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

Executive Director's Message:

It’s certainly been an interesting couple of weeks, though not in the most positive way. Meetings I was due to attend in Rome and Washington DC this week and next have been cancelled due to Coronavirus, and I am hearing of more and more events being cancelled and many organisations that are restricting their staff’s international travel.

It’s certainly been an interesting couple of weeks, though not in the most positive way. Meetings I was due to attend in Rome and Washington DC this week and next have been cancelled due to coronavirus, and I am hearing of more and more events being cancelled and many organisations that are restricting their staff’s international travel.

This may of course lead to making more use of technology to communicate, but there are limitations to that, particularly for longer discussions. We are, of course, monitoring the impact that the coronavirus situation will have on forthcoming GRSB and related meetings, and will inform you of any changes that have to be made in good time.

You will see that a number of UK and NZ agricultural organisations are calling the IPCC to consider using GWP* for enteric emissions of methane. I have covered this quite often before in Connect, this new development is a step up in the intensity of the discussion.

Not all of the impacts of using GWP* are entirely clear. We actually need to put a range of scenarios through models using the metric to know that. However, certain things seem to be the case: for countries where ruminant numbers are roughly constant or declining, GWP* will tend to show that the warming impact of livestock represents a smaller percentage of warming than using CO2 equivalents, whereas for those where ruminant numbers are increasing, livestock’s warming impact will tend to be greater using GWP* than CO2 equivalents.

The adoption of GWP* by IPCC could represent a challenge for countries where herd size is growing. This could prove to be an incentive to increase production through further intensification and productivity increases per animal rather than through increasing numbers. In general this is in line with the sustainability improvements that we have seen in wealthier economies over the past 40 years.

If financial institutions and investors are willing to support sustainability, there is no reason why such improvements could not be adopted more rapidly in other parts of the world.


Ruaraidh Petre
Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
Executive Director
March 10, 2020

Livestock and Sustainable Development: Not So Strange Bedfellows

Water Land Ecosystems | February 28, 2020

A week ago, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the University of Edinburgh’s Global Academy for Agriculture and Food Security hosted a public seminar exploring how and why livestock matter as we strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ILRI’s Michael Victor reports on the discussions.

In 2015, the world agreed to a set of SDGs to be reached by 2023—just ten years from now. However, with more than 169 targets and 230 indicators, agreement on how to define and measure progress has been challenging.

With food systems this is particularly complex. We all can agree that the goal is to transform food systems to feed ten billion people in ways that are sustainable, healthy, inclusive and efficient. Determining how best to get there and reconciling different trade-offs along the way is proving difficult.

This is especially true for cattle, sheep, goats and other farm animals whose multiple roles, benefits and risks have got caught up in polarized debates in industrialized countries, where some view them as problems rather than opportunities. 

Agricultural Organisations Unite to Call for IPCC to Consider GWP*/GWP-we for Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Agricultural Industry Joint Statement  |  March 2020

Climate change is one of the world’s most urgent challenges and farmers are amongst the rst to see its impact on food production as they deal with the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather, such as droughts and floods. But farming offers solutions, including:

  • Improving farming’s productive efficiency to reduce our GHG emissions
  • Farmland carbon storage in soils and vegetation
  • Boosting renewable energy and the bio-economy, to avoid GHG emissions from fossil fuels, and to create GHG removal through photosynthesis and carbon capture

Agricultural organizations are calling on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to evaluate the more accurate global warming potential (GWP) metric of GWP*/GWP-we to measure the contribution of short-lived greenhouse gases to global warming. Given the scale of the climate change crisis facing the planet, we consider it vitally important that the best scientific information and tools available are being used to inform and build trust in the decisions that global and domestic policy makers are taking.

While GWP100 is the accepted metric for describing the warming impact of greenhouse gases, it is acknowledged to have shortcomings when it comes to the temperature response of short-lived emissions such as methane.

Carbon Neutral: The Red Meat Industry's Big, Bold Promise

Mark Phelps, Queensland Country Life   |  March 2, 2020

It’s the Australian red meat industry's big, bold promise to the world. To be carbon neutral by 2030. Through its own initiatives, offset its significant methane production - 129.3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents - by the end of the decade.

But is what's become known in the livestock industry as CN30 achievable?

According to the man in charge, Doug McNicholl from Meat and Livestock Australia, the short answer is yes. More importantly it can be achieved while maintaining animal numbers.

But the catch remains it will require an all-of-industry commitment plus the right policy settings and new investment in research, development and adoption.

Only 40 Percent of Consumers Believe Beef Is Sustainable

Barbara Duckworth, The Western Producer   |  February 27, 2020

The public was once in love with the cowboy image, but modern consumers now question how that image correlates with safe food production and environmental protection, those attending a session at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention recently heard.

Studies show 40 percent of the public believes beef production is sustainable, said Wayne Morgan of Golden State Foods, a $4 billion food supplier. “With 40 percent, you can’t even say the glass is half full,” he said during a session at the NCBA annual convention in San Antonio. “About 50 percent of the time they trust what we are doing. What about the other 50 percent? Is that good enough or do we want people to trust us more?” he asked.

A member of the United States roundtable for sustainable beef, Golden State purchased 170 million pounds of beef last year and will buy the same in 2020. Most is destined for quick service restaurants like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and companies like Stouffers that add it to frozen entrees. Those buyers say they are influenced by what their consumers want but they also listen to investors who want assurances about continuous improvement and sustainability in their business practices. “Consumers say a lot of things but may not always reflect that with their wallets in the same way they answer questions. Still we can’t deny they are an important part of this beef industry,” he said.

