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


Executive Director's Message

I was in Malawi this week for a meeting with participants from seven southern African nations, and the outcome was the launch of the Southern Africa Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. Delegates from the seven countries signed a letter of commitment to form the roundtable and elected an interim President, Hussein Jakhura, Vice President, Amanda Thorburn and Treasurer Sikhalazo Dube.

Congratulations to all of those who have participated in the process in their own countries and at the regional level. Being a regional roundtable does add an additional layer of complexity, but the focus for the time being is to get the regional structure up and running with participants from throughout the region.

As time goes on it will become clear whether formal national initiatives in each country will be formed. Solidaridad has agreed to provide the secretariat function for the first two years, based in Lusaka, Zambia. The members have expressed their desire to hire a dedicated executive director to lead and coordinate activities.

It is hoped that the roundtable will be ready to join GRSB as a provisional member in the near future and will work towards full membership in the Roundtable constituency over the course of this year. As Southern Africa is quite different from our other national and regional members we can expect that the nature of the roundtable will be somewhat different. The basis of production in Southern Africa is still smallholder farmers, though there are commercial operations as well.

We can expect a lot of the focus of the regional roundtable to be on building the capacity and efficiency of the smallholder sector in meeting market requirements, to increase their income and livelihoods and meet regional demand for animal protein in an environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable manner.


Ruaraidh Petre
Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
Executive Director
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It's interesting to read the following two articles side by side. Combined they do make it clear that there are several factors that need to be considered, and possibly question whether the trend towards large cattle may have passed the point of inflection in terms of overall industry benefit.
Why Push a Chain Up a Hill?
Kris Ringwall, Tri–State Livestock News | January 25, 2018
Think about it: Producers depend on the annual plant cycle, a cycle one cannot change, to grow and produce beef. Plants have a growing season set by forces cattle producers do not control. When producers understand the development of a sustainable forage and plant world, they integrate beef production into that system.

Too often, and to the detriment of the beef production system, the beef cow plan is laid out first, leaving forage and plant production to a later discussion. The beef–first, plants–later philosophy increases demand for hay and other processed feed and increased equipment needs to haul in inputs and haul out waste.

What Are Big Carcasses Doing to The Future of the Beef Industry?
H. Russell Cross, BEEF Magazine | January 26, 2018
Over the past several decades, the genetic direction of the nation's cowherd has been driving us to bigger and bigger cattle. That, in turn, drives bigger and bigger fed cattle carcasses. While that may be an economic reality for the production end of the marketing chain, it creates an alarming and difficult situation for beef marketers.

In 2016, the Texas Beef Council commissioned a study at Texas A&M University to analyze the potential impact of the increase in size/weight of cattle, carcasses, subprimal cuts and retail cuts/portions on supermarket operators, purveyors and distributors in Texas. During this study, researchers interviewed representatives of six supermarket chains and seven purveyor/distributors; we conducted audits of 54 supermarkets; and we conferred with individuals from several industry trade organizations and other universities.

What I personally observed and learned during this study disturbed me greatly.

How to Do Sustainability on a Beef Farm  
Dr Phil Holmes, North Queensland Register | February 7, 2018
If having a multi–generational farm business is your objective, the business absolutely must be sustainable, otherwise the kids will be handed a sentence rather than an asset. A major advance was made in 2005 with respect to the thinking on sustainable Australian agriculture, when various forms of capital were described by Chris Cocklin and Jacqui Dibden. Those two forms are 'natural' (the health of the farm environment at paddock level), and 'produced' (the financial health of the farm business as a result of how well it is managed).

