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

Executive Director's Message:

Last week, we had our EC budget meeting in San Antonio coinciding with the Cattle Industry Convention. It was a great opportunity to meet with many of our members and discuss some of our plans for the year. 

Perhaps because of the ever increasing press given to alternative proteins, several people raised the issue of the importance of livestock production both in farming systems and in diet. Given the new wording of our Vision to include beef being part of a thriving food system, both of those issues are likely to be discussed regularly. 

Since farming began, livestock have been integral to maintaining soil fertility and structure. They have also been integral to up-cycling nutrients that would otherwise be wasted, and concentrating them to further improve cropping. That essential role which livestock play has sometimes been neglected, generally with a cost to the system over the long term. 

The field trip we helped SAI platform arrange in Illinois last summer was testament to that. Three row crop farmers who had all, after varying periods, re-integrated cattle into their farming system, purely for the benefits it brought to the crops. In each case the synergies brought value to the crops and made better use of all of the resources including the land at their disposal.

On diet, we are frankly much less well informed about human nutrition than we are about animal nutrition, simply because people are much less amenable to feeding trials than livestock are. As the ILRI headline implies, it is surprising that we are relatively unaware of what all of the nutrients in animal sourced foods do for us, and what the impacts of a diet deprived of animal sourced food are. 

So while there are proponents of a major food system shift demanding much lower consumption of animal sourced foods and a massive reduction in livestock numbers, it does seem that we are missing a lot of the information we would need to accept such drastic proposals. Livestock occupy a large land area because much of that land is marginal, and over much of that we could not grow human edible crops, and on the remaining cropped area we would be deprived of the nutrient cycling role of livestock.

Another conversation I had in San Antonio was around the role of beef production protecting ecosystems. This short film highlights the role that beef cattle production plays in protecting grasslands from conversion – the grasslands of the great plains are some of the most threatened ecosystems of the planet, and without beef producers they would undoubtedly be lost. 

The full "guardians of the grasslands" film is not yet available on the internet, as it has been entered for a film award, however, you can host a screening through the form on the website linked above. Another excellent short film made by students from a museum in Toronto also does a good job of explaining the positive role of ranchers and cattle in grassland ecosystems.

With work underway on our goal setting and within our working group on GHGs, climate impact and or emissions were also a common topic of discussion. The general public has been told so often that cattle are a major part of the climate change issue that many now accept this unquestioningly.

This is reflected in policy research in Europe and some other countries where the policy question is no longer “what is the role of ruminants” but “how can we reduce livestock numbers”. GRSB has agreed to set a goal in this area, and it is clear that it has to resonate both within and outside the industry, which will certainly be challenging. 

My strong impression is that numerical goals are a challenge, because what sounds ambitious to industry may simply sound underwhelming to those with little background in the subject. Several people I have talked to felt that a climate goal rather than a specific reference to carbon or emissions makes sense. 

The reason is that talking about reducing emissions sounds like “we will do less bad” which you can see is not the most positive message we could send, whereas “carbon" is quite abstract. Similarly “limiting warming” is challenging because it suggests to the uninitiated that somehow the impact of the beef industry can be separated from all other warming, and that we are okay with the beef industry causing some warming – again, effectively doing less bad. 

For these reasons a neutrality goal seems a positive way to communicate. Clearly it needs to be underpinned by numbers and data based on emissions etc, but to me what the public hears when we talk about neutrality is both simple and positive.


Ruaraidh Petre
Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
Executive Director
February 11, 2020

We often hear the suggestion that meat can be "replaced" by plant foods, and that the footprint of food would shrink as a result. But can animal sourced foods truly be replaced? The nutrient content of foods differ widely and we need a balanced, varied diet complete in nutrients – as the article below outlines, we know surprisingly little about the role of some of these nutrients in human health.

