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


Executive Director's Message

I apologise for the lack of news over the past few weeks. I am in the process of moving myself and family from the Netherlands to New Zealand. At the end of July our house in the Netherlands was packed up and everything loaded into a container, only to be seen again in October in New Zealand.

We are excited about the opportunities that living in New Zealand will bring our family as well as the challenges there will be. I am also keen to be involved in helping with the establishment of the New Zealand Roundtable, which is under formation. The difference in time zones will no doubt bring its own challenges, though a global role always has those.

The fact that technology facilitates the existence of such global initiatives is really brought home to me when communications are less than perfect, which they have been for me over the past couple of weeks. We are heavily reliant on good internet and telephone connections and life becomes a good deal more difficult when they are not available. This is a metaphor for all of sustainability; where access to information and the ability to invest is constrained, things are unlikely to change. I have talked often in the past about the importance of investing in lower income countries where both cattle numbers and human population are expanding most rapidly.

Unfortunately those same countries frequently have lower exposure to the most productive management systems and the least ability to invest in improving practices, and so the expansion of the herds often has a larger impact than it needs to have. It has been shown that regenerative practices such as AMP grazing and holistic management can increase the carrying capacity of the land while improving soil quality and reducing environmental impact. Fortunately, there are practitioners of these systems all over the world and we have opportunities to visit them in the coming months – once on 12th September in Mississippi, and then again to Lees Valley station coinciding with our board meeting in New Zealand in November (further details soon). If you would like to participate in either, please let me know.

We should not forget the important roles that livestock have beyond the simple provision of primary products: meat, milk and hides. In many lower income countries they still provide draught power for cultivation and the role of manure is crucial in farming systems everywhere. Ruminants in particular upcycle nutrients from land that would otherwise not be able to produce human food, In maintaining healthy grasslands, they also play a critical role in the water cycle; healthy soils rich in organic matter absorb more water during heavy rainfall events and store it longer into dry periods thus reducing both flooding and drought.

The other side of the multiple contributions that livestock make is that sustainability is not only about the environment. While environmental sustainability is an essential leg to the sustainability stool, we cannot ignore the equally important social and economic angles — because they are all interrelated — the three cannot exist without each other.

Silvo pastoral systems have huge potential to recover degraded lands in the tropics, and produce more human food as well as a range of timber and other by products from land that currently produces little. Investment is urgently required to increase uptake of silvopastoral and agroforestry systems around the world. They can deliver multiple benefits in the tropics and subtropics, which include many lower income countries where there are significant areas of degraded land. This video shows an example from Colombia.

Check our Library for more sustainability communications; and read this article written from the perspective of a cow as an example of clear communications on climate change.

Ruaraidh Petre
Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
Executive Director

Canadian Beef Industry Conference


Alberta Beef Producers Say They're Ahead of the Curve as Consumers Look For Sustainable Meat
CBC News, Canada | August 15, 20199
Calls to consume less meat to protect the environment have some ranchers in Alberta turning their focus to more sustainable meat production.

It's one of the big topics in Calgary this week at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference.

But it's not really a new idea. Rancher Colleen Biggs says her operation, TK Ranch just east of Calgary, has operated sustainably for generations. "We use cattle as a tool to graze the grasslands to keep them healthy. In turn, the grasslands act as a carbon sink — they actually sequester 80 tonnes of carbon per hectare, which is 25 per cent more than cropland — and they act as biodiverse ecosystems for many, many endangered and threatened species," she said.

"We have been direct marketing our own grass–finished beef for over 25 years and we interface with consumers on a daily basis and what we've done is really address their concerns around the environment, animal welfare, sustainability and quality."

Harvey's Partners with the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
The Sault Star | August 13, 2019
Harvey's Restaurants has partnered with the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) and is now sourcing a portion of its beef for their Original Burger according to CRSB's sustainability standards.

IPCC Report

On Climate Change & Cattle Production
Cat Urbigkit, Cowboy State Daily | August 12, 2019
The latest report coming from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is focused on climate change and land, but something must have been garbled in the translation from Geneva because much of the U.S.–media translation emphasized that people should eat less beef and quit wasting so much food. That unfortunate result comes from reporters unwilling to make the time and effort to read the report itself, which – at hundreds of pages and still in draft form – makes for an interesting but not–pleasant task.

The report has some important findings, such as this: "Policies that operate across the food system, including those that reduce food loss and waste and influence dietary choices, enable more sustainable land–use management, enhanced food security and low emissions trajectories. Such policies can contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation, reduce land degradation, desertification and poverty as well as improve public health.

The adoption of sustainable land management and poverty eradication can be enabled by improving access to markets, securing land tenure, factoring environmental costs into food, making payments for ecosystem services, and enhancing local and community collective action."

But that's not what made the headlines last week.

UN Climate Change Report Present Commercial Opportunities for Sustainable Meat: Farmer
Oliver Morrison, Food Navigator | August 8, 2019
Do misleading headlines about the UN's latest climate change report risk the wrong response from the food industry?

