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


Executive Director's Message

Traceability has been appearing more often recently as a topic in the beef press – there are a couple of articles on it below. You may have noted that traceability was also the theme of NIAA's annual conference this year, entitled "Livestock Traceability: Opportunities for Animal Agriculture." There were sessions on traceability and sustainability, as well as in branded programs (see agenda here).

Undoubtedly, there is an important role for traceability in sustainability systems. Ultimately retailers and consumers want to know where product comes from. In livestock there are even more compelling reasons for wanting to be able to trace product than in other value chains for sanitary reasons – the ability to quickly and accurately pinpoint the source of a disease outbreak can make the difference between small local problem and a national economic disaster.

We have seen that the evolution of traceability systems in Brazil has come a long way in a relatively short period, with cattle now being traced to the point of collection by all of the major processors and linked to satellite maps and a database of producers in breach of deforestation or human rights legislation. However, we also saw in our board meeting in Chicago that where there are gaps in the data (i.e. going back to the property on which cattle were born) technology now exists to trace cattle further using movement permits.

That certainly rang alarm bells for me, because it was a use of data for something that it was not originally collected, and we know that producers have justified concerns about the privacy of their data (as we all should). Thus it is clear that the industry itself should be keen to take ownership of the traceability issue, before someone else does.

There are, of course, direct benefits of traceability systems to producers in addition to control of disease outbreaks and food safety mentioned above. A good traceability system will in itself act as an incentive to produce quality – if the chain can identify the source of better animals, they will preferentially seek them out, and the producers of better quality will benefit. Correctly set up, the system should also enable producers to see how their animals perform after leaving the property and adjust management or even genetics if required to better meet market requirements. As the sophistication of information systems increases, more and more data at the level of the individual animal will become available to producers and increase their ability to optimise management.

When extended to exports, traceability can also provide access to markets that would otherwise be unavailable, e.g. Asia and Europe. Naturally where any sort of a claim is being made for a product, there is going to have to be some sort of traceability system to back it up.

On the whole, traceability systems work well at a national level, and the costs tend to increase if they are more localised. Many countries already have national level systems that are capable of meeting multiple needs, and they are evolving all the time. It's important for the whole chain to be involved in the development of these systems, and critical that producers are confident that their data is protected, while the benefits of up and downstream exchange work for them. No doubt we'll be seeing more on this over time, and I'd ask any of you with experience in traceability systems to share stories and information with us.

Thank you.

Ruaraidh Petre
Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
Executive Director

We are inclined to see the world as fixed in the old order of industrialised and developing countries. However, those of you who have read Hans Rosling's book Factfulness will recognise that the world has moved on dramatically. The majority of the world's population now lives in the middle and they are looking to eat meat. But efficiency in meat production has lagged in many of those regions.
The Time to Act Towards Globally Sustainable Livestock Is Now

Wageningen University via Phys.Org | April 6, 2018
The livestock sector is developing rapidly in low and middle–income countries, becoming increasingly global. In the same time, society's expectations regarding the sector are changing rapidly. We therefore need to develop new knowledge to achieve a safer, fair and sustainable livestock sector worldwide and cope effectively with the dual demand for protein–rich foods and sustainability.

This should not surprise our members, but it is good to see recognition of the value of multi–stakeholder initiatives for making progress that actually works.
Waitrose, McDonald's and WWF See Partnerships As Vital For Sustainable Feed
Jane Bryne, Feed Navigator | April 6, 2018
The retailer, fast food company, and NGO took part in an interactive panel debate during a workshop style event, at our conference, Feed Protein Vision 2018, last month. They were asked to explain why sustainable animal feed protein is relevant for the food industry.

The workshop, which included both feed and food industry stakeholders, was led by Simon Billing, principal sustainability advisor at the Forum for the Future, and lead on the Protein Challenge 2040.

While stressing that changing diets is one way to unlock a more sustainable food future, he asked the panel and delegates to reflect on how the food and feed industry could collaborate to help scale the best solutions for sustainable feed to meet ongoing demand for animal protein.

Food waste is not just an issue in America, it is, in fact, fairly global, because although the end consumer wastes the most in wealthier countries, as relative wealth declines waste takes place earlier in the chain, and needs to be urgently addressed all over the world.
The Staggering Environmental Footprint of All the Food That We Just Throw In the Trash  
Chris Mooney, The Washington Post | April 18, 2108
The mass quantities of food Americans waste every year has staggering environmental consequences, according to a study published Wednesday.

