Rural Issue

Beef industry launches sustainability project

The U.S. beef industry is launching what it calls “a landmark sustainability assessment”.

Bo Reagan of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) says the industry will be using an “eco-efficiency” tool developed by the BASF Corporation, which is partnering on the project.

Reagan says the first step is to conduct what’s known as a “hot spot analysis” to assess stakeholder perceptions of the beef industry.

“Whether it’s water usage—whether you’re talking about carbon footprint, methane gas—whatever you want to talk about,” Reagan says. “We’re going to have a long, long list of factors that people feel like are things we need to address in the beef industry to enhance our sustainability.”

Reagan says the eco-efficiency tool will then put a cost on addressing those hot spots.  While some may prove to be economically and socially impractical, Reagan expects to find many other areas that are.

“With that model, we’ll also be able to go back and say ‘okay, here are five areas that are important—where you can make great gains from the standpoint of the cost of really making significant strides here’,” he says.

Anti-meat activists have long argued that beef production is unsustainable.  Reagan says the industry’s sustainability assessment will provide scientifically rigorous and credible information to help address those claims.

“Because it’s important that we put a stake in the ground—let people know that this is a very high priority for our industry—let them know that we are working on this,” says Reagan, “and to be able to have the data in hand showing them the significant strides we’re making each year as we move along.”

The research effort will funded with beef checkoff dollars. NCBA is the checkoff contractor managing the assessment.

AUDIO: Bo Reagan (9:13 MP3)

Link to CBB news release

  • If the NCBA and Mr. Reagan really think that a hotspot analysis involves asking stakeholders what they believe are the important impacts within their industry, they are off to a very bad start. It takes an analysis of the actual life cycle of beef production in order to determine hotspots, not polling people on their beliefs of what is important to address. If they really want to do this right, they should hire an independent assessor and begin with a review of existing literature. There are at least a handful of good studies on the life cycle impacts of beef in the United States, e.g. by Pelletier et al. 2010. While I think they are right to look into the sustainability of beef production, I am skeptical of their study already, simply by virtue of how they have presented it. Sustainability is about more than just words and using one tool to support what you would like to claim.

    Alexandra Ewing
    PhD Candidate, Environmental Management & Sustainability
    Vanderbilt University, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

  • Dear Ms. Ewing,

    Thank you for your comment. The article above is misleading since it only focuses on one part of the beef industry’s sustainability assessment. The Beef Checkoff program has partnered with BASF to conduct a comprehensive sustainability assessment of the U.S. beef industry. Through this partnership a multi-year research project will be conducted that quantifies all system inputs and outputs and identifies areas of improvements in beef cattle management. Upon completion this project will be validated by an independent third party.

    The project consists of three phases: 1) conduct a hot spot analysis where a review of the literature
    and an assessment of stakeholder perceptions is evaluated, 2) conduct a comprehensive life cycle assessment (ISO compliant) of the beef production system from cradle to grave that also includes independent social and economic analysis (all other beef cattle LCAs have stopped at the farm gate; Johnson et al., 2003, Casey and Holden, 2005, Ogino et al., 2007, Pelletier et al., 2010, Beauchemin et al., 2010), and 3) to develop a tool for beef producers to use to develop specific individual management strategies to improve their operation’s sustainability.

    By committing to such an extensive project the U.S. cattle producers show their promise to meet the growing demand for beef by raising and managing animals using the most efficient and sustainable practices.

    Kim Stackhouse-Lawson, PhD
    Project Manager
    National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

  • Hope you guys do not follow the type of research that Prof. Mitloehner is conducting at UCDavis. He is pretty good at speaking and convincing people that he is the “sustainable” guy, but I read some of the thesis and dissertation that come out of his laboratory and it is a shame that a professor let the students do what they do.
    Best wishes

  • I was invited to attend a sustainable beef meeting in Denver last year (WWF) as president of the Council for Agricultural Science & Technology, which has published an excellent objective paper on the issues involved with animal air pollution (rebutting the errors in the “livestock’s long shadow” report from the UN FAO, which has since admitted its scoping error in its LCA. I commend NCBA for using checkoff dollars for this effort — my clients in the soybean industry took a similar step, and it has paid off in market access and in answering retailer questions. As for Dr. Mitloehenr at UC Davis, his research is without reproach — I have know idea what his grad students are writing. All the best. Tom

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