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Global Dairy Gets Sustainability: Now Where Do the Other Livestock Groups Stand?


By Aidan Carrie Ganzert

After the FAO Livestock’s Long Shadow report was released in 2006, the dairy industry found itself at ground-zero for criticism as a major sector contributor to climate change. Less than a decade later, thanks to the efforts of the Global Dairy Agenda for Action, the sector is poised to be a leader in sustainability. How did this happen, and where are the other livestock groups?

The wake-up call from the FAO report caused a shift in industry thinking. In 2009, the Global Dairy Agenda for Action (GDAA) was created by the international dairy industry with the specific objective of addressing climate change concerns. The dairy sector acknowledged that change was needed. But change didn’t come quick enough, and for many years following the report, the sector solely focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout the dairy value chain, without considering other facets of sustainability.

Then came the innovation.

The governors of the GDAA realized through stakeholder conversations that greenhouse gas emissions weren’t the only impact associated with dairy production. The sector announced that, if the industry was to survive and thrive in the future, sustainability needed to be explored through environmental, social and economic lenses.

That set off the effort to build a robust platform that was recently announced – the Dairy Sustainability Framework (DSF). The DSF is truly a framework from which mitigation initiatives can be continuously developed, rather than permanently set in stone, with the goal of measuring impact on a list of strategic intent criterion.

The criteria are comprehensive and include animal welfare. The 11 sustainability criteria in the DSF include: greenhouse gas emissions; soil nutrients; waste; water; soil; biodiversity; market development; working conditions; product safety and quality; and animal care.

The first annual report of the DSF was released this month, and the industry is reporting projects and initiatives currently being undertaken under each criteria. From research on soil compaction and aeration, to water use measurement and control program, to the conversion of processing plants to utilize environmental fuel – the international dairy industry in under a decade now has a comprehensive list of sustainability projects in place around the globe.

Though the DSF is new, and measurement factors for the impacts have yet to be identified, there are several notable themes to follow:

  • The DSF is a holistic list of sustainability criteria, recognizing that greenhouse gases are important, but so is soil, water, waste and other impact areas.

  • The DSF is voluntary and global, and the framework can be adopted for anyone in the entire value chain – from the dairy farmer in India to the large milk producer in the Netherlands.

  • The DSF is a public facing exercise and quite transparent. The governance model leads the effort, indicating that the industry is committed to making sustainability a non-competitive issue.

For those individuals committed to eliminating or greatly reducing the livestock industry’s footprint, these efforts are seen as greenwashing. However, what we see is that the industry is responding to a serious threat responsibly, with transparency, and with a commitment to building a better world. The DSF seeks to be as flexible as our own planetary systems, and it is because of this that it will find success in translating the sustainability agenda across the globe.

A question remains for the other livestock industries: As the DSF further develops its model, where is the sustainability framework for the global swine and poultry industry?

Image credit: Flickr/Marc Dulmulder

Aidan Carrie Ganzert is a former international climate change researcher, currently developing innovative solutions for environmental issues in the intersections of economy and society. She will graduate with a MA in Sustainability at Wake Forest University in 2016.

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