What's in the news right now about environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable beef value chain.


Executive Director's Message

As this Connect comes out, the Executive Board is meeting in Washington DC to discuss progress and implementation of our strategic plan. One of the proposals before the board is a Global Beef Declaration; this is intended to be a document to which CEOs of companies throughout the beef value chain as well as all other members of GRSB could affirm their commitment to sustainability.

We want to be able to make this a concrete document against which we can subsequently report on progress – this is important to underline the fact that progress continues to be made and that our members are driving that progress around the world.

Positive developments in GRSB's evolution continue; in addition to our Director for Latin America working intensively with new and emerging roundtables in that region, we are also building our relationship with China and, in the course of this year, hope to establish at the least a precursor to a roundtable there. 

We have also been discussing the possibility of a regional group in Southern Africa to exchange experience there and increase the rate of progress. While beef trade from Southern Africa is not large in volume, livestock play a significant role in the livelihoods of 60% of the population and are a key component in the management of drylands there.

Ruaraidh Petre
Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
Executive Director
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Cattle Industry Lags Behind in Addressing Impact On Deforestation
Tara MacIsaac, Mongabay | March 9, 2017
Despite being the largest commodity driver of deforestation, the cattle industry has made relatively little progress toward achieving sustainability.

Marcio Nappo, sustainability director of Brazilian beef processor JBS, explains that this is partially tied to the complexities of the cattle supply chain. In the daily shuffle of searching for cattle suppliers, slaughterhouses can lose control. "I cannot control my raw materials; it is a pure commodity market, driven by price," Nappo said. "I don't have any idea who will be my supplier tomorrow."

JBS is part of the Cattle Agreement, which several major producers signed on to about seven years ago as a part of a pledge to be deforestation–free. But according to Nappo, constant uncertainty in supply chain factors make effective monitoring difficult. An assessment in 2015 of actors in the agreement found that JBS had made "substantial changes" to its procurement criteria.

Improving Sustainable Cattle Production in The Brazilian Amazon
Forests News | March 17, 2017
The successful Brazilian experience in slowing down deforestation in the Amazon has captured a lot of attention in the global arena, but serious concerns linger about its possible resurgence.

While it is important to strengthen public and private arrangements to reach zero deforestation, or at least to stabilize it at relatively low absolute levels, more attention needs to be placed on the actions necessary to facilitate the transition from a zero–deforestation model to one of territorial sustainability.

It is now a known fact that efforts to enforce environmental regulations coupled with commitments from soy traders and the meat packing industry has helped to reduce deforestation. A critical step was the adoption of the Agreement for the Adjustment of Conduct (TAC) by which the meat packing industry agreed to enact stricter controls on their suppliers, forcing them to follow state regulations. This agreement was followed by another one signed between three major meat packing groups and the NGO Greenpeace with similar terms to those agreed under the TAC, but with the added layer of control mechanisms over indirect suppliers.

In addition to these two agreements, other types of initiatives to support progress toward more sustainable intensification of cattle ranching have also emerged in the Brazilian Amazon based on the understanding that decoupling cattle ranching development and deforestation requires embracing cattle intensification and low–carbon development.

Is Sustainability Sustainable?
Burt Rutherford, Beef Magazine | March 08, 2017
If approached correctly, this whole sustainability thing will help you and your operation get better. I'll let Cameron Bruett, head of corporate affairs and sustainability for JBS and a member of the Executive Committee for the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, tell you.

Bruett, speaking at the Cattlemen's College at this year's Cattle Industry Convention, said sustainability is a balance between economic, societal and environmental concerns. "If your operation is not profitable, it's not sustainable," he said.

Yes, it's environmental. Yes, it's societal. But if the operation isn't profitable, those other two pillars of sustainability probably won't happen.

What's more, in spite of what marketers want consumers to believe, no single attribute makes an operation sustainable. But any single social, economic or environmental failure can make you unsustainable, he says. That's because sustainability is about continuous improvement and the outcome of your efforts in those three areas.

