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


Executive Director's Message

I'd like to start this week's Connect by congratulating Bob McCan, member of our Executive Committee, Texas rancher and past president of the NCBA for the 2019 National Golden Spur Award he received on Sept 21, recognising his lifetime role in ranching.

It strikes me that as we see ever increasing numbers of anti–livestock stories in the mainstream media in wealthy countries and large investments in alternative proteins, we are not seeing a proportional increase in investment in sustainability of the livestock sector. Of course many of our members are investing in sustainability and have been doing so for decades, but I do not see this being widely reported on and I do not see a significant or concerted response from industry to the anti–meat agenda.

There are a number of scientists who are certainly doing their best to combat media bias, but, of course, they sometimes become the target of activists themselves if it is perceived that they are "too close" to the livestock industry. I believe that the most effective response to critics is to show how concerns are being addressed, and preferably preempting them. Openness and transparency, being willing to admit it when you don't yet have solutions, and showing that you are investing to find them are all ways to increase trust.

While I certainly don't concur with RethinkX on their dire predictions, I am sure that we need to invest more in practical sustainability on the ground and in communicating about that, because while demand for meat continues to grow, we must be meeting it sustainably.


Ruaraidh Petre
Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
Executive Director

Fifth–Generation Rancher Earns National Award
Morgan O'Hanlon, Victoria Advocate | September 17, 2019
Bob McCan learned to speak Spanish following the vaqueros who lived and worked on his family's business, McFaddin Enterprises, which has been in Victoria since 1877.

The fifth–generation rancher will be honored with the 2019 National Golden Spur Award honoring cattle industry leaders in Lubbock on Saturday. The award is the most prestigious honor given by the ranching and livestock industries in recognition of accomplishments by an individual. Six ranching and livestock organizations sponsor the award.

"Mr. McCan has been uniquely involved in cattle industry for a long time," said Jim Bret Campbell, executive director of the National Ranching Heritage Center. "In addition to his legacy, he's been eminently involved in many aspects of the industry through his involvement in the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association the National Cattlemen's Beef Association..

Hy–Plains Feeders Honored for Furthering Industry Progresse
Miranda Reiman, Ag Journal | October 9, 2019
Tom Jones is constantly raising the bar — that's the kind of person he is and the kind of feedyard he manages.

In 1999, he and some investors bought a 28,000–head yard near Montezuma, Kan., and immediately began doing business as Hy–Plains Feedyard LLC. Two decades later he still makes his living at the business, even though it looks different today than it did then. It may look different next year, too, or even next month.

One day he's tackling global environmental challenges as a member of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and the next he's training college–age interns.

They all get the same version of Jones, someone who is focused, competitive and serious about providing the best care he can for the cattle in his yard.

His visionary attitude, and the actions to back it up, earned Hy–Plains Feedyard the 2019 Certified Angus Beef Progressive Partner Award during CAB's annual conference in September.

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If you read one article in this Connect, let it be this one. While anti–meat rhetoric becomes shriller every day, so unfortunately does defensiveness from the beef industry. GRSB and our members are regularly criticised by some of the more conservative groups who confuse the concept of sustainability with an anti–meat agenda.
10 Tips to Address 'Entrenched Thinking Disease'
Bob Langert, Green Biz , Former VP of Sustainability, McDonald's | October 21, 2019
How do you crack through those who are rigid in their views, both internally and externally? I believe this to be one of the hardest aspects for those leading corporate sustainability. I still have plenty of these baffling encounters, so I've been on a renewed mission to listen, research and learn practical ways to address what I call the disease of entrenched thinking.

1. Un–trench yourself first: We tend to think it's awful to deal with entrenched thinking, but we may be guilty ourselves. I'm not saying that you give up your beliefs at all. I am suggesting you truly open your mind to listen to what others say, even though it will test your patience.

