Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed below are the author's own.
Consumers focused on more than taste and quality of food in 2018. They asked questions about sustainability, considering who produced their food, how it was raised, and its impact to the planet. And as sustainability grows in importance among consumers, so does its importance to the industry.
Consumer interest in sustainability fuels initiatives like the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB), the leading sustainability alliance for the beef community. The USRSB brings together diverse stakeholders who share a passion to continuously improve upon beef’s sustainability. This Spring, at its General Assembly, the USRSB plans to reveal its greatest milestone yet – its Sustainability Framework.
So what is this Framework? The Framework is a comprehensive set of resources for individuals and companies throughout the beef value chain. It allows these individuals and companies to address questions consumers have about beef, build trust, and do their part in ensuring beef remains on the American dinner table.
The USRSB Sustainability Framework is a self-assessment document, designed to provide the individual rancher, feedyard operator, slaughter or processing facility or retailer with information about how the management decisions they make impact overall sustainability. It is the first resource developed for farm to fork application. It approaches sustainability through each stage of production, processing, and distribution, recognizing the unique and diverse opportunities of each segment of the value chain. These opportunities address various environmental, economic and social factors of sustainability.
You can likely guess many of the environmental considerations. These include factors such as carbon emissions, energy use, water quality and more. The Framework also helps individuals understand how such environmentally focused efforts can have positive impacts on the financial health of their operations. For example, ranchers may implement grazing management models that improve forage production over time leading to the ability to increase the stocking rates on their land. Other examples include improved genetics, animal health or nutrient management strategies that improve production efficiency among cattle herds while reducing carbon emissions.
One admirable aspect of the USRSB Framework is its focus on people and animals. Safety is a top concern in the Framework. It recognizes training programs like the Beef Quality Assurance program which teaches low-stress animal handling techniques, herd health protocols and addresses antibiotic stewardship to ensuring the health and welfare of the entire herd.
We can expect the USRSB Framework to provide greater transparency in the beef value chain, better communication with consumers, and higher demand for beef. The Framework will even make inroads into breaking down old misconceptions about beef production, like those fueled by Livestock’s Long Shadow, a flawed report that compared greenhouse gas emissions of livestock and transportation.
Even more, the USRSB is revving up partnerships with other sustainability initiatives to drive change outside of its own fences. One example is the partnership between the USRSB and Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, which creates an opportunity for two industries to better understand how their paths cross. From lifecycle inputs like manure, and usable byproducts from corn, cotton, and other row crops for feedstuffs, opportunities are endless.
In the face of a societal shift toward sustainability among consumers, we need organizations like USRSB to help bridge the gap. With creative thinking, a powerful voice, and a diverse membership, we can rest assured the beef industry is prepared for 2019. Join me in watching it thrive.