Who Will Breed the Next Generation of Forage Crops?  
Ron Friesen, Canadian Cattlemen | March 15, 2017
See if you can answer these two skill–testing agricultural questions. What is the largest crop in Canada? Which crop has one of the poorest records for funding research and breeding programs?

If you answered "forages" to both, you're right. You've also put your finger on a chronic problem in Canada's forage industry. Statistics show the total acreage of pastureland, tame forages and native hay far exceeds the seeded area for wheat and canola. You'd think that would put forages at the top of the list when it comes to research funding. Sadly, no.

However, that's assuming you only see hay and forages as a crop. Researchers and producers are quick to point out the value of grasslands goes far beyond that. They say grasslands also provide environmental goods and services such as water storage, flood mitigation, wildlife habitat, biodiversity, carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reduction.

Does Grass Quality Impact on Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Cattle?
Seán Cummins, Agriland | February 11, 2017
Citing research results, which looked at pre–grazing herbage mass as a predictor of grass quality, UCD's Associate Professor Tommy Boland said that feeding animals higher quality grass results in less methane production.

"When we feed high quality grass, we reduced the total daily emissions of methane from our cows, we reduced the emissions intensity of the product produced.

VBP Helps Keep Beef in The Game  
Lee Hart, Canadian Cattlemen | March 7, 2017
Les Johnston figures if he wants to continue to sell beef, and hopefully tap into top or higher–value markets, he needs to be able to show buyers as well as consumers he is doing a good job.

The southern Saskatchewan rancher is a believer in the Canadian Verified Beef Production (VBP) program. He was doing much of the record–keeping and following beef production practices spelled out in VBP long before the program was ever created. As the fourth generation on the family farm at Fillmore, south of Regina, Johnson says keeping and analyzing records and following sound production practices, just became a way for his family to produce a higher–quality, more efficient, more valuable animal. The Verified Beef Production program fit right in.

"To me as a producer, the value of all this is about maintaining and hopefully increasing market share," says Johnston. "It doesn't matter if you are producing beef, or selling cars, or lawnmowers, you need to produce what the customer wants. And it is a lot easier to sell a person something they want, than to try and convince them they need your product."

North American Livestock Production Contribution to Global Warming Less than Public Led to Believe
Dr. Frank Mitloehne, Farmscape Online | March 9, 2017
An Air Quality Specialist with the University of California Davis says livestock production in North America plays a much smaller role in contributing to global warming than the public would be led to believe.

As governments move to address global warming the contribution of agriculture, particularly livestock production to greenhouse gas emissions is increasingly being identified as one of the primary culprits.

Dr. Frank Mitloehner, a Professor and Air Quality Specialist with the Department of Animal Science at the University of California Davis, says many countries are inefficient and resource hungry when it comes to livestock production so the contribution of their livestock industries to global warming skews the numbers.

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Cremonini's Inalca Keeps Pace Of Internationalization With Acquisitions in Canada and Hong Kong  
Emanuele Scarci, ItalyEurope24 | February 14, 2017
Moving on from North America to Asia, food manufacturer Cremonini continues its lightning pace: after opening a meat plant in Canada, they are preparing to acquire a large Hong Kong–based distributor.

"This is a joint venture with Canadian firm Italpasta," states Luigi Scordamaglia, Managing Director of Inalca (a subsidiary of the Cremonini group), "in which we hold 60% of the shares. The Canadian company is offering their physical plant, while we're bringing in the production lines. The goal of this partnership is also to serve the US market: we're experimenting with a model that is easily replicable in other countries. In total, it's a €4 million investment."

Italpasta is an historic Ontario–based company, which produces pasta and imports brand–name Italian products (such as Colussi, Bauli, Misura, and Agnesi), while Inalca is a division dedicated to manufacturing beef, cured meats, and snacks—in 2016, they reached an estimated €1.76 billion in sales.

Project to Improve Sustainability in US Beef Industry
Wisconsin State Farmer | March 5, 2017
McDonald's USA, Tyson Foods, The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Beef Marketing Group (BMG) and Golden State Foods announced the two–year pilot research project that will seek methods to improve sustainability across the entire beef value chain, test metrics established by the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) and explore scalable solutions that could be applicable to beef production across the country.

