The U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef adopted a framework last week for producing sustainable beef — from the calf on the ground through to steak on the plate.
The framework will help ranchers and others across the beef value chain maximize their opportunities for continuous improvement in sustainability.
It allows individual operations that raise, process or sell beef in the U.S. to voluntarily assess their sustainability efforts and gives them tools to improve. It also provides a means of highlighting their commitment to the public.
The framework has been in development four years and included internal and public comment periods. Its adoption was announced at the roundtable's fifth annual general assembly in Fresno, Calif.
The roundtable doesn’t verify or certify individuals or companies using the framework, but it has begun a marketplace recognition program for those incorporating its metrics, Ashley McDonald, senior director of sustainability for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told Capital Press.
The recognition program will award a seal of approval to those who follow it. Companies can also use the framework for their own sustainability certifications or broaden their worker safety programs to include metrics for water management or greenhouse gas emissions, she said.
The roundtable will continue to measure the industry’s progress and use of individual metrics, such as nutrient management plans, she said.
One way to measure improvement will be through the Sustainability Assessment of U.S. Beef Production, funded by beef checkoff money. The assessment is done about every five years to measure the environmental impact of beef, she said.
“That will show us as a whole — is the industry improving?” she said.
The roundtable might also do statistical surveys to see where the industry is now and continue to measure implementation of the metrics. It can also use company certification programs in its calculations, she said.
Most of the framework is guidance materials on sustainable practices, along with research, to help individuals and companies incorporate those practices, she said.
Over the next year or two, the focus will be on education and training on a better way to raise cattle and process or sell beef, she said.
“Our mission is really to improve the entire industry. Hopefully, the roundtable will be a big piece of accelerating those improvements,” she said.
The roundtable has already reviewed and given its support to 16 pilot projects on sustainable practices in various segments of the industry.
The framework was developed by cattle producers, feedlot operators, livestock auction markets, packers and processors, retail and foodservice companies, veterinarians, scientists, non-government organizations and other stakeholders.
It offers guidance to help operations and businesses improve sustainability regarding water and land resources, animal health and wellbeing, employee safety and wellbeing, efficiency and yield and air and greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring operational and financial success.
The roundtable’s 116 members represent 30% of the U.S. cattle herd, more than 20 million pounds of beef processing and more than 100 million consumers.