On Vegan Diets and Brain Nutrients—Some Unsettling Research Reports in a (Surprisingly) Still Murky Research Area

Susan MacMillan, ILRI | January 28, 2020

The vegan diet is low in—or, in some cases, entirely devoid of—several important brain nutrients. Could these shortcomings be affecting vegan's ability to think?

'. . . The idea that avoiding meat is bad for our brains makes some intuitive sense; anthropologists have been arguing about what our ancestors ate for decades, but many scientists think that there was a lot of bone-crunching and brain-slurping on the road to evolving these remarkable 1.4kg (3lb) organs. Some have even gone so far as to say that meat made us human.

'One reason is that intelligence is expensive—the brain devours about 20% of our daily calories, though it accounts for just 2% of our body weight—and what better way to find the enormous array of fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals these fastidious organs require, than by feasting on animals which have already painstakingly collected or made them.

'But though it's hard to imagine our ancestors choosing turnips over tuna, today it's a different story. According to the latest statistics, there are around 375 million vegetarians on the planet. In the West, veganism has ditched the hippie stigma to become one of the fastest-growing millennial trends; in the United States, it grew by 600% between 2014 and 2017. Meanwhile in India, meat-free diets have been mainstream since the 6th Century BCE.

Dietary guidelines have traditionally been based on epidemiological studies that cannot prove causation. The establishment responsible for pushing less and less meat in our diets was upset to be told that their methods were not sufficiently robust to make such recommendations. A major controversy in the field erupted when the Annals of Internal medicine was set to publish guidelines that recommend continued current red meat consumption.

The Meat Wars: A Backlash Is Occurring on the Backlash to Meat Dietary Recommendations Published Late Last Year

Susan MacMillan, ILRI | January 16, 2020

On 19 Nov 2019, guidelines were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that caused a backlash, and now a backlash on the backlash is occurring.

The abstract to the original 2019 Annals article, titled Unprocessed red meat and processed meat consumption: Dietary guideline recommendations from the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium, had the following results and recommendations to report;

'Dietary guideline recommendations require consideration of the certainty in the evidence, the magnitude of potential benefits and harms, and explicit consideration of people's values and preferences.

A set of recommendations on red meat and processed meat consumption was developed on the basis of 5 de novo systematic reviews that considered all of these issues. Four systematic reviews addressed the health effects associated with red meat and processed meat consumption, and 1 systematic review addressed people's health-related values and preferences regarding meat consumption.


The panel suggests that adults continue current unprocessed red meat consumption (weak recommendation, low-certainty evidence). Similarly, the panel suggests adults continue current processed meat consumption (weak recommendation, low-certainty evidence).

Carbon Neutral Livestock Production — Consumers Want It and Farmers Say It Is Achievable 

Angus Verley, Aneeta Bhole, Tyne Logan and Lydia Burton, ABC.net.au | June 7, 2019

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) believes a zero carbon footprint nationally — considered by some the holy grail for the red meat industry — is possible by 2030.

It is a target that has the backing of some of the industry's leading farmers, and the demand for projects is on the rise. Climate Friendly, a carbon farming project developer, said the policy was a "hotbed of action". Carbon farming projects are on the rise with 700 projects on the go Australia-wide. Globally, livestock production contributes about 14 per cent of human-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Since 2005 the beef industry has reduced its emissions by around 60 per cent, so getting it to zero by 2030 is achievable, the meat industry says.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand Environment Strategy

Beef + Lamb NZ.com

A new blueprint to lift the environmental performance of New Zealand's sheep and beef sector has been unveiled by Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

The Environment Strategy lays out a progressive long-term vision for the sector based around four priority areas – healthy productive soils, thriving biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions and cleaner water.As part of the plan, B+LNZ has identified two key goals – every sheep and beef farm having a tailored and active environment plan by the end of 2021, and the sheep and beef sector as a whole moving towards carbon neutrality by 2050.

