Defining Sustainability

From the Pasture to the Golden Arches

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, the largest independent agricultural research organization in the U.S., is coordinating and providing project management for the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef’s new pilot program. (Photo courtesy The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation)

"Producer-focused" and "unbiased" is how Chad Ellis says The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation will approach a new two-year research project build around testing metrics established by the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) and exploring scalable solutions that might be applicable to beef production across the U.S.

Ellis, manager for the Foundation's Center for Land Stewardship, is spearheading this work with the USRSB. He said they will follow six indicators the USRSB has set, collecting data throughout the full value chain for beef. Those six indicators are:(1) Animal Health and Well-Being; (2) Efficiency and Yield; (3) Water Resources; (4) Land Resources; (5) Air and Greenhouse Gas Emissions; and (6) Worker Safety and Well-Being.

"Here at the Nobel Foundation we see this as a positive thing for the beef industry, and a way to stay ahead of the game," said Ellis. "Rather than having something dictated to us as producers, we would rather be a part of the solution."

Ellis said the group is already collecting data on 2017 calves hitting the ground. They will follow these calves through the next two to three years examining every step of the beef production system.

Billy Cook, director of the Noble Foundation Agricultural Division, said "this project translates this approach of continuous improvement into a real-world, systems-wide application that holds the potential to someday benefit producers and customers around the globe."

Five organizations will be a part of the project: Integrity Beef Alliance, Beef Marketing Group (BMG), Tyson, Golden State Foods and McDonald's.

Ranchers who are part of the Noble Foundation's Integrity Beef Alliance raise the cattle. Members of this alliance emphasize progressive management, ranch stewardship and humane care.

Next, Beef Marketing Group (BMG) will feed the cattle in one of its Kansas yards. BMG is a cooperative that works with local farmers, cow-calf producers, stockers and auction markets to maximize efficiency and has been at the forefront of the sustainability effort to date. John Butler, chief executive officer of BMG is also chair of the USRSB.

Once the cattle leave BMG, they will be taken to Tyson Foods for harvesting. Some of the meat will then go to Golden State Foods, which supplies beef to McDonald's.

Rickette Collins, McDonald's Corporation Strategic Supply Chain Director, said: "McDonald's is synonymous with burgers, which is why we believe we have a responsibility to help evolve our industry to produce beef in a more sustainable way. We see this program as another step forward on the journey toward a more sustainable beef supply and, through collaboration, will help develop a more sustainable and efficient beef supply chain that benefits the environment, producers and, ultimately, our customers."

McDonald's completed a beef sustainability project with Canadian ranchers in 2016. That pilot, which started in 2014, verified 154 cow-calf and backgrounder operators, 24 feedlots, 2 packers and 1 patty plant that met sustainability standards set for that country.

(SK)

Victoria Myers