The Noble Foundation, the largest, independent agricultural research organization in the United States, will coordinate and provide project management services for the overall project.

CCA Report: Unleashing our Growth Potential  
Dan Darling, Canadian Cattlemen | March 9, 2017
Those of us in agriculture understand the importance of the industry in terms of economic contribution to Canada's GDP but oftentimes it seems that clout is overshadowed by other equally key industries.

That's why I was pleased to see agriculture featured prominently in the recent Advisory Council on Economic Growth report. The report, Unleashing the Growth Potential of Key Sectors, contains recommendations to promote growth in all areas of the Canadian economy by identifying and then addressing major obstacles and barriers preventing some sectors from realizing their full potential.

In the report, Agriculture and Food is recognized as one of eight sectors in Canada deemed as potential candidates for a strategic approach whereby government and the private sector work together to create the policy actions and infrastructure needed to remove identified barriers and obstacles and help unlock sector potential.

The report comes just as Canadian Cattlemen's Association (CCA) representatives returned from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) annual convention, where the importance of sound trade policy to unfettered access was a key topic.

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Two articles on animal welfare from Bernie Rollin. He is referring to practices in North America for the most part, though of course there is a lot of overlap between management there and elsewhere. We do not often see such strongly pro animal welfare articles in publications like Drovers.
Animal Welfare: Ranching Traditions  
Bernie Rollin. Drovers | March 07, 2017
One salient example of ranching traditions that are in need of an update are surgical mutilations, sanctified by convenience and tradition. Anesthesia is rarely used for these procedures and analgesia, virtually never. (There are no analgesics approved for use in food animals.) This is very ironic, because it is generally acknowledged that the branch of animal agriculture that has most strongly resisted transformation to an industrial approach is the cow–calf component of beef production, most famously instantiated in Western North American extensive ranching.

As devoted to pursuing a way of life as to making a living, Western ranchers strongly adhere to an ethic of animal husbandry. For example, of the approximately 20,000 ranchers all over the US and Canadian West that I have addressed on ethics and animal welfare, well over 90%, in fact, closer to 100%, have spent more money and time on saving a marginal, sick calf than the calf is worth in strictly economic terms. When asked to explain this putatively economically irrational decision, ranchers will invoke their moral obligations to the animals under their aegis.

Yet shortly after the birth of a calf, the same ranchers will brand, dehorn, castrate, and vaccinate these animals with no pain control. How can this be reconciled with the ethic of animal husbandry, both historically and today?

Animal Welfare: Management and Avoidance of Pain  
Bernie Rollin, Drovers | March 8, 2017
Ironically, the acceleration of modern technology that created confinement agriculture can also be utilized to replace painful management practices. When challenged by ranchers to provide them with an alternative to branding, a group of us at Colorado State University created digitized retinal images of cow retinas, images with more data points than human fingerprints (Golden and Shadduck, 2000).

Similarly, cattlemen could employ other biometric identifiers or electronic forms of identification such as microchips, given that all such methods provide permanent, unalterable forms of identification. These biometric and electronic forms of identification provide the additional advantage of facilitating trace–back in the event of disease outbreak.

In addition, branding does not prevent cattle theft. In many places, in remote areas, rustlers will drive to ranches with a truck, cut fences, slaughter cattle, and steal them as boxed beef. Inherently conservative, ranchers have resisted moving to alternative methods of identification in spite of the overwhelming evidence that hot–iron branding is extremely painful (Schwartzkopf et al., 1997).

If asked to justify the infliction of a third–degree burn morally, cowboys will cite the trade–off involved in living extensively in exchange for a short–term burn pain. However, in addition to the cost to the animal in terms of pain, there is an actual monetary cost to the industry. Branding has been estimated to cost the Canadian beef industry $3.57 per head or $9.5 million per year due to hide damage (Schwartzkopf–Genswein, 2000).

Sheep and Beef Industry Welcome Progress Towards FTA  
Scoop | March 9, 2017
Beef + Lamb New Zealand and the Meat Industry Association welcome the successful completion of joint scoping discussions towards an EU – NZ Free Trade Agreement (FTA) announced by Minister McClay in Brussels.