Over the next three years, B+LNZ will roll out a range of environmental initiatives to support sheep and beef farmers. This includes establishing a Collaborative Catchment Communities programme to help communities work together to target water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, and soil health issues. The organisation will also invest in developing a new generation farm plan that encapsulates these four priorities, develop new tools and technology, provide support and advice and undertake research.

"As a sector we have an opportunity for our sheep and beef farmers to be world-leading stewards of the natural environment and sustainable communities," says Sam McIvor, chief executive of B+LNZ. "Sheep and beef farmers have made meaningful improvements to their environmental performance and lowering emissions and they deserve credit for these gains. 

'A Major Step Forward': Brazil Founds Trade Group for Carbon-Neutral Meat 

Niamh Michail, Food Navigator | February 25, 2019

The newly-formed Brazilian Association of Carbon-Neutral Meat Producers will develop both supply of, and demand for, carbon-neutral meat.

Scientists from Embrapa, Brazil's agricultural research corporation first began working on the concept of carbon neutral beef back in 2012. In 2015 it launched a trademarked front-of-pack label that producers can add to fresh, frozen or processed beef for both domestic and export markets.

A Carbon-Neutral Burger? It's Not Impossible. 

Ula Chrobak, Popular Science | October 7, 2019

Beef has become one of the central villains of the climate crisis. But though it's true that global figures on beef's carbon hoofprint are worrisome, they perhaps also gloss over the complex system that these cows are a part of. There are many, many ways of producing burgers and steaks—and some ranchers argue cattle can actually be a force for good. In fact, cattle might play a surprising role in mitigating climate change. If done right, grazing can heal grasslands and enable them to stow away more carbon from the atmosphere, even becoming carbon-negative systems.

Cattle production is inseparable from grasslands. Beef cows—both grass- and grain-fed—start their lives on a pasture, explains Ermias Kebreab, a professor of animal science at the University of California, Davis. After about a year to a year and a half, cows are either sold to a feedlot or continue grazing until slaughter. Feedlot cows are fed a high-calorie, often grain-based, diet on which they fatten quickly. Finishing cows on grass takes about three to six months longer, since grass is less calorie-dense.

Achieving Net Zero - Meeting the Climate Change Challenge 

National Farmers Union (NFU)

The NFU has outlined the policy, mechanisms and support required from government and other stakeholders in order for agriculture to meet the NFU's aspiration of net zero by 2040.

At the Oxford Farming Conference in January 2019, NFU President Minette Batters announced the NFU's ambition to achieve net zero for agriculture by 2040.

Mrs Batters made it clear at a meeting of the NFU's Council that this aspiration for net zero should not reduce farmers' ability to produce high quality, affordable British food or reduce farm income. Equally, the UK must not achieve its climate change ambitions by exporting UK production, or greenhouse gas emissions, to other countries.

In June 2019, the UK became the first major world economy to set a target for achieving net zero on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into law, with then Prime Minister Theresa May committing the UK to net zero emissions by 2050. With the industry, and domestic agricultural policy now at such a turning point, the NFU believes it is vital that farmers and growers are at the forefront of shaping how future climate change policy is delivered. For the past 10 years, NFU climate experts have led talks across industry and government to discuss ways of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions produced from agriculture.

Agriculture is uniquely placed to be part of the solution to climate change, as it is both an emissions source and a sink as farming processes capture carbon dioxide (CO2), from the air and turn it into a wide range of foods, fibres and fuels. Farmers also have the ability to protect carbon reserves already present in soils and vegetation.

Five Founders: Carbon Neutral Beef Delivered On a Plate 

Mark Phelps, Queensland Country Life | July 25, 2019

"We studied the market and quickly realised that people increasingly want produce that not only delivers the highest quality eating experience but respects their affinity for environmental and animal care," Mr Cummins said.

"Consumers are more environmentally conscious than ever and this is especially the case among younger generations such as millennials, who want confidence they are buying sustainable products.

"NAPCo has always prioritised our animal welfare and environmental practices and embracing carbon neutrality has been a natural progression of this."


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