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


Executive Director's Message

I have included several articles from Australia in this edition of Connect, largely because Beef week, held in Rockhampton, QLD is always a source of stories on the industry in Australia. This year, GRSB President, Nicole Johnson Hoffman was there, and made a very well received presentation, recognising the great progress made by the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework.

We should not overlook the USRSB annual meeting at which the US Beef Sustainability Framework was released for public comment. As the means of delivering on GRSB's principles and criteria in the US, we are delighted with this progress and would urge members to read and comment on it. The framework includes metrics for Cow Calf production, Auction markets, Feedyards, Packers and Processors and Retail and Food Service, and includes sustainability assessment guides that enable operators to assess their business and identify options for improvement.

It's a different approach than taken in other countries, and that is as it should be. The reason that GRSB evolved to be a network of roundtables working together was that from the beginning it was recognised that solutions to issues were going to be different around the world, and they have to be developed by the industry in each country in ways that work for the stakeholders involved.

Thank you.

Ruaraidh Petre
Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
Executive Director
  Welcome to the Table...
  Desarrollo Agrícola del Paraguay S.A
Dateline: May 2018  |  Constituency: Producer
DAP S.A is a company that operates in the agricultural sector since the end of 2005 in Paraguay mainly in the fields of soybeans and corn with a strong social and environmental component in its operations. Operations are based upon a triple bottom line, operating primarily in accordance with the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) guidelines and Performance Standards of one of the members of the World Bank (International Finance Corporation), the latter being the DAP’s shareholder company. DAP is currently in the early stages of a livestock project in the Department of San Pedro with 2,500 animals which is being developed from its beginnings under a sustainable business approach.


It's good to see a government minister coming out and saying this. We see so many stories promoted by anti meat lobbyists that it is important to remember that despite the constant exposure the public has to their messages, the public must be reminded that healthy farming systems and diets need to include livestock.
Meat Is Crucial In Balanced Diet, Gove Tells Farmers
Farmers Weekly | April 30, 2018
Michael Gove has defended livestock farmers under fire from vegans and vegetarians by insisting eating meat is crucial as part of a balanced diet.

Patrick Holden, chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, said it was "heartening" to hear Mr Gove recognise that livestock will play a central role in sustainable farming systems in the future.

Mr Holden said the industry was at a "tipping point" of a major–scale transition to mixed farming, reintegrating food production with nature conservation and rebuilding soil fertility and biodiversity through a mainstream switch to sustainable food systems.

This is really interesting information for producers; while the level of monitoring that is required to produce these results (see here) is not an option on a regular farm or ranch, the lessons about the importance of soil health to production are, and management options to improve soil health can adopted.
Soil Health in the Spotlight
Terri Dougan, Farm Week | May 5, 2018
Soil health contributes to animal growth rate and well–designed grazing is the key, British scientists say, with research showing the value of sustainable production.

A study by Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire evaluating how efficiently nutrients are used on a livestock farm on a field–by–field basis for the first time, finds individual pastures yield surprisingly dissimilar benefits to a farm's overall agricultural income.

The study finds the differences are most likely attributable to the varying levels of "soil health" provided by its grazing livestock.

Here's a practical example of someone adopting management strategies (on a relatively small scale) to manage for soil health – regular testing being part of the process.
How to Develop a Master Grazier  
Barbara Duckworth, Western Producer | May 3, 2018
Southern Cross has an environmental farm plan and a verified beef plus program and he sits on the Canadian Round Table for Sustainable Beef. He also participated in the McDonald's pilot project to test the sustainable beef program.

The family earns a living from the land, but he sees the management in broader terms. "I am doing it for my own good and the future of my two daughters," he said. "I am trying to make the soil better, and our costs will be cheaper."

Anything that can reduce overlap, number of audits and duplication of effort in sustainability initiatives must be a good thing.
CGF Programme to Benchmark Sustainability Standards  
Joseph James Whitworth, Food Navigator | April 27, 2018
The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) has created a programme to benchmark and recognise sustainability standards.

The initiative is co–sponsored by the CEOs of Marks & Spencer and Unilever and under the leadership of a steering committee, co–chaired by Ahold Delhaize and Nestlé. SSCI will not create another social compliance standard and suppliers cannot be audited directly against the criteria.

