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


Executive Director's Message

Let me start by wishing all GRSB members and their staff and families a very happy Christmas, and the best for 2018. Looking back on the year, we have made good progress in some areas of our strategic plan.

Additional funding from CFA enabled us to hire Josefina Eisele as our director for Latin America with support of the team from One Peterson; we have been able to welcome the Colombian Roundtable as a full member of GRSB, and they now have a seat on the board. We have also seen significant progress in Paraguay and were able to meet several members of the Paraguayan roundtable in Australia for our board meeting. Argentina announced the launch of their roundtable two weeks ago, and we hope to be able to include all of these in the membership next year.

This is why we have been working on an equivalency system for initiatives that want to demonstrate their alignment with GRSB. In the early stages this will take the form of a reporting framework covering a range of our sustainability criteria, and we expect to be able to refine that over time. Having a system such as this in place and monitoring the same criteria on a global level will enable us to demonstrate the progress that is being made by our network as a whole.

We will vote on the inclusion of the European roundtable as a new member in that constituency in the forthcoming board meeting, and Southern Africa is on track to hold a second meeting in February, with active participation from seven countries in the region towards the formation of a regional roundtable there. With the announcement of their sustainable sourcing initiative, China is also set to launch a sustainability platform in the course of 2018. Canada's certified sustainable beef framework demonstrates one of the ways in which our sustainability goals can be delivered upon, while recognising that this will differ from place to place.

For GRSB, the new year will require increased focus on how we, through our members, are delivering on our promise to lead continuous improvement in the sustainability of the beef industry globally. While the activities to increase reach are extremely important, it is also essential that we report on progress being made around the world. Membership of national roundtables and of GRSB will always be voluntary, and it is clear that  it is important to be able to measure and report on the progress we are collectively making; we have made some steps in that direction and I hope to be able to look back next year on some success in this area as well.

In order to be able to do this effectively, GRSB will require additional financing – we have seen what has been possible with funds from CFA in Latin America, and I believe that our members would benefit from similar investment in measuring and reporting on global progress.

Ruaraidh Petre
Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
Executive Director
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Shrinking Water Footprint of Canadian Beef Production
Beef Research | December 14, 2017
Canada's beef industry has dramatically reduced its water footprint over the past several decades, and that trend is expected to continue, a new study has found.

The amount of water required to produce one kilogram of Canadian beef has decreased by 17% from 1981 to 2011, due largely to enhanced efficiency in how feed crops for beef cattle are produced, as well as enhanced efficiency in raising beef cattle and producing more beef per animal.

There have been a couple articles recently on the subject of whether grass finished or grain finished beef is better in terms of carbon footprint and another article (PDF) suggesting that the US beef industry should reduce the area of land used (both grassland and land for feed production) to improve environmental performance. Suffice it to say that agricultural systems are complicated.

Pretending that making a change in one area is going to be positive without looking at the knock on effects on the whole system is dishonest. We know that 86% of feed to produce meat is non–human edible. We know that by–products such as distillers grains have value as livestock feed and that grain markets are buffered by livestock. We know that grasslands have a hugely important role in sequestering carbon and preserving biodiversity. The paper below is not presenting anything very new, but it also looks at only one aspect of sustainability, which as we know has to be defined holistically.

There is very definitely a role for grass finished beef as there is for cattle finished on feed. Pitting one part of the industry against the other can only detract from the whole, and splitting sustainability into silos can only detract from our efforts to make the whole beef industry more sustainable.

Raising Beef Cattle On Grass Can Create a Higher Carbon Footprint Than Feedlots, New Study Suggests
Kimberly Hickok, Mongabay | December 5, 2017
The popularity of grass–fed beef owes much to the claim that the meat from cattle raised on pastures is superior to corn–fed beef. Many people may feel better knowing they just ate meat from an animal that spent its life on a picturesque green pasture, rather than packed into a dreary prison–like feedlot.

But would those people still feel good about their choice if raising grass–fed cattle actually turned out to be worse for the environment? A new study suggests that might be the case.

The team concluded that placing cattle in feedlots, where they eat corn–based feed for at least the last few months before slaughter, greatly decreases the carbon footprint of beef production. Cattle reared this way produce more meat per animal, on average, and they need less space compared to purely pasture–raised, grass–fed cattle.

Look at these figures for ranch returns on investing in sustainability in Brazil.
Sustainable Practices Lead to Corporate Profits  
Andrea Murad, Global Finance | December 11, 2017
Tensie Whelan, director of the Center for Sustainable Business at New York University's Stern School of Business, talks about the growing bottom–line case for sustainable practices.

Whelan: We looked at beef in Brazil and the commitments to deforestation–free and sustainable agriculture. Through the uptake, particularly of sustainable agriculture, ranchers saw a 2.3 times increase in productivity, a sevenfold increase in profitability, and the [proportion of] quality beef went from zero to 70%.