Recently, BlackRock, a global investment company, announced a foundation to support a sustainable economy. Blackrock controls about $7 trillion in the global economy. “When they announced they are going to avoid investments in companies that present high sustainability related risk, that ought to get your attention,” Morgan said. 

Conservation Biologist M. Sanjayan, PhD, Calls Allan Savory's Holistic Planned Grazing "Spectacular"

You Tube   |  February 19, 2020

Conservation biologist M. Sanjayan, PhD, CEO of Conservation International and former lead scientist at The Nature Conservancy, expresses to Allan Savory his delight and astonishment at the stunning ecological restoration achieved through the implementation of Holistic Planned Grazing, calling the results "spectacular" and commenting "it could be the absolute best thing conservation has ever discovered."

This segment is from episode 2, "Plains," from the National Geographic documentary series "Earth: A New Wild."

Beef’s Greatest Talent Is Protein Upcycling

Lacey Newlin, High Plains Journal   |  January 7, 2020

“There are some really highly educated people out there who are actively against the beef industry,” said Tryon Wickersham, associate professor of animal nutrition at Texas A&M University. “I don’t think there is going to be anything we can do to change that. I think they will be against everything we do, no matter how we do it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mount a defense or stop educating the consumers about the value we bring to their plates.”

Wickersham spoke recently at the Oklahoma State University Beef Conference in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in a presentation called “Beef’s job title.” He says beef’s job title is to be a protein upcycler, which means to improve the value of protein.

Wickersham says, on average, it takes 770 pounds of corn to get a beef animal ready for slaughter. Corn is the primary source of human edible protein, or HEP, we feed and the main competition for food sources between cattle and humans. HEP does not necessarily mean tasty protein, but it is protein a person could consume. For example, grass is a source of non-HEP. Soybean meal, though we would not want to consume it, is a great source of HEP. Some people challenge agriculture for raising corn-fed cattle and believe we should be feeding all that corn to humans.

Managing Heat Stress with Genetics

Wes Ishmael, BEEF Magazine | Mar 01, 2020

“A lot of times we talk about hair shedding being an indicator trait for heat tolerance,” says Jared Decker, Extension beef genetics and computational genomics specialist at the University of Missouri (MU). “I think of it more as an economically relevant trait because if a cow is not taking off her winter coat, she’s simply not prepared to deal with the heat and humidity.”

Overall, Decker says environmental stress costs the U.S. beef industry more than $1 billion each year. Stressors include cold and high elevations, but he says a major portion of the losses stem from stress associated with heat and/or fescue toxicity.

Besides the economic factor, Decker told participants at this year’s Cattlemen’s College, sponsored by Zoetis, environmental stress on cattle threatens sustainability in other ways, too.

“We have to make sure we are producing cattle in a way that has environmental stewardship, cattle with efficiency, and we need to make sure that we’re responding to social responsibility, raising beef in a way that consumers are comfortable. Finally, we must have profitability,” Decker explains.

“Environmental stress touches on all of those points. If animals are better adapted to the environment, they’re going to be more efficient in that environment and they’re going to have less environmental impact. If an animal is comfortable and dealing better with the environment, they have better animal welfare, so our consumers can feel comfortable. Finally, if we identify cattle better suited to the environment, they’re simply going to be more profitable.”

This article has been a long time coming. We have seen finger pointing for decades – finally people are waking up to the fact that if you want change to take place, the people you need to be working with are the agents of the change you hope to see; in the case of Brazil that must include the landowners. Aliança da Terra have been doing this for years, and thanks to their way of working closely with producers are one of the organisations most trusted by producers there.
Saving the Amazon: How Cattle Ranchers Can Halt Deforestation

Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor | March 4, 2020

Brazil is a leader in forest protection. Its Forest Code requires that up to 80% of a landowner’s property in the Amazon biome be preserved as forest, depending on when it was purchased and how big it is. As environmental pressure has grown over the years, those laws have been more rigorously enforced. The government implemented an environmental registry for each property that maps who owns what and what is produced, and uses satellite imagery to monitor deforestation.

“The problem is we have a lot of producers of cattle or soybean close to or in the Amazon that are not burning. They are suffering. They are considered the same as deforesters,” says Charton Locks, the chief operating officer of Aliança da Terra, which works to foster sustainable farming in Brazil. “For the international community, it’s all the same. Companies start to avoid buying products from Brazil, which creates a problem for the good producers.”

So Aliança da Terra is trying to differentiate the good farmers. It has built a “Producing Right” platform of 1,500 members, representing more than 5 million hectares of farmland, who adhere to preserving forest, protecting wildlife, and improving social and labor conditions on their ranches.

Coronavirus Dents Beef Demand, But China Will Still Dominate 2020 Imports, Says Rabo

Beef Central | February 27, 2020

Recent widespread rainfall has buoyed Australian beef producer spirits and lifted cattle prices, but the sector faces reduced export demand from China as a result of coronavirus, according to Rabobank’s latest global Beef Quarterly report.

In its Q1 report, Rabo expects China to again dominate beef imports in 2020, albeit at a far slower rate than the heady 60 percent increase in imported volume recorded in 2019.

Rabobank senior animal proteins analyst Angus Gidley-Baird said while it was hard to predict how long coronavirus would disrupt the Chinese market, lower sales volumes and limited cash flows would delay a return to normal beef imports in the short term.

“We do, however, expect China’s beef imports to continue to grow in 2020, with a strong rebound in the second half of the year,” he said.


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