"Our data suggest that the average person in the United States wastes about a pound of food per day," said the University of Vermont's Meredith Niles, one of the study's authors, along with researchers at the Department of Agriculture and the University of New Hampshire. That totals about 25 percent of all food, by weight, available for consumption in the United States – or about 30 percent of all available calories, the researchers estimate – a figure that's larger than previous attempts to measure food waste.

The environmental costs of that wasted food are tremendous: 30 million acres of cropland (about the land area of Pennsylvania), 4.2 trillion gallons of water and nearly 2 billion pounds of fertilizer. Fertilizer contains compounds that can run off farm fields and compromise water quality.

Clearly traceability is increasingly being recognised as important to the industry and integral to demonstrating sustainability, and it looks as though blockchain will become a significant part of that.
Blockchain: BASF and arc–net Team Up to Use Trailblazing Technology for Livestock Sustainability  
Food Ingredients 1st | April 18, 2018
The world's largest chemical producer BASF and arc–net are joining forces to use blockchain technology for livestock sustainability. The system captures data to provide an environmental footprint with full transparency and traceability along the entire value chain.

The partnership is just the latest example of how the food industry can harness the power of blockchain technology.

In the future, this project will help consumers make informed choices about the meat they eat via an on–pack unique scannable code, providing information on the product's provenance and environmental footprint.

The point being made here by Susan McDonald is that through proactive involvement in the Beef Sustainability Framework (or Roundtables, where they exist), industry takes the initiative and can preclude over stringent legislation or other negative measures taken by government or buyers..
Why More Beef Producers Need to Get Behind the Sustainability Framework  
Penelope Arthur, North Queensland Register | April 16, 2018
Susan McDonald is the managing director of Super Butcher and a member of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework steering committee.

She said initiatives such as the Beef Sustainability Framework were 'no silver bullet' but did provide proof that the industry had taken leadership on issues around sustainability and animal welfare rather than waiting for governments to legislate.

"Last week has been a reminder that, as an industry, if we don't hold ourselves and the rest of our industry to account on what we believe is best practice, then someone else will do it for us," she said.

Interesting to see Forbes running this article – which I am in agreement with but would not associate with mainstream media.
Going Vegan? Eating Sustainable Beef Can Be Good for the Environment  
Neil Yeoh, Forbes | April 14, 2018
Grazing land makes up one quarter of the Earth's total land mass. Managing these grasslands is vital to our environment, wildlife habitat, livelihoods for farmers and ranchers, as well as food security for the growing global population.

You've probably heard that eating beef is bad for the environment, and if you haven't, there are numerous studies including one indicating that making a quarter pounder produces the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions to driving your car for five miles.

But what many may not know is that when managed properly on the right grasslands, beef production can be regenerative, rather than degenerative – reducing, if not negating environmental impacts.

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Congratulations to JBS for setting ambitious targets.
JBS USA Targets 20% Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions
FoodBev | April 19, 2018
JBS USA has released its 2017 sustainability report which reveals that last year the company cut its water use by 6.2%, natural gas by 6.3%, electricity by 5.2% and greenhouse gas emissions by 7.6%.

The food processor also continued its contributions to local communities last year, highlighted by a $12.5 million investment in Colorado State University to establish the JBS Global Food Innovation Center in Fort Collins.

The announcement comes as JBS USA releases its 2020 sustainability targets which consist of reducing water use by 10%, natural gas use by 20%, electricity use by 12% and greenhouse gas emissions by 20%.

Audits and Blogs: How to Drive Change and Win Over Consumers
Jill Burkhardt, Alberta Farmer | April 16, 2018
On the other hand, Grandin had high praise for Canada's newly launched Certified Sustainable Beef Framework.

"That's way ahead of what other people are doing," she said. "You have all these stakeholders together and talking, you're probably going to set the standard for the world." The next step is to let the world know what you're doing. And that means more than just talking about facts and processes – values matter more than science, she said.

Farmers who blog or have websites detailing what they do are powerful advocates, she added.

"We eat the things we raise on our ranch, and I'm not going to feed my kids something bad," she said. "Those are shared values. I think that's an important take–home message."