Small ranchers saw their income go up millions, which was significant. And those benefits accrued up the supply chain. Slaughterhouses had less volatility in their supply and higher–quality supply. They had less reputational risk because of potential scandals like expired beef or deforestation concerns. We monetized sustainability benefits for the retailers buying the beef: McDonald's and Carrefour.

We often talk about telling the stories of beef production. While some people may be willing to listen, the story only has meaning when it is proven to be true. Irish consumers are no different to those in any other country. Bord Bia is rolling out their Origin Green programme throughout the country to ensure that they have the facts to prove their story.
Consumers Don't Want to Be Told Irish Food Is Sustainable; They Need Proof  
Seán Cummins, Agriland | December 4, 2017
Consumers don't want to be told that Irish food is sustainable, they need proof, a senior figure at the Department of Agriculture told the Food Wise Conference 2017 earlier today.

Bill Callanan, chief inspector with the department, said: "Sustainability is one of the key themes of the Food Wise 2025 strategy and it recognised that environmental sustainability and economic sustainability are equal and complementary; one can not be achieved without the other."

Identifying some the strengths and challenges facing the Irish agricultural sector, the department chief said that pasture–based livestock systems are recognised as being very efficient.

Resistance to Antibiotics: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly  
Baher Kamal, Inter Press Service | December 6, 2017
The use of antimicrobials in healthy animals to prevent diseases has now become common in husbandry systems where large numbers are housed under moderate to poor hygienic conditions without appropriate biosafety measures in place. Similarly, when a few members of a flock have a disease, sometimes all animals are treated to prevent its spread.

Besides such uses for treatment (therapeutic) and prevention (prophylactic uses), antimicrobials have been added — in low dosages– to animal feed to promote faster growth, FAO warns, adding that "although more and more countries prohibit the use of antimicrobials as growth promoters, it remains common in many parts of the world."

Although the UN agency does not say explicitly why this happens, it could be easily deduced that it is due to the voracious appetite for greater profits.

FAO goes on to warns that in the coming decades, the use of antimicrobials in animal production and health will likely rise as a result of economic expansion, a growing global population, and higher demand for animal–sourced foods. Indeed, their use in livestock is expected to double within 20 years.

"It is likely that the excessive use of antimicrobials in livestock (and aquaculture) will contaminate the environment and contribute to a rise of resistant microorganisms. This poses a threat not only to human health, but also to animal health, animal welfare, and sustainable livestock production — and this has implications for food security and people's livelihoods."

Just like the Irish story above; if you can't prove it's sustainable, people probably won't believe you.
A Green Marketing "Wild West": Greenwashing in the Beef Sector   
Jonathan Gelbard, Ph.D, Triple Pundit (blog) | December 14, 2017

As a grassland scientist and sustainable business advisor, I've been working for years to help define sustainable beef production and develop incentives for ranchers, farmers and other supply chain stakeholders. What I've learned during this journey is that while there are exciting advances occurring in the beef sector, sustainability marketing is a Wild West of (mostly unintentional) greenwash.

The language on beef retailer and producer websites often features vague, unsubstantiated sustainability–related claims. This results in confusion about what these claims mean in terms of measurable, verifiable benefits for the health of ecosystems, people, and livestock.

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A&W Gives $5M to University for Cattle Research After Hormone–Free Campaign
The Province | December 1, 2017
The University of Saskatchewan has received a big donation from a major fast food chain. A&W presented the university with $5 million on Friday with plans for the funds to go directly towards a cattle–farming research facility. The Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence is being built near Clavet, about 20 minutes southeast of Saskatchewan and is expected to open in 2018.

The $36 million centre will research efficient and sustainable methods for ranching cattle.

Other groups funding the centre include the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association, which is contributing $1 million with hopes it can help give the Canadian cattle industry an edge.

"You can stand still and do the same thing all the time, but everyone else is going to be moving ahead," said association CEO Ryder Lee.

Can McDonald's Help Solve Climate Change?  
Joel Makower, GreenBiz | December 4, 2017
For more than four years, McDonald's has been traversing a long and arduous path to produce "sustainable beef" in its sprawling global supply chain.

Now, it's looking for solutions right under its feet.

The fast–food giant is embarking on a small but potentially significant project to measure and analyze the ability of cattle farming to sequester carbon in soil, using a style of grazing called adaptive multi–paddock — AMP, for short. If it works, it could transform the way McDonald's ranchers raise cattle and produce beef — while avoiding the release millions or even billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

I'm glad to note that Steve Kay recognises the importance of the development of GRSB and our national roundtable members!
Yearly Q&A with Steve Kay: What Will Happen to Beef Trade?
Chuck Jolley, Drovers Magazine | December 11, 2017
As far as attacks on the industry's sustainability and other issues like greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S meat and poultry industry and the global beef industry mounted a massive response that continues to this day. The single most important initiative was the development of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB). It is a multi–stakeholder initiative developed to advance continuous improvement in the sustainability of the global beef value chain, it says.