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Sustainability a Focus for Beef Supply Chain
Carrie Muehling, AgWired | February 5, 2018
"Sustainability, as defined by NCBA, is about producing safe and nutritious beef with economic viability, environmental stewardship and social responsibility," said Dr. Sara Place, Sr. Director, Sustainable Beef Production Research at NCBA. Place said consumers often have misconceptions about things like greenhouse gas emissions when it comes to beef production. One way the industry is working toward better educating and communicating with all members of the beef supply chain, as well as consumers, is through the formation of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

NCBA Sr. Director of Sustainability Ashley McDonald said the Roundtable is clarifying things across the industry when it comes to sustainability. "Everybody has made a commitment that they understand that they have an impact and that we have challenges and every sector is responsible for addressing concerns in their sector," said McDonald.

In this article, a US/ Israeli study is mentioned that makes the claim that Beef has a larger environmental footprint than pork or poultry. That is extrapolated from global data, but this study published last year by a number of international authors with FAO and the World Bank challenges that perception by pointing out that cattle produce more protein per kg of human edible protein consumed than either pigs or poultry.
Bridges Cover: The Man Behind an Economic Game-Changer for Saskatchewan
Jenn Sharp, Saskatoon Star Phoenix | January 26, 2018
A 2014 study by U.S. and Israeli researchers found beef has the largest environmental impact compared to pork or poultry.

Cattle require more resources to produce a kilogram of protein than smaller, faster–growing animals.

After that study was released, Canadian cattle producers formed the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. Based in Calgary, the CRSB's goal is to support sustainability in the Canadian beef industry. Last year, the Certified Sustainable Beef Framework was announced — a world first. It's a voluntary program for producers.

"We know that consumers want to know more about where their food comes from and how it was raised, and that Canadian farmers and ranchers want to better communicate with them. The framework is one tool that will enable stronger communication between these two parties while at the same time recognizing and advancing sustainable agricultural operations in Canada," says Cherie Copithorne–Barnes, chair of the CRSB.

Cargill Funds Project That Uses Food to Fight Inequality
Oscar Rousseau, Global Meat News | January 26, 2018
Cargill has entered into a three–year joint venture with the Brazilian pioneers of the Social Gastronomy Movement, Gastromotiva, to globalise its effort to drive social and economic change.

Given the article I mentioned above that calculates that because of ruminants use of grass, beef requires less human edible feed than pork or poultry, we would expect to see an acknowledgement by the "feed behind our Food" group of the important and unique role that ruminants play in converting inedible roughage to valuable protein, and the need for sustainable management of grasslands and grazing.
Food Industry Report Calls For Change In Livestock Feeding   
ESM – The European Supermarket Magazine | February 3, 2018
A new industry report is calling for a transformation in how livestock are fed, highlighting its impact on environmental health and food security.

The Feed Behind Our Food has been published by a group of leading companies from the retail and food industry, including Waitrose, Ahold Delhaize, Target, Nestlé and Hershey. The report calls for increased scrutiny, noting that animal feed production is projected to grow exponentially to meet future demand.

"It will be very challenging to meet the future demands for livestock and farmed fish products in sustainable ways without transforming the way we produce animal feed," said Sandra Vijn, a director of the WWF's food programme.

"Food and feed companies alike need to recognise the risks and opportunities this presents to their businesses and work together to achieve this transformation. This report serves as a guide for how they can begin to do that," Vijn added.

New Research Will Help Beef Industry Increase Sustainability  
University of Arkansas Newswire | February 5, 2018
Researchers at the University of Arkansas are conducting a lifecycle analysis of the beef industry—an in–depth look at all the factors that go into producing beef products — in order to identify ways the industry can increase sustainability and to assess how much the industry has improved over the past decade.

"Beef production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions," said Marty Matlock, executive director of the University of Arkansas Office for Sustainability. "Increasing the sustainability of this process could have a significant impact on climate change."

The research team includes Matlock, professor of biological and agricultural engineering; Jennie Popp, associate dean of the Honors College and professor of agricultural economics and agricultural business; and Greg Thoma, professor of chemical engineering. They are working with the National Cattleman's Beef Association and the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef to analyze production practice impacts and develop recommendations to improve sustainability.

Sustainability Depends on Viewpoint  
Poultry World | February 5, 2018
The fact that social consensus about the poultry sector is not always based on rational arguments doesn't make discussing sustainability of the poultry sector any easier.