How Customer Demand Influences Sustainability Innovations
Joel Makower, GreenBiz | April 16, 2018
"In every market, the biggest environmental concern of McDonald's customers is the packaging that's left over and thrown away," said Keith Kenny, vice president of sustainability at McDonald's.

To tackle widespread waste, McDonald's leaned on its 25–year–partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to help the company improve packaging and reduce trash, both in–house and on products stamped with its brand logo.

"The announcement is a step change in using less packaging that is sourced responsibly and designed to be taken care of after use," he said. "We're working at our restaurants and beyond to encourage recycling in communities."

What Does Sustainability Mean For Beef?  
Sara Place, GreenBiz | April 16, 2018
Sustainability as it relates to food production can be a challenging word for all vested stakeholders to agree upon. After all, everyone is a stakeholder when it comes to food – 100 percent of us are eaters.

That said, broad agreement exists that sustainability encompasses a balance of environmental, social and economic considerations and that sustainability is about long–term focus. The United Nation's definition (PDF) for sustainability is about "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

What does sustainability mean to U.S. beef producers? Formally, it's defined as producing safe and nutritious beef with a commitment to environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic viability. Practically, sustainability to beef farmers and ranchers is about being a caretaker to the animals, the land and waters, being a good neighbor and community member, and maintaining profitability while doing it.

Another article underlining the importance of traceability.
Do You ID Your Calves at the Ranch Of Origin?  
Nevil Speer, BEEF Magazine | Apr 19, 2018
This week's illustration features producer opinion regarding ID at the ranch of origin. Not surprisingly, World Perspectives explains that, "–––large (500–plus head) cattle operations are far more likely than small/medium–sized operations to strongly support identifying animals at the ranch of origin." Much of that sentiment may be that larger operations are more likely to be already participating in some sort of value–added program.

Nevertheless, roughly ¾ of all producers appear to be neutral to supportive regarding ranch–level animal identification.

The Value of Global Perspectives
Dr. Temple Grandin, Meat + Poultry | April 18, 2018
Kim Stackhouse from JBS S.A. and Bill Lovette with Pilgrim's Pride (a unit of JBS), discussed sustainability and how the meat market is changing. One of the problems, according to Stackhouse is, "everybody defines sustainability differently."

One thing everybody can agree on is that environmental issues are not the only sustainability issue. They stated that the top five issues in the meat industry are animal health and welfare, water use, environmental energy issues, employee safety and food safety and product integrity.

The big No. 1 is worker safety and safety for consumers.

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This is interesting; France has a history of protecting nomenclatures, most obviously through the Appellation d'origine contrôlée system. Now they are also extending that protection to names associated with meat products. Fines for transgressing the rule are significant.
France to Ban Use of Meat Terms to Describe Vegetable–based Products  
BBC News | April 20, 2018
Vegetable–based products such as soya steaks or vegetarian sausages marketed as meat substitutes are to be banned in France for "misleading" consumers.

Food producers will no longer be able to use "steak", "sausage" or any other meat term to describe products that are not partly or wholly made up of meat.

The measure will also apply to vegetarian or vegan products marketed as dairy alternatives. Failure to comply will lead to fines of up to €300,000 (£260,000, $365,000).

Ireland expects to develop beef trade starting at over €100 million with China
Irish Plants to Start Trading With China in 'the Very Near Future'  
Louise Hogan, FARM Ireland | April 18, 2018
Ireland is the first European beef exporter to secure access to China, where a growing middle class has helped consumption of beef rise steadily. Meat processors hailed it as an "important breakthrough" after many years of work to access the rapidly growing Chinese beef import market.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said the approval is for frozen boneless beef, but it may be possible to "expand the range of products over time". It has already been flagged that the marketplace could be worth well over €100m even in the early stages.

As mentioned above, traceability is becoming increasingly important, here we see the UK designing a new traceability system for livestock that "will make it simple for farmers, food chain companies and government to reap the benefits of shared data."
New Livestock Monitoring Service to Beef Up Farm to Fork Traceability  
Will Chu, Food Navigator | April 6, 2018
Preparations for the UK's exit from the EU continued with news of a new Livestock Information Service designed to better track livestock movement and aid in total farm to fork traceability.

