a sustainable business consortium based in Boston, found that most food companies aren't prepared to deal with the water risks that it expects will lead to higher water and food prices. Water is a major ingredient in food, from bacon to pizza: growing crops and raising animals account for about 70% of the world's water use, according to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization.

Green Supply Chain News: Walmart is on a Sustainability Mission

Dateline: 04/30/15, Source: SC Digest

Walmart, the world's largest corporation, is fresh out with its 2015 sustainability report, the eighth such document it has produced. The 2015 document is quite remarkable, with Walmart more aggressively than ever redefining its corporate mission from delivering quality products at everyday low prices to making the world itself a better place, in almost missionary terms.

Global Brand Leaders Gathering at SB'15 San Diego to Showcase Transformative Ideas

Dateline: 05/19/15, Source: CSR News Wire

Nearly 2,000 Sustainable Brands® business and brand leaders will gather at SB'15 San Diego, June 1–4 at the Paradise Point Resort and Spa in San Diego, CA. As the premier global gathering of change–makers focused on driving business innovation for sustainability, this year's event theme, "How Now", will focus on how brands are translating environmental and social purpose into business and brand value for business success.

McDonalds Looks to Australia for Supply of Sustainable Ground Beef

Dateline: 05/04/15, Source: ABC Rural AU

Fast food chain McDonalds says Australian beef producers need to accept greater sustainability scrutiny if they want a larger slice of the growing hamburger trade.

Introducing the Sustainability Truth–O–Meter

Dateline: 05/18/15, Source: By Bob Langert, Green Biz

I figured I would go to the National Cattlemen's and Beef Association first. I know and respect the work Kim Stackhouse has led, quarterbacking NCBA's first life–cycle analysis, or LCA. Stackhouse told me:

"From a scientific perspective, claims like these seem to pulled out of the air. I have no idea how they derive these conclusions, what input parameters they use or what boundaries are followed. ISO standardized LCAs don't support these generalized statements. Actually, ISO LCA standards really discourage this kind of generalized reporting."

Ag Industry Takes on 'Transparency'

Dateline: 05/07/15, Source: By Kimberlie Clyma, Meat + Poultry

Transparency and sustainability were the hot topics at the top of the agenda at the 2015 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit, held May 6–7 in Kansas City. "It's about having a dialogue, not just telling a story," said Cameron Bruett, chief sustainability officer and head of corporate affairs for JBS USA, Inc. "We have this huge modern disconnect with agriculture; most of the consumers' interaction with agriculture is the grocery store."

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Members in the News

FDA Wants To Pull Back The Curtain, Slightly, On Farm Antibiotics

Dateline: 05/20/15, Source: By Dan Charles, The Salt NPR

Farmers and public health advocates have been arguing for many years now about the use of antibiotics on farm animals, yet that argument takes place in a fog of uncertainty, because a lot of information simply isn't available.

The main source of information about antibiotic use on farms, an annual report from the Food and Drug Administration, simply shows the total amount of antibiotics, broken down by antibiotic class, that are sold by drug companies for use on the nation's farms. It contains no information about how those drugs are used, or on which types of farms.

Researchers Indicate Growth Hormones Could Persist in Environment

Dateline: 05/12/15, Source: By John Maday, Dropvers CattleNetwork

Results of a research project from Indiana University, University of Iowa and University of Washington suggest that metabolites of hormones used in cattle implants could persist in the environment longer than previously believed, creating a potential environmental risk.

Florida Beef Industry Meets Challenges

Dateline: 05/21/15, Source: 10 News Tampa Bay

Florida might be known for its beaches, but our economic history doesn't start there. It starts with cattle, first brought to our shores by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1521. And while the cattle industry is still strong, with 4 million acres of pasture land and 1 million acres of grazed woodland, it's an industry that has undergone changes in perception and faces challenges in a changing market.

The Slow Demise of COOL and How It's Hurt the Beef Industry

Dateline: 05/21/15, Source: By Troy Marshall, BEEF Magazine

As expected, the World Trade Organization (WTO) upheld Mexico's and Canada's complaint that mandatory country–of–origin labeling (COOL) violates this country's international trade obligations. This final ruling announced earlier this week is the last hurdle in what promises to be a trade war with two trading partners that we do over $1 trillion in business with.

Vets ask: Does the Community Have a Beef with Beef?

Dateline: 05/19/15, Source: Beef Central

Consumer perceptions of red meat can influence livestock producers to change the way they raise their animals to respond to consumer preferences, a leading veterinary science academic will tell an international gathering of veterinarians next week.

Beef Sector Being 'Hung Out to Dry' for Sake of EU–US Trade Deal

Dateline: 03/27/15, Source: Irish Times

Farmers' groups have reacted angrily to a report suggesting the proposed EU–US trade deal is likely to damage Irish beef exports. According to an assessment by research group Copenhagen Economics, the beef industry here stands to lose between €25 million and €50 million a year due to increased competition from the US if the proposed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) goes ahead.

Details of £45Million Beef Efficiency Scheme Revealed

Dateline: 03/28/15, Source: By Gemma Mackenzie, Press and Journal

Scots beef producers could be

 offered up to £40 a calf if they opt to take part in a new government–led cattle efficiency scheme. Farm

 minister Richard Lochhead yesterday announced details of how a£45million beef support package would be implemented. He said government accepted the recommendation's laid out in last year's Beef 2020 report, led by Quality Meat Scotland chairman Jim McLaren, and it had now received approval from Europe to launch a new Beef Efficiency Scheme (BES).

System for Life Cycle Assessment of Feed Hailed as 'Milestone'

Dateline: 05/04/15, Source: By Jane Bryne, FEED Navigator

The new LCA guidelines, developed under the LEAP project, are 'game changing' as they synchronize the plethora of existing feed impact assessment methods and provide the feed sector with one set of rules to reduce its environmental footprint, said FEFAC.

Search on for Suckler Beef Farmer Researcher

Dateline: 03/28/15, Source: Farming Life

AgriSearch is seeking farmers interested in becoming involved as co–researchers in partnership with AFBI on a project co–funded by the DARD Research Challenge Fund. This project, with generous support from Zoetis, Genus and AI Services, is examining novel breeding methods coupled with high genetic merit sires.

A Country That Only Feels for Its Cows

Dateline: 03/28/15, Source: By Kai Friese, Business Standard

Having once deemed cow slaughter a capital crime, earlier this month the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi passed a law in the northern state of Haryana that makes the act punishable by only up to 10 years in prison. That law, along with a similar one recently passed in Maharashtra, brings to 20, out of 29 states in India that completely ban cow slaughter.

This, however, is a not–so–simple majority: Although the population of India is 80 per cent Hindu and so largely non–beef eating, the beef ban's advances have sparked considerable debate and confusion. You see, India is the second–largest exporter of beef in the world after Brazil.

SG20 Agriculture Ministers Focus on Wasted Food and Sustainabilityk

Dateline: 05/06/15, Source: Daily Sabah

Turkey's Food, Agriculture and Livestock Ministry announced that the main theme of the G20 Agriculture Ministers Meeting will be wasted food and the loss of sustainable food systems. This is the second time in the history of the G20 that an agricultural meeting is taking place, and the announcement reiterated that G20 member countries represent 85 percent of the global economy, 70 percent of global agriculture and two–thirds of the world's population.

International Year of Soils: May 2015

Dateline: 05/07/15, Source: By Diego Flammini, Farms

As deemed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2015 is the International Year of Soils. All through the year, the UN along with organizations including the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) are making people aware of how important a role soil plays in everyday life and in many aspects of society.

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