"Sustainability is a catch–all term. Dividing it up into three categories makes it a lot more intelligible. There is economic, social and environmental sustainability," says Ellis Draaijer. 'She is senior technical consultant poultry Benelux at Elanco Animal Health. "In the Netherlands a lot of pressure was put on the social side. This resulted in several types of concept chickens for the domestic market.

"The economic sustainability of these concept chickens seems to be quite good for now. It is a huge accomplishment that a large part of the poultry sector has made the transition to another approach in a few years' time. But in terms of environmental sustainability concept chickens score less well than regular chicken," Draaijer states.
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CAAB Brand Draws to Close, As Company–Backed Beef Brands Mature
Beef Central | February 5, 2018
In recognition of the evolution of company–based branded beef programs in Australia, the well–known Certified Australian Angus Beef brand program has drawn to a close, having fulfilled its commercial purpose.

I have seen a number of livestock people, farmers, ranchers and those who support the industry in one or another way getting embroiled in unpleasant discussions with fanatic vegans recently. The feeling that I am usually left with is that these exchanges are unlikely to result in any change.

After all, the vegans have made their mind up and nothing that we can say is going to change them, and on the other hand, the entire ag industry, and the majority of the people who read the exchange don't accept what the vegans are saying in the first place.

Remember, the beef industry is expanding; demand is increasing worldwide and so is supply. Maybe we could reduce our own stress levels by focusing on the people who do want our animal proteins and helping them understand and share the information that we are compassionate about animals, do care about the environment and are working to make the global industry sustainable.

A Letter to My Critics: Ranching Is Based on Compassion
Amanda Radke, Beef Magazine | January 23, 2018
It detailed the large investments these individuals have made in clean meats, plant–based proteins, vegan clothing lines and other companies that are based on elitist ideologies and the misguided notion that beef production is not sustainable. It wasn't surprising to have my email inbox fill with hate mail.

These activists and individuals don't want cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry to live freely in nature as they claim; they want them to cease to exist. They don't want these animals to nourish human lives; they think a bundle of kale and a spoonful of almond butter will help feed the world's impoverished. They don't want lifesaving by–products that livestock provide like insulin for diabetics or heart valves for replacement surgeries. They believe we can synthetically create alternatives for all of these things. And they don't value human life.

EU Trade Offer to South America 'Completely Unacceptable' for UK Beef Farmers  
Farming UK | February 3, 2018
An attempt by the European Union to increase their beef trade offer to 99,000 tonnes from South American countries has been branded "completely unacceptable".

The Latin American trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, is currently in talks with a trade agreement with the EU.

But UK farmers have blasted the talks, who say that the South American countries do not come close to matching the food safety, animal welfare or environmental standards which farmers comply with in the UK and across Europe.

They fear that the big increase in the amount offered by the EU from Mercosur countries with lower welfare standards could put their their livelihoods at stake.

AAP Govt Defends Law Criminalising Consumption of Beef
The Beef Site | February 5, 2018
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, English: Common Man's Party) government on Monday defended in the Delhi High Court a law criminalising possession and consumption of beef in the national capital, saying the state was obligated under the Constitution to protect cows and other milch and draught animals from slaughter.

For those interested in, or even struggling with, understanding the Carbon Flows concept, I recommend Alan Lauder's Blog. You can find the whole series here.
What Really Is Paddock Resilience?
Alan Lauder, Soils for Life | February 2, 2018
The traditional definition of resilience is a paddock that is functional and able to withstand adverse conditions.

For those seeking tangible evidence of when resilience exists, it is the ability of a paddock to generate carbon flows from rain i.e. how well the pasture responds to rain. Perhaps the best test of resilience is the ability of paddocks to respond to isolated small falls of rain during a dry period.

A paddock that has the capacity to successfully produce carbon flows is one that is also well equipped to better withstand extreme events, be they drought, heat or heavy rain.

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