Trade liberalisation, including through FTAs, creates a stable and level playing field on which to compete and it's hugely important to the growth and future prosperity of the sheep and beef sector and New Zealand as a whole, the two organisations say.

"The completion of the scoping discussions is a significant step towards launching FTA negotiations this year," said Sam McIvor, CEO of Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

The European Union is a very important market for New Zealand red meat products, worth over NZ$1.8 billion in the year ended December 2016.

4 Habits of Successful Cattlemen
Amanda Radke, Beef Magazine | March 14, 2017
As a writer who focuses on the cattle business, I frequently have the opportunity to interview a wide variety of influential people in the beef industry. When visiting with these folks, it's interesting to learn more about what makes them tick, what steps they took to advance their careers and the little things they do to be successful in this business.

Over the years, I've realized that successful cattlemen have a few things in common. I've identified the four common traits of these individuals, and I try to practice these in my own ranching enterprise.
1. Hustle: Efficiency is the key to advancing yourself.
2. Continued education: Learning shouldn't stop once your school days are over. Take advantage of educational opportunities as they arise.
3. Passion: There's no doubt about it — the cattle business isn't for the faint of heart. The risk, time commitment, market swings, weather—all are factors to make this a challenging industry to be a part of. When the going gets tough, remind yourself why you're so passionate about this business in the first place.
4. Goals: What are your short– and long–term goals for your business? Is everyone in the family on board to help you achieve those goals? Make it a habit to regularly review your one–year, five–year and 10–year plans to ensure that you're constantly striving for something.

Lab–Grown Meat Edges Closer to Stores with 'Clean' Poultry Achieved  
Gordon Hung, Silicon Republic | March 15, 2017
Lab–grown beef is so 2016. The here and now is all about lab–grown poultry, with not a battery cage in sight.

Memphis Meats is going down a different route. Based in the US, Memphis Meats is developing methods to produce meat directly from animal cells, "without the need to feed, breed or slaughter animals".

The company originally had a three–year plan to get its 'sustainable' meat into restaurants though, well into its second year, that looks unlikely. However, its five–year plan to get its lab–grown meat to your local store is still on, especially now that its first 'clean poultry' dishes have been developed – a full 12 months after the beef equivalents.

"It is thrilling to introduce the first chicken and duck that didn't require raising animals. This is a historic moment for the clean meat movement," said Uma Valeti, co–founder and CEO of Memphis Meats.

"Chicken and duck are at the centre of the table in so many cultures around the world, but the way conventional poultry is raised creates huge problems for the environment, animal welfare and human health. It is also inefficient.

"We aim to produce meat in a better way, so that it is delicious, affordable and sustainable.

Scottish Cattle Herd at Lowest Level Since the 1950s  
Gemma Mackenzie, Press and Journal | March 17, 2017
The number of cattle on Scottish farms and crofts has reached its lowest level since the 1950s, according to figures in the latest farm census.

Results from the Scottish Government's December Agricultural Survey reveal a 1.4% decline in cattle numbers to 1.71million, which is 3.5% lower than the 10–year average of 1.77million.

Beef cattle numbers were down 3,600 to 420,900, while the number of dairy cows decreased by 2,600 to 174,400.

The national sheep flock increased in size to 5.04million, while the number of pigs increased by 11% to 368,000. There was also growth in the poultry sector, with a 19% increase in broiler numbers thanked for the 7% increase in total bird numbers to 14.4million.

NFU Scotland vice–president Martin Kennedy said the decrease in beef cattle numbers highlighted the difficulty the sector faced in maintaining numbers.

"It shows the need for continued targeted support either directly or indirectly to the largest part of our industry," said Mr Kennedy.

The union's livestock committee chairman Charlie Adam blamed the reduction on higher costs, tighter carcase specifications and a reduction on the maximum value a carcase can achieve.

He said: "There isn't enough profit, if any, in beef production without support. At current levels of support, it will take a lot more than efficiency improvements to change the fortunes of beef production – it needs market prices to rise substantially."

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