Technology has a role to play in animal welfare as well as efficiency, both important elements of sustainable production. While the examples here concern mostly intensive production systems, there are already technologies that can be use in more extensive scenarios such as sensors (Fitbits for cattle), virtual fences (see article lower down) drones and unmanned vehicles.
The Importance of Animal Welfare: European Precision and Sustainable Livestock Farming
Open Access Government | April 27, 2018
Animal welfare is important from an ethical viewpoint and to realise a more efficient livestock sector. We need a more efficient production: more animal product for less feed input, less manure and fewer emissions.

For over 40 years, the European Commission has been promoting animal welfare by gradually improving the lives of farm animals. The development of welfare assessment schemes is a long journey – with difficult balancing between practical constraints against scientific validity and reliability. The practical implementation of a feasible, affordable and common way to assess or measure animal welfare in the field seems to be even more difficult.

The following step is the so–called Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) technology.

Beef Industry Says Its Evolving to Meet Customer Expectations  
Kallee Buchanan, ABC Online | May 10, 2018
Are your expectations about knowing where your food comes from and whether its produced ethically and sustainably being met?

The beef industry says its keenly aware of changing consumer expectations, and its taking every opportunity to demonstrate that producers are seriously addressing the questions people have.

Watch the 4:02 video interview HERE

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A very positive review of GRSB president Nicole Johnson Hoffman's presentation at Beef week in Australia last week!
Beef 2018: Global Leader Praises Australia's Beef Sustainability Programs

James Nason, BEEF Central | May 8, 2018
The Australian beef industry's commitment to sustainability has received a ringing endorsement as world leading from one of the global food industry's most senior sustainability experts.

Chicago–based Nicole Johnson–Hoffman is the chief sustainability officer of OSI International Foods, which produces a range of food products for some of the leading global fast food, food service and retail brands, including beef patties to McDonald's.

In January this year she was elected as President of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. In an address to Australian cattle producers at Beef 2018 in Rockhampton on Monday, Ms Johnson–Hoffman said Australia was at the forefront of global beef sustainability. What set Australia's beef industry apart was the fact its sustainability programs had been "farmer–led".

Ms Johnson–Hoffman said when she heard presentations on AgForce's Grazing Best Management Practice (BMP) program and the Australian Framework for Sustainable Beef at an event in Canberra last year, she thought the progress Australia had made was "jaw–dropping".

Transparency is key to gaining trust, and collecting and sharing information along the supply chain can drive positive change in many ways. The sustainability project is a good example of collaboration in the chain to drive improvement.
Telling the Beef Production Chain Story To McDonald's Execs And Franchise Owners
Rachel Spencer Gabel, The Fence Post | April 30, 2018
The Beef Marketing Group, a cooperative of 18 cattle feeders in Kansas and Nebraska, works together to market cattle with a focus on value– added programs and earning cattle producers premiums for their product.

Always end–user focused, the group invests time in listening to consumers to best tailor their products to consumer demand, ultimately better serving each stop along the production chain.

To that end, all 18 cooperative yards participate in Progressive Beef, a third–party verification program. It is the cooperative's involvement in Progressive Beef, and also in the Sustainability Project, that led Heather Donley to Orlando, Fla., to talk beef with an international gathering of McDonald's executives and franchise owners.

This is a landmark moment for USRSB as their sustainability framework goes to public comment – congratulations! While the article is somewhat restrained in terms of celebrating this achievement, we should recognise the enormous amount of hard work that has gone into the development of the framework, and the delicate balance that has to be struck to effectively involve the diverse stakeholders that make up the beef value chain.
Sustainable Beef Group Seeks Public Comment  
Carrie Stadheim, Tri–State Livestock News | May 10, 2018
The U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef released a draft "sustainability framework" and hopes ranchers will take the time to comment on it.

According to USRSB secretary/treasurer, White City, Kansas, rancher Debbie Lyons–Blythe, the framework, which is a draft outline of what will become a questionnaire, is a work in progress. The questionnaire will be housed on their website and will provide a method for ranchers, feeders, processors, retailers and anyone else involved in beef production to assess the sustainability of their own operations.

View report HERE.

This gives an overview of sustainability initiatives with an emphasis on North America including some of our own members, CRSB, USRSB, Savory Institute and Rainforest Alliance. It is written by Jonathan Gelbard, who developed the Grassland's alliance standard.