The service, operational from 2019, was described by UK environment secretary Michael Gove as "instrumental in providing guarantees to consumers about the origin of their food".

"Working hand–in–hand with industry, we will design and implement a service that puts food safety, animal health and welfare and environmental enhancement at its core."

Beef Australia 2018: for the Next Generation, a Whole New Set of Industry Challenges  
Nicola Bell, The Weekly Times | April 19, 2018
The next generation will be well catered for at Beef Australia in Rockhampton next month. One of the flagship events for the younger age group is the Next Generation Forum.

Bryce Camm, Beef Australia's vice chair and Next Generation committee member, said the forum was focused on the next generation and giving them the opportunity to mix with other like–minded people.

"The program of speakers is also about giving and imparting tangible and useful knowledge," Mr Camm said.

The Next Generation Forum kicks off with a networking breakfast, followed by four speakers from different business backgrounds that are still related to beef.

A headline mentioning 2,000 producers may not seem earth shattering. However, we heard from Steve Lacey of AgForce Queensland at our Canberra board meeting. The important point is that those 2,000 producers are managing 69 million acres!
2000 Producers Embrace Online Grazing Management Program 
BEEF Central | April 19, 2018
More than 2000 Queensland grazing businesses managing more than 28 million hectares of land across the state, have taken advantage of an industry–led initiative to help improve the economic, environmental and social sustainability of their grazing enterprise.

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries beef extension officer Matt Brown said the Grazing Best Management Practices (Grazing BMP) program was a free and voluntary online tool that had been delivered in the Fitzroy region since 2009.

The program – funded by the Queensland Government's Department of Environment and Science – was a partnership between DAF, Fitzroy Basin Association (FBA) and AgForce that enables producers to self–assess their management practices and identify opportunities to improve business performance, Mr Brown said.

Grass is of course the foundation of the beef industry; and it goes without saying that managing this resource is central to generating returns.
Beef Up Returns With Well–Managed Grassland  
Farmers Guardian | April 10, 2018
Grass is one of the biggest resources beef producers have, yet it is often overlooked and, as a result, underperforms. And with bought–in feed representing one of the biggest costs on many beef farms, there is huge potential to improve farm profitability.

Tony Jackson, of Kite Consulting, says: "If we can improve the performance of forage, we can certainly improve the profitability of the farm."

I like this blog – I guess the author resents the word "sustainable", and may assume that all producers are doing what he has done. But he makes it clear that he has always been open to innovations and improvements. It may feel that the operation has not changed over the generations and certainly many of the parameters have remained the same. But in the meantime there has been innovation and indeed the family has endured and proved that their approach has been sustainable over three generations.
Life Is Simple: After Three Generations, I Think I've Found My Niche  
Jerry Crownover, Ozark County Times | April 19, 2018
Basically, I raise beef cattle the same way my father did, which was pretty much the same way his father did. My cows calve in early spring, and we castrate, vaccinate and brand in late spring. The calves suckle their mother most of the summer while both graze on grass, and I sell them at a livestock auction barn in the fall before the yearly cycle begins again. I don't get rich, but most years I earn enough to stay in business – and I love what I do.

Oh, sure, I've adopted easier ways to do things than my predecessors; I have bigger tractors, fancier trucks and nicer cattle–handling equipment, all to make it easier on me and the animals. But it's still the same basic operation. Through the years, I've tried lots of different approaches to producing steaks and hamburgers.

I've dabbled in synchronized artificial insemination, embryo transfer, newer breeds of cattle and staggered calving times. I've tried creep–feeding, weaning and pre–conditioning, different types of vaccines and minerals, every method of fly control available and contract marketing. My cattle have sampled every brand and kind of feed, medicine, de–wormer and mineral supplement in the world and yet, all these years later, I find myself raising cattle much like we did 60 years ago.

The breeds represented in my cow herd and bull battery represent the same three breeds that dominated the beef industry a hundred years earlier. They eat grass in the summer and hay in the winter and only get grain, in the form of range cubes, to bait them into the corral when I need to catch one. My cows have numbered ear tags instead of a metal number dangling from a neck chain, and a few still have nicknames like "Short–Ears," "Black–Eyes" or "Short–Tail." But it's still the same basic operation. So, do I have a niche?

I think I do. "Sustainable Beef: Just like Grandpa's."

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