5. Employ more storytelling: "Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools to overcome entrenched, anti–story viewpoints," says Park Howell. I reached out to Howell because of his vast experience on this topic. His advice: "The only way you are going to overcome these polarized views is with the dynamism of a better story and the positive energy and force it creates."

Read the rest of the tips HERE.

Beef and Dairy Industries Headed Toward 'Total Collapse' By 2030
Charlotte Pointing, LiveKindly.com | October 9, 2019
RethinkX analyzes and forecasts the "scope, speed, and scale of technology–driven disruption" and how this disruption will impact society. In a report titled "Rethinking Food and Agriculture 2020–2030," the independent think tank lays out how new technologies will cause the beef industry and the dairy industry to fall. Other livestock markets, such as fish, chicken, and pig, will follow.

The report says precision fermentation and a production model called Food–as–Software are about to change the food industry as we know it.

This production system sees foods engineered by scientists at a molecular level and then uploaded to databases; food designers around the world — who will work like software developers — can access the databases. "Instead of growing a whole cow to break it down into products, food will be built up at the molecular level to precise specifications," says a press release.

"This will result in a far more distributed, localized food–production system that is more stable and resilient than the one it replaces," says the report.

I only put this article below the one above to demonstrate the disparity in thinking.
Australian Red Meat Sector Showing Steady Growth
Aidan Fortune,Global Meat News | October 10, 2019
Australia's red meat industry has seen modest growth over the past year, a new report has revealed. According to the Australian red meat and livestock industry State of the Industry Report 2019, launched by the Red Meat Advisory Council (RMAC), the country's red meat and livestock industry turnover was $65.7bn in 2017–18, up 1% on revised 2016–17 figures and up 38% since 2012–13.

The report, compiled by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) on behalf of the red meat industry, provides an overview of Australia's red meat and livestock industry, including figures on production, consumption, exports, and the economic significance of the industry.

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Here's an example of a dramatic change that has taken place over my lifetime – when I first worked in New Zealand fresh out of school there were around 20 sheep per person in the country, now there are fewer than six. A similar shift away from sheep production has taken place in Australia, where sheep numbers are down from a peak of 180 million in 1970 to 69 million today. Note that the volume of lamb meat production in New Zealand is only down 5% despite the dramatic reduction in numbers.
NZ Sheep Population Down to Fewer Than Six Per Person
Esther Taunton, Stuff Farming | October 10, 2019
New Zealand used to be known for the size of its sheep population but there are now fewer than six of the animals for every Kiwi. Beef and Lamb New Zealand's latest stock survey shows the country now has just 27.4 million of sheep compared to more than 40 million in 2000. At 'peak sheep' in 1982, more than 70 million sheep dotted the country's rural landscape.

The current ratio is still high by global standards – across the ditch there are about 2.5 sheep per person – but it's a far cry from the days when sheep outnumbered people by 22 to one.

This is a more balanced look at consumer perceptions.
Protein Choices Controlled by Environmental Impact, Price Point and Health Considerations
Rachel Gabel, The Fence Post | October 11, 2019
This was an amazing opportunity for me to hear from consumers about the choices they make and the information they use to make those decisions. This was a conversation about the most personal decisions people make every day — what they put in their bodies.

Sara Place is a foremost expert on sustainability as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's senior director of Sustainable Beef Production Research. She said different plant–based products certainly have different footprints but support of the beef industry is an investment in the ecosystems, wildlife, and the environment that are made better through cattle production.

She said the addition of other proteins can be seen by the industry as an affront but is often an addition rather than a replacement for traditional proteins. Younger generations are also, she said, more likely to try the products though she said she hasn't seen a sharp rise in the number of vegetarians or vegans.