CCA Report: Wrapping up 2017  
Dan Darling, Canadian Cattlemen | December 13, 2017
Of note to Canadian beef producers is a change to the own use importation (OUI) process that came into effect on November 13, 2017. Only those products registered on "List B," published on the Health Canada website are now permitted for OUI.

Additional changes coming will see claims for growth promotion dropped from labels of medically important antimicrobials used in livestock production, and access to all Category I, II, and III antimicrobials restricted to prescription only effective December 1, 2018. This will mean all livestock producers will require a valid veterinary–client–patient relationship to obtain the necessary prescription to access these antimicrobials.

The responsible use of antibiotics is a necessary component of sustainable beef production, which requires that cattle are well cared for and treated when necessary. The CCA recognizes that all stakeholders in Canada's human and animal health systems must play a role in minimizing AMR development..

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Trade agreements often attract extreme opinions. While our Brazilian members are likely to be satisfied with the EU agreement, it has Irish beef producers worried. Note that IFA Joe Healey's comments cannot be taken as a fair assessment of all Brazilian production. Clearly, he believes that he has a vested interest in portraying the Brazilian industry in a certain light.

What global beef industry players need to learn is that the whole industry is judged by the standards of the lowest performers. What Joe Healey is effectively doing is criticising the industry he works for, as any nationalist statement about a global industry is liable to do.

IFA Calls EU Beef Deal with Brazil 'Toxic'
The Cattle Site | December 1, 2017
HIFA President Joe Healy said, "It is a total contradiction of European policy that Commissioner Maelstrom is now willing to cut a deal for more beef imports from Brazil and sacrifice sustainable production in Europe."

He said Irish beef production is four times more carbon efficient than Brazil where growth is driven on the back of destruction of the rainforests.

While the beef industry may not have come as far as the dairy industry in genetic testing, those of you on the tour during our Canberra board meeting will remember that Kenny's Creek Angus a pedigree breeder, do use genetic testing; this is an are very much in line with our Efficiency and Innovation principle.
Genetic Testing Is Changing Cattle of All Stripes  
Gene Johnston, Agriculture.com | December 6, 2017
To understand where the beef industry is going, take a look at where the dairy industry has been. That's what the Beef Improvement Federation, a group that advances the science of beef genetics, did when it invited Tom Lawlor, a genomics expert for Holstein USA, to share his industry's experience with DNA testing.

The dairy industry, particularly the Holstein breed, has been on a DNA quest for more than 10 years, ever since better and cheaper genetic evaluation techniques became available, Lawlor says. "It is having a huge impact on dairy. Not only have we dramatically reduced our generation interval and increased our rate of genetic progress by two to four times, but also there have been some important structural changes to our industry."

Not the typical beef producer story you may think. Of course, that is true, but pastoralists throughout Africa are facing multiple challenges and all of their cattle are part of the global herd, and thus are part of the figures you see quoted for beef production, even though calving percentages can be as low as 18–30%. Given the rapidly increasing human population, and the state of rangelands in most of Africa, our members need to continue to recognise the importance of engaging there and closing the gap between systems.
Climate Change and Violent Conflict in Kenyan Pastoral Lands
Daniel Pearson, Future Directions International | December 7, 2017

The Turkana region in north–west Kenya is a hot, dry and arid landscape for most of the year. Pastoralism is the most viable livelihood stream in the region, and the two main pastoral groups are the Turkana and Pokot.

For centuries, these two groups have thrived in this manner, sporadically engaging in violent conflict, mainly in the form of livestock raiding. In more recent years, however, climate change has multiplied the threat of certain factors that are associated with a rise in conflict between the pastoral groups. The UN Sustainable Development Goals, however, could feature as part of the long–term solution to counter this threat.

Tyson announced additional investment in beyond meat a week ago. With a growing global population, alternative protein sources are no bad thing. What they can't change is that most of the land we use for food production produces grass or other fodders inedible by humans. While plant based proteins could realistically replace some monogastric meat, the role of ruminants in agricultural systems will remain as important as ever.
Kay's Cuts: The New Protein Push
Beef Central | December 4, 2017

Alternative proteins have been in the US marketplace for many years, with primarily soybean–based proteins that mimic meat products such as hamburger patties and sausages. What sets recent developments apart is that science, technology and prominent investors are coming together as never before in a bid to produce lab–produced meats on a large scale.
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