Sustainable beef draft opens

18 Mar, 2014 05:30 AM
We need to address that issue, and be seen to be addressing it

THE first draft of an effort to develop a global verification system for sustainable beef has been put on the table, and is open to comment for 60 days.

The document put together by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) after two years of discussion provides a "common baseline understanding" that beef industries in different countries can use to guide development of their own verification systems.

As Canadian Cattlemen magazine reported from a meeting between Manitoba beef producers and McDonald’s Canada’s manager of sustainability, Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, the initiative is not being driven by the belief that beef producers are inherently unsustainable.

"You have multi-generational operations, so clearly, it’s sustainable," Mr Fitzpatrick-Stilwell told producers. "We just need from our end a way to verify it."

Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) president Andrew Ogilvie is urging Australian grassfed beef producers to consider how "verified sustainable beef" can work in the Australian context, and to provide comment to CCA via its dedicated web page

"This is not a green plot," Mr Ogilvie said. "This is a legitimate reaction to consumers who are starting to question the integrity and sustainability of our product."

"We need to address that issue, and be seen to be addressing it, otherwise consumers might choose to eat something else."

McDonald's, the Australian beef industry's largest food retail customer - the company last year bought about 29,000 tonnes of Australian beef for its domestic operations, and 42,000t for its South East Asian, Japanese, Middle East and United States operations - announced in early January that it will start preferentially sourcing verified sustainable beef from 2016.

In 2008, McDonald's commissioned environmental organisation WWF to review the sustainability of its supply chains. WWF found several commodities had sustainability issues, including poultry, coffee, palm oil and fish - and beef.

The company's January announcement is the delayed outcome of McDonald's' determination to address the sustainability of its supply chains. When the company stated its intentions, however, there was a conspicuous absence: a definition of "sustainable beef".

The GRSB document is a step down the long road of putting some substance behind the term.

McDonald's and WWF were founding members of GRSB in 2012, along with multinational processors Cargill and JBS, animal health companies Merck and Elanco, retailer Wal-Mart, and supply chain specialist Solidaridad.

The GRSB's "Principles & Criteria of Global Sustainable Beef" is a high-level look at what sustainability should look like.

The broad range of ecosystems in which beef can be produced "makes a "one-size-fits-all" global standard unrealistic" the document notes.

For that reason, it will be up to each country, perhaps even different regions, to develop their own performance-based measurements of sustainability. The main objective, the GRSB believes, is to be able to demonstrate to consumers that continuous improvement is being made around each of the principles.

GRSB has also made it clear that it's not just producers involved, but "the entire supply chain from farm to retail".

But Mr Ogilvie said because "the buck stops with producers", producers need to be proactive in shaping how "sustainable beef" is interpreted for Australia.

The CCA is already working on one prominent omission from the criteria: profitability.

The document's preamble observes that "...economic viability is a critical element throughout sustainable beef value chains".

"Each participant in the value chain, from the producer to the ultimate consumer of beef, must enjoy viable economic participation in order to ensure sustainable growth."

However, the "People and the Community" section then fails to mention economic viability.

Mr Ogilvie said the same omission has also been picked up by cattlemens associations in the United States and Canada, and they too are drafting responses.

Ignoring the GRSB initiative is not an option, he said. Even if it doesn't lead to greater profits - there is no suggestion it will put more money in producers' pockets - it may eventually influence market access.

"We just need to look at the major users of Australian beef: they are listening to their customers, who are telling them that want to buy product that they feel comfortable about. If we aren't part of this process, we might find ourselves in a situation that we are not happy with, and find it's diffcult to change."

"We need to be part of the process, and we need to drive the process."

Australia is in an advantageous position, he thinks, because its export-focused beef industry already has in place a suite of world-class systems and protocols that address many of the criteria.

The five principles for "global sustainable beef stakeholders" outlined in the GRSB draft are:

  • Natural resources - "produce beef in a manner that identifies and manages natural resources responsibly and maintains or enhances the health of ecosystems".
  • People and the Community - "protect and respect human rights, and recognize the critical roles that all participants within the beef value chain play in their community regarding culture, heritage, employment, land rights and health".
  • Animal health and welfare - "respect and manage animals to ensure their health and welfare".
  • Food - "ensure the safety and quality of beef products and utilise information-sharing systems that promote beef sustainability".
  • Efficiency and innovation - "encourage innovation, optimise production, reduce waste and add to economic viability".
  • Each principle is fleshed out with several more specific criteria.

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    Rob Moore
    18/03/2014 7:02:55 AM

    This is what happens when you take a free trip to Denver with a couple of mates. Just a back slap and a bit of harmless fun!! Just a thought bubble from some young marketing exec from somewhere ( probably big mac) Get your mate who works @ JBS on board and then get the producer Committees from around the world on board. "Come in Spinner" from Australia is always at the front of the queue. So a couple of years later with cows selling @40-80 cents kg live and grainfed cattle getting $4 dressed after a $700 feed bill... the CCA has got a cheek even mentioning this bs. They have no right to involve Aust
    18/03/2014 8:41:41 AM

    'because the buck stops with producers', i.e. they who carry the principle would then make logic that they should have a major input and receive sustainable returns at the farm gate. Vertical integration discussions do not work...... it's a bit like the government run by the church or lawyers. Democracy works with the separation of powers, not singular overwhelming influence.
    18/03/2014 10:52:30 AM

    I don't care want McDonald's wants unless they pay for it and they will have if they want this system to work as they use lower value cuts from the bulk of cattle and so cannot cherry pick on producers or suppliers.
    18/03/2014 12:57:00 PM

    Yes and WWF would be such an impartial source to do such a study... This should be totally refused by beef producers world wide... One company wanting to do it simply to get a marketing edge over it's competitors should be exposed for what it is. Because that is all this is... CCA should be ashamed of themselves for even entertaining this idea... In the end the consumer does not care, they just want a cheap product.. Just as the consumer does not care about people on slave wages making their iphones, or sending the Australian motor industry broke because imported cars are cheaper...
    18/03/2014 2:58:00 PM

    Unless a sustainable price is paid to the producer, the rest is pure BS.
    Rob Moore
    19/03/2014 7:53:56 AM

    JBS would supply mince patties to Big Mac. The dna from the one pattie could contain a dozen different who could give a you-know-what about sustainabilty. Not the junk food clients there who just want gut filled as cheap as possible. We have the most red tape that supposedly makes us the safest in the world now! How dare CCA enter into this bs on my behalf - they have no authority and should stand down from the committee. It is just a marketing "thought bubble" and should not be given the time of day by producers that will carry the can for NO BENEFIT!
    19/03/2014 10:42:35 AM

    "Sustainable" is just a code word for…… "Let us tell you what to do".
    19/03/2014 11:02:21 AM

    I say Get Stuffed
    19/03/2014 11:02:46 AM

    Graybull, it's the modern 'protection racket' the only difference is, instead of sending a couple of thug to trash your place over business they sent activists and left wing media to crash your markets.
    John Niven
    19/03/2014 11:14:41 AM

    The real problem is cost of compliance to the producer. There will be no financial benefit to cattle producers, just the angst of big brother looking over your shoulder.
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    You had better check your sources ATB!
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    I couldn't think of anything more painful or fruitless than sitting on a board that does not
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    I've said this before but if farmers are not happy with their CBH Board they should put up or