While he highlights the potential confusion of so many initiatives, I think we should also recognise the convergence in the way the initiatives are approaching sustainability, and the power of the roundtable movement to bring initiatives together, so that while the number of systems out there may remain high, equivalence and collaboration systems will simplify the picture for both producers and end consumers.

What's Really Green – A Look at Beef, Part V – How Can You Prove It? (ie, Filter Out the Bull)

Jonathan Gelbard, Ph.D., Triple Pundit (blog) | May 10, 2018
Several frameworks backed by the beef industry offer more or less comprehensive definitions of "sustainable" beef, guided by the Principles and Criteria of the Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef. The Canadian Roundtable on Sustainable Beef recently released a certification standard that is broad in scope, offering criteria in the principle areas of Natural Resources, People and the Community, Animal Health and Welfare, Food, and Efficiency and Innovation.

Our members are involved in many sectors beyond beef, here, Rainforest Alliance, a GRSB member is recognising the role that McDonald's plays both in beef sustainability and other aspects of sustainability in their supply chains and restaurants.
Rainforest Alliance Celebrates Conservation Leadership Through Innovative Partnerships
PR Web (press release) | May 8, 2018
For more than three decades, the Rainforest Alliance has been a leader in the global effort to transform agricultural and forestry supply chains, motivated by the need to stop deforestation, conserve biodiversity, and create a more sustainable future. Now in its thirty–first year, the Rainforest Alliance is pleased to recognize and celebrate the partnerships that have made its legacy of past success possible: the farmers, forest communities, governments, scientists, fellow NGOs, and companies large and small.

McDonald's: The global restaurant chain was a founding board member of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, which is working with beef producers to proactively identify, share and scale the industry's most sustainable practices McDonald's is the first restaurant company to set an approved Science Based Target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. McDonald's is truly changing the conversation on sustainability, using its reach to drive entire industries to change while working to continuously improve its own practices in alliance with multiple stakeholders.

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The beef industry needs to constantly engage on the issues of public trust and shared values. There is no doubt that consumers still enjoy beef, but they are constantly exposed to mixed messages about the impact of the industry in all areas covered by our principles and criteria, that can cause them to question whether the industry is doing things responsibly.

Telling people that it's okay is one thing, showing them why it is, or how it is being improved is much more convincing. Again technology can bring consumers closer to producers and let them see how things work. Lower on the page under "tech already in the paddock" you can read about virtual fencing. Depending on where you produce, fencing can be a major cost both in infrastructure and labour – some properties in Australia are measured in thousands of square km or miles. Any technology that could improve grazing management without huge investment in fencing would be very welcome.

Beef Australia 2018: Industry Uses Virtual Reality to Address Consumer Concerns About Environment and Animal Welfare  
Kallee Buchanan, ABC Local | May 10, 2018
Beef producers are using innovation to address rising pressures from environmental and animal activists about how the industry operates.

The growing demand for transparency and ethically, socially and environmentally sustainable food has been one of the topics up for discussion at Beef Australia 2018, the industry's biggest expo.

Meat and Livestock Australia, a producer–owned red meat industry research, development and marketing organisation, has used virtual reality to try to educate consumers about the supply chain.The virtual reality experience follows an animal on a cattle station being moved into a feedlot and on to processing at an abattoir before landing on the plate in a restaurant. Community programs manager Fiona Young said the virtual 'paddock to plate' experience had proven an effective way to address misconceptions about the industry.

India is a very large (in some years the largest) beef exporter – albeit predominantly buffalo meat. The fact that FMD is still widespread and endemic is a major obstacle to the development of that export market and increasing its value. The article mentions a figure of 3500 crore rupees required to eradicate the disease from the country – that translates into roughly USD 520 million.
India Banks On Animal Health Survey by World Body Experts to Beef Up Meat Exports  
NYOOOZ, Hindustan Times | April 30, 2018
The ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) and the ministry of animal husbandry are working with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) for the survey.

OIE has taken up survey on quality of veterinary services in more than 130 countries.

"The central government needs an investment of Rs 3500 crore to make our country free from FMD," said Fauzan Alavi, spokesperson of the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association.

"The programme helps establish niche services and quality of meat as per international standards," said Sussane Munnstermann, an expert from OIE who reviewed veterinary services in Dehradun–based Wildlife Institute of India.

