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The beef supply chain works towards a more sustainable future

Sponsored: Stakeholders across the U.S. beef supply chain launched first-of-their-kind sustainability goals this year.


Image Courtesy of US Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

This article is sponsored by U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

Sustainability creates a better future for people and for the planet. Organizations, corporations and industries across the world have made sustainability a top priority.

The nation’s beef producers are no different. The U.S. beef industry is the global leader in sustainable beef production as a result of decades of research, innovation and improvement such as more precise animal nutrition, increased resilience and efficiency and improved resource use, among others. In fact, the U.S. has had the lowest beef greenhouse gas emissions intensity in the world since 199610 to 50 times lower than other regions of the world today. In an industry that touches such a variety of ecosystems and with stakeholders who play diverse roles across the beef value chain, sustainability not only looks very different across the country, but it is also accomplished in very different ways.

Still, ranchers, feeders and other industry members have kept a keen eye on environmental, social and economic sustainability. Members of the U.S. beef industry have long worked within their own sectors to make U.S. beef a more sustainable product, but that work has often been within their own businesses and operations, leaving a great opportunity for cross-industry collaboration.

United States cattle producers, feedyards, auction markets, packers and processors and retail and foodservice organizations — all a part of the nation’s beef value chain — are up for the task. That’s why the U.S. Roundtable of Sustainable Beef (USRSB) has worked throughout the beef value chain to set sustainability goals across all sectors.

These goals take into consideration that achieving sustainability across such diverse sectors in the industry requires a cohesive approach, with various stakeholders working toward similar benchmarks. They also leave room for a variety of sustainability practices, considering the need for differing improvements depending on sector and organization. The USRSB has enlisted the help of ranchers and businesses to ensure the goals not only support a sustainable beef product but also help everyone along the way to stay profitable under varying market conditions.

Launched in April, the goals are an extension of the USRSB’s definition of sustainable beef: a socially responsible, environmentally sound and economically viable product that prioritizes the planet, people, animals and progress. These goals are the next step in working toward continuous improvement within the U.S. beef industry.

The goals are set around six high-priority indicators that build upon the primary pillars — environmental, social and economic — to help ensure true sustainability at each stage of the beef supply chain:

  • Water resources
  • Land resources
  • Air and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Efficiency and yield
  • Animal health and well-being
  • Employee safety and well-being

Across the industry, these goals take into account the most updated science around key indicators. They include updating or writing new grazing management plans for cow/calf operations; updating or writing nutrient management plans and practices; addressing water management, quality and use optimization and conservation; ensuring a documented employee safety and well-being program which engages front-line employees and leadership; and addressing food waste and setting targets to track performance of food waste reduction programs.

The goals and targets aim to identify and supplement sustainability practices and support the collection of benchmarking data for current industry sustainability efforts. They also set new objectives to help producers and the industry bring the most sustainable beef products to market.

Across the beef value chain, these goals will enable stakeholders to take ownership of sustainability practices already underway while building new practices on a solid foundation by which competitors and industry counterparts can also measure themselves.

To help ensure all stakeholders have what they need to begin tracking current and new sustainability practices, the USRSB maintains a library of science-based tools and resources, including sustainability modules, resource toolkits and self-assessment tools.

From cow/calf producers at the beginning of the supply chain to retail and foodservice at the end of the supply chain, the beef industry is working together to move the sustainability needle.

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