China Demand for NZ Beef

Growing Chinese Demand Boosts New Zealand Beef Outlook – Rabobank
Voxy.co.nz | August 9, 2019
Continuing strong growth in Chinese demand for New Zealand beef is set support solid returns for the nation's beef producers over the coming year, according to Rabobank sustainability and animal proteins analyst, Blake Holgate.

Speaking on a recently–released podcast New Zealand Beef – Mid–year Outlook, Mr Holgate said beef prices were now in line with the previous season and the pricing outlook for the next 12 months was encouraging.

"Strong global beef supplies saw early season prices for New Zealand beef come under pressure, however, since then, very strong demand from China, a significant recovery in US imported beef prices and slowing domestic supplies has culminated in a healthy price recovery to a point that is largely in line with last year's pricing levels," he said.

"With demand out of China and the US set to remain firm and the NZD/USD exchange rate favourable for New Zealand exporters, we'd expect there to be some upside to pricing in the remainder of the season and for schedule prices to at least match last year's highs."


Journal Articles of Interest


Ideas and Perspectives: Is Shale Gas A Major Driver Of Recent Increase In Global Atmospheric Methane?
Robert W. Howarth, Biogeosciences | August 14, 2019
Methane has been rising rapidly in the atmosphere over the past decade, contributing to global climate change. Unlike the late 20th century when the rise in atmospheric methane was accompanied by an enrichment in the heavier carbon stable isotope (13C) of methane, methane in recent years has become more depleted in 13C.

This depletion has been widely interpreted as indicating a primarily biogenic source for the increased methane. Here we show that part of the change may instead be associated with emissions from shale–gas and shale–oil development. Previous studies have not explicitly considered shale gas, even though most of the increase in natural gas production globally over the past decade is from shale gas. The methane in shale gas is somewhat depleted in 13C relative to conventional natural gas.

Correcting earlier analyses for this difference, we conclude that shale–gas production in North America over the past decade may have contributed more than half of all of the increased emissions from fossil fuels globally and approximately one–third of the total increased emissions from all sources globally over the past decade.

The Roles of Livestock in Developing Countries in North America
Livestock play a significant role in rural livelihoods and the economies of developing countries. They are providers of income and employment for producers and others working in, sometimes complex, value chains. They are a crucial asset and safety net for the poor, especially for women and pastoralist groups, and they provide an important source of nourishment for billions of rural and urban households.

These socio–economic roles and others are increasing in importance as the sector grows because of increasing human populations, incomes and urbanisation rates. To provide these benefits, the sector uses a significant amount of land, water, biomass and other resources and emits a considerable quantity of greenhouse gases.

There is concern on how to manage the sector's growth, so that these benefits can be attained at a lower environmental cost. Livestock and environment interactions in developing countries can be both positive and negative. On the one hand, manures from ruminant systems can be a valuable source of nutrients for smallholder crops, whereas in more industrial systems, or where there are large concentrations of animals, they can pollute water sources.

On the other hand, ruminant systems in developing countries can be considered relatively resource–use inefficient. Because of the high yield gaps in most of these production systems, increasing the efficiency of the livestock sector through sustainable intensification practices presents a real opportunity where research and development can contribute to provide more sustainable solutions. In order to achieve this, it is necessary that production systems become market–orientated, better regulated in cases, and socially acceptable so that the right mix of incentives exists for the systems to intensify.

Managing the required intensification and the shifts to new value chains is also essential to avoid a potential increase in zoonotic, food–borne and other diseases. New diversification options and improved safety nets will also be essential when intensification is not the primary avenue for developing the livestock sector. These processes will need to be supported by agile and effective public and private institutions.

The Role Of Ruminants In Reducing Agriculture's Carbon Footprint in North America
Owing to the methane produced by rumen fermentation, ruminants are a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) and are perceived as a problem.

We propose that with appropriate regenerative crop and grazing management, ruminants not only reduce overall GHG emissions, but also facilitate provision of essential ecosystem services, increase soil carbon (C) sequestration, and reduce environmental damage. We tested our hypothesis by examining biophysical impacts and the magnitude of all GHG emissions from key agricultural production activities, including comparisons of arable– and pastoral–based agroecosystems.

Our assessment shows that globally, GHG emissions from domestic ruminants represent 11.6% of total anthropogenic emissions, while cropping and soil–associated emissions contribute 13.7%. The primary source is soil erosion (1 Gt C y–1), which in the United States alone is estimated at 1.72 Gt of soil y–1. Permanent cover of forage plants is highly effective in reducing soil erosion, and ruminants consuming only grazed forages under appropriate management result in more C sequestration than emissions.

Incorporating forages and ruminants into regeneratively managed agroecosystems can elevate soil organic C, improve soil ecological function by minimizing the damage of tillage and inorganic fertilizers and biocides, and enhance biodiversity and wildlife habitat.

We conclude that to ensure long–term sustainability and ecological resilience of agroecosystems, agricultural production should be guided by policies and regenerative management protocols that include ruminant grazing.

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