Another example of how technology could monitor aspects of sustainability – in this case using tail hair samples to gain better understanding of welfare. I won't pretend to understand exactly how that would work in practice, since the data would always be historical, and it would be hard to distinguish the cause of stress measured in the hair sample. However, if cattle from particular sources show consistently higher levels of stress than other samples in a similar environment, it would at least provide an alert that causes of stress need to be looked into.
Consortium Aims to Put Evidence Behind Cattle Welfare Claims  
James Nason, Beef Central | May 11, 2018
Tail–hair tests could soon be used on Australian cattle properties to objectively measure and assess the welfare of cattle, under a new national research consortium launched at Beef 2018 on Thursday.

The tests are one of a suite of biomarkers the new national research centre will explore to provide objective assessments of animal welfare to support the Australian beef industry's sustainability claims.

Dr. Allen Tillbrook said the Australian Framework for Sustainable Beef recognised the importance of industry being able to provide honest feedback on its progress toward sustainability, and to do that it needed objective measures.

The positive example of Nuffield scholars such as Stewart Borg are one of the reasons that we are aiming to profile young sustainability leaders in our Global Conference in October. The open and transparent attitude displayed by many will pay dividends in the long run.
Open Your Gates to the Public, Says Young Beef Ambassador  
Shan Goodwin, Queensland Country Life | May 11, 2018
Third generation beef producer Stewart Borg believes it's time farmers, lotfeeders and processors open their gates to the general public and both show and talk more about what they do on a day–to–do basis.

Inaccurate perceptions around environmental stewardship and animal welfare need to be rectified if the beef industry is to have a future, he says, and those on the ground are the only ones who can do it.

"We are leading the way worldwide in best management practices and sustainable beef production but the people who count most, consumers, don't know it," he said.

This is an impressive story of a rancher who has recognised important issues that need solving (Bovine Respiratory Disease amongst others) and has invested a significant amount of money to find solutions that will benefit the entire industry.
Rancher Donates $2 Million to Take Beef Industry Where It 'Needs to Go'  
Alexis Kienlen, Alberta Express | May 8, 2018
The cattle sector has made big advances in livestock health and wellness, but needs to do more, says a rancher who donated $2 million for a new research chair to make that happen.

"This has nothing to do with bad treatment of animals — it has to do with better treatment, better protocol, better records, and better looking after of the animals so when they get to market, they will be better for people to eat," said John Simpson, who operates Simpson Ranching near Cochrane with his daughter Christie and son Luke.

"The industry has moved to an industry that wants to know what kind of upbringing the animals have had, what kind of feed they've had and what kind of drugs they've had, if any."

Meat Substitutes Take on Meat Industry   
Sara Muirhead, Feedstuffs | April 26, 2018
Meat protein is still king. In fact, there is little indication that consumers are, or will be, turning away from meat protein anytime soon.

Still, meat substitutes potentially are on the verge of creating a global market disruption.

It is a disruption that, if significant in scope, could dramatically change food companies such as Tyson Foods, Pilgrim's Pride and Sanderson Farms, which rely on meat products for 80% or more of their revenue. Such a disruption could even, at some point, upend all parts of the meat production process, from farm to fork.

I included a reference and link to the NCBA report on U.S. Beef Cattle Identification and Traceability Systems in a previous connect. This article is a succinct summary of the issue, and recognises the work being done by NIAA with the Cattle Traceability Working Group.
Wishful Thinking Never the Answer  
Dr. Nevil Speer, Feedstuffs | April 20, 2018
The consultant group World Perspectives recently published a comprehensive review on behalf of the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn.: U.S. Beef Cattle Identification and Traceability Systems.

The report highlights the following: "In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, beef industry animal identification and traceability systems are the norm. However, despite being a globally recognized leader in all points of the beef value chain, the U.S. currently does not have robust, nationally significant animal identification and traceability system(s) in place for its domestic beef industry. This may be hampering the industry's effort, at all points along the value chain, to capture maximum value from:

  • Enhanced domestic consumer confidence and ever–changing demand drivers;
  • Growing global protein demand in new markets, and continued opportunities to differentiate U.S. supply in existing markets, and
  • The ability to better manage, and cushion the shock of, animal disease outbreaks."
Those are key points addressing "why" traceability needs to continually evolve.
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