This is quite a good article, pitched at the "interested consumer" level providing clear information about some genuine opportunities for sustainability. Maybe the average consumer would not read it, but those who are really looking for information might.
Four Ways to Make Beef More Sustainable
Ula Chrobak, Popular Science | October 15, 2019
When it comes to beef's impact on the environment, there's a lot of room for improvement. Right now, 35 percent of methane emissions in the United States come from livestock, and the largest contributor is grazing animals like cows. The good news is, scientists have identified a number of ways to cut greenhouse gases coming from bovines.

Read about a few of the most promising ones HERE.

Together, these changes could cut cows' contribution to the climate crisis. Better beef is on the rotationally–grazed, seaweed–supplemented horizon.

There are actions that can be taken throughout the chain to improve sustainability of the whole industry.
From Cavan to Caen: Ireland's First Zero–Carbon Truck 'Takes the Beef to France'
Breifne O'Brien, AgriLand | October 9, 2019
Virginia International Logistics – based in Co. Cavan – has become the first haulier in Ireland to complete a zero–carbon Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) delivery to Europe.The first European load was a consignment of processed beef from Liffey Meats in Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan, going to Caen in Northern France. The total round–trip is 1,121km.

The trucks used for the journey were fuelled by renewable gas and were transporting Irish beef to the continent. "As members of Bord Bia's Origin Green program, we believe we have a responsibility to inspire others to create a sustainable tomorrow," said Liffey Meats' environmental manager, Andrew O'Brien.

In the last Connect I dwelt on this issue. We are working on a response with key players; it has to be credible and proactive.
Why Did a Vow to End Amazon Fires Falter? Blame 'Cattle Laundering'?
Brent McDonald, Paula Moura, Ben Laffin and Emily Rhyne, The New York Times | October 10, 2019
Despite the promise of the major meatpackers not to buy cattle from ranches like Fazenda Canaã, cattle that spent time on this farm were purchased by JBS over the last three years, according to government data.

In fact, JBS, the biggest meatpacker worldwide, bought cattle that passed through 11 ranches in the preserve over the last two years, according to the government data. Marfrig and Minerva each made indirect purchases from one ranch here, according to government data that traces a complex supply chain.

"There is no reason why after 10 years there could not be better results," said Nathalie Walker, a director at the National Wildlife Federation, who has studied the Brazilian cattle industry.

"There were firm negotiated agreements." It's rare for a cow to spend its entire life on the farm where it was born; it may be bought and sold multiple times, until it reaches the ranch that sells it directly to a slaughterhouse.

This complex supply chain has made the phenomenon of "cattle laundering" common and is the crux of the problem in fulfilling the deal's promise.

A calf may be born on illegally deforested land and then ultimately sold to a fattening ranch whose land was cleared long ago and is within the terms of the accord.

Livestock products are important for health, this study looks at their importance in getting children off to a healthy start in life.
New Study Explores the Role of Livestock Products for Nutrition In the First 1000 Days of Life
Tezira Lore, ILRI (Subscription) | October 16, 2019
On World Food Day 2019, we highlight a recent article by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute that summarizes the current state of knowledge on the role of livestock products for nutrition, with emphasis on the first 1000 days of life for individuals living in low–income countries.

Meat, milk and eggs are nutrient–rich products that could efficiently boost nutrient–poor diets either as part of the normal diet or if access is increased through interventions.

The authors note that promoting the intake of livestock products among resource–limited populations will require specific feasibility and sustainability studies to be conducted to ensure those foods are available and affordable to the target populations

To feed the planet sustainably, we need to produce more food. Africa is going to have to be a major focus because the continent's population will double in the next few decades, and it is the continent where productivity has failed to keep pace with population growth. Given that there are 500 million hectares of degraded rangelands across the continent, it is fair to say that livestock can and must play a significant role in improved food production and food security.
New Report Says Accelerating Global Agricultural Productivity Growth Is Critical
Virginia Tech, Phys.org | October 16, 2019
The 2019 Global Agricultural Productivity Report, "Productivity Growth for Sustainable Diets, and More," released today by Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, shows agricultural productivity growth—increasing output of crops and livestock with existing or fewer inputs—is growing globally at an average annual rate of 1.63 percent.

