Will a Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef Matter?

Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef, beef industry, land rights, animal welfare, sustainable beef, Leon Kaye, Brazil, continuous improvement, supply chain, GRSB
Will that meat you grill become more sustainable thanks to GRSB?

Are you concerned over the beef industry’s impact on the environment and animals? Never mind the fact that more land is used is used for animal pasture and to raise feed than to grow food for humans: A movement is underway to make beef more sustainable. Held in São Paulo, Brazil, last month, the major supporters of this conference included McDonald’s, Cargill and the animal pharmaceutical company Elanco. Over the course of four days, 300 attendees at the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) issued what the organization described as the “release of the first global definition for ‘sustainable beef’.”

The summary of what occurred in São Paulo will hardly endear the GRSB to advocates of a more plant-based diet and for an improved management of resources. The GRSB is actually pushing for the production of more beef, citing issues including food security, links between the consumption of animal protein and test scores and the need to do “more with less.” So brace yourself: In order to meet the demand of income and population growth, the planet will need to product 43 percent more beef by 2050. So exactly how will this be done?

The global beef industry will have to adopt a quintuple bottom line, according to the GRSB. After 18 months and several rounds of public comments, this coalition is asking the entire value chain to adhere to these five principles:

  • Natural resources: We have lots of buzzwords here: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, water recharge and resource use efficiency. Yes, the GRSB calls for native forests to be protected from deforestation, as well as for minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. Companies are urged to achieve “continuous improvement” and compliance with all local, national and international laws. (The issue of growing grain for cattle feed is barely addressed in any of GRSB’s documents, by the way. Do not count on a massive return to grass-fed beef anytime soon.).
  • People and the community: The respect for human rights and diversity is part of this clarion call. Businesses are urged to conduct themselves with integrity, and for a legal minimum wage (where applicable, mind you). Land rights, a huge issue hobbling agribusiness the past several years, is also on this agenda.
  • Animal welfare: A balanced diet, adequate water and feed to meet cattle’s physiological needs and health care are central to ensuring animals’ welfare. A “competent person” should be available to gauge whether sick or injured cattle should be nursed back to health or euthanized, and cattle stress should also be “minimized.”
  • Food: The “continuous improvement” mantra continues here, as companies in the entire beef supply chain should be vigilant in ensuring beef quality while reducing contamination and waste.
  • Efficiency and innovation: This could cause some head scratching, as earlier principles discussed animal welfare, but this principle is focused on efficiency. “Product value and carcass utilization” are to be maximized across the entire value chain, and all stakeholders within the beef industry are urged to “innovate.”

Peruse GRSB’s website and decide for yourself whether this is a step forward for an industry that is often cited as a bigger polluter worldwide than the globe’s entire transport sector. Or is this another public relations move to put a kinder, more responsible face on the world’s beef producers? Whether GRSB really can help address the challenges the world faces as it seeks to feed nine billion people by 2050 remains to be seen. Get past the wonky prose on the site, however, and you can see where this coalition will be directing much of its communication. After all, as quoted during the conference, “being transparent with the consumer is the language of trust,” and to that end, communication sustainability with that huge customer segment, millennials, will be high on the agenda.

Do you think beef has a future in a more crowded world? In your opinion, what must the industry do in order to become more socially responsible and sustainable? One result is clear: the clunky prose dished out by the GRSB will give its adversaries, such as PETA, more ammunition in the continuing fight over the meat industry.

Leon Kaye is based in California and most recently worked for a renewable energy investment company in the Middle East. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Other thoughts of his are on his site, greengopost.com.

Image credit: Leon Kaye

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

3 responses

  1. Dave, producing less beef and raising the prices is exactly what is happening. As human beings continue to develop land for housing, businesses, and industry, cattle producers have less and less land to raise cattle. In the United States, cattle inventories have been falling for the past 40 years. And globally, more people in the world are creating a larger demand for more beef, which is causing a reduction in cattle numbers. We are beginning to produce less beef. And a greater demand has increased the price.

    The problem occurs as a result of increased demand and reduced production. Farmers who are working to meet the demand to feed the human population are facing economic pressure to increase their production of food. As farm land and cattle pastures are paved over to make way for urban sprawl, farmers in North America are receiving greater motivation to plow under North Americas grasslands, and ranchers in South America are receiving greater motivation to push down and burn South America’s forests.

    This is not a problem that has been created by the farmers, or the ranchers, or the beef industry. This is a problem that has been created by a large, wealthy population of human beings who have the wealth to pay whatever it costs for an ever increasing amount of food to feed themselves. This is a problem that has been caused, and will continue to get worse, from overpopulation. In nature, when animal species become overpopulated, many individuals starve and die until the population is corrected. This is where we are headed.

  2. Do you realize why Leon Kaye has written this article? His online profiles state that he is a consultant and business writer, his focus is making the business case for sustainability. That means he is paid to say that oil producers, and coal producers, and automobile manufacturers, and land developers, and commercial airlines are not spoiling the environment. So if they aren’t, who is? Well the only sector that is not paying him, it’s agriculture. The farmers are spoiling the environment, right?

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