According to the report's Global Agricultural Productivity Index, global agricultural productivity needs to increase at an average annual rate of 1.73 percent to sustainably produce food, feed, fiber, and bioenergy for 10 billion people in 2050.

The report calls attention to the alarmingly low levels of productivity growth in low–income countries, where there also are high rates of food insecurity, malnutrition, and rural poverty. Agricultural productivity growth in low–income countries is rising at an average annual rate of just 1 percent. The UN Sustainable Development Goals call for doubling the productivity of the lowest–income farmers by 2030.

"Decades of research and experience tell us that by accelerating productivity growth, it is possible to improve environmental sustainability, while ensuring that consumers have access to the foods they need and want," said Tom Thompson, associate dean and director of global programs for the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

This is an alternative perspective – we need livestock for biodiversity, but should not focus exclusively on efficiency of output. While I certainly agree on the important role of livestock in biodiversity, I cannot imagine being able to feed 10 billion people without working on output efficiency.
'We Can Feed the World a Healthy Diet Using Nature–Friendly Farming'
Jez Fredenburgh, Farmers Guardian  | October 21, 2019
Reducing food production by 35 per cent, changing our diets and expanding grasslands with ruminants on, guarantees a more sustainable food and farming future for Europe than 'producing more with less', say French scientists.

The hefty piece of research done by IDDRI, an independent policy research institute, and funded by the French government, found that a move to agro–ecology could produce enough food to feed Europe, improve biodiversity and tackle climate change.

Sébastien Treyer, executive director of IDDRI, said biodiversity should be the main focus, with climate change second.

He criticised sustainable intensification and 'climate smart' agriculture, which are based on increasing efficiencies per output, saying they suffered from several 'blind spots' that would not prevent ecological collapse.

Given what we read above about the decline in sheep numbers in NZ, the government's focus on trying to further reduce emissions from agriculture seems disproportional, given that the huge decreases in sheep numbers have already reduced emissions very considerably.
Ardern Tells New Zealand Farmers to Cut Carbon Emissions or Face Penalties
Eleanor Ainge Roy, The Guardian | October 2019
New Zealand farmers have five years to reduce their carbon emissions before the government introduces financial penalties, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

Ardern's Labour coalition government has committed to making New Zealand carbon net–zero by 2050, with the PM likening the climate change battle to the previous generations' struggle against the rise of nuclear power.

If emissions are not adequately reduced, farmers could face additional taxes as early as 2022. In a joint statement signed by the major industry leaders including DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and Beef and Lamb New Zealand, the sector welcomed the collaborative approach, and said it was "pleased" agriculture would not have its emissions taxed.

"Achieving this programme of work will not be cheap, and it will not be easy … we welcome this pragmatic and sensible decision by the government to work in partnership with industry to achieve tangible on–farm change and hope that it might provide a blueprint for the way we work together to solve environmental challenges in the future."

Support to research and development of sustainable solutions is always welcomed. The amount here seems low in comparison to the scale of the industry and demands being put upon it.
Government Supports a Project to Reduce Agricultural Emissions from Cattle
Devdiscourse | October 18, 2019
The Cawthron Institute will receive $100,000 from the Government's Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund to turn a native red seaweed (Asparagopsis armata) into a greenhouse gas–busting cattle feed supplement for domestic and global markets. "If successful, this project could be a game–changer for farmers here and around the world," Damien O'Connor said.

"Sustainable agribusiness and transitioning to a low emissions economy is a major focus for the Coalition Government. It's why we established the $40 million a year SFFF fund last year – to invest in projects that deliver economic, environmental and social benefits for all Kiwis.

"We want to be the most productive, sustainable country in the world. Projects like this will contribute to New Zealand's reputation in sustainable and innovative aquaculture and agriculture", Damien O'Connor said.

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