2021 GRSB Meeting: Increasing Production while Protecting the Planet

With the impacts of a global pandemic still reverberating and the concerns of climate change weighing on the beef sector, sustainable beef is becoming a more urgent topic of discussion in the industry, writes Timothy Wier for The Cattle Site.
calendar icon 1 June 2021
clock icon 5 minute read

The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) exists to advance, support & communicate continuous improvement toward sustainability of the global beef value chain, through a combination of leadership, science and multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration. The GRSB met in April at the Global Conference on Sustainable Beef to announce and outline their global goals. 

GRSB envisions a world of both economic and environmental sustainability for producers, as well as the sector as a whole. To do this, they’ve established three major pillars to work toward:

  • Climate change
  • Animal welfare
  • Environment and land use

Three drafting groups, each focused on one of the pillars, have spent the past two years setting goals for what the future of sustainable beef will look like. While there are many unknown factors as to how we will reach this future, GRSB is confident that innovation and open mindedness will be essential for success.

Skeptics can rest assured that this no “pie in the sky” dream. GRSB is committed to balancing global-level ambition with on-the-ground pragmatism, taking into account the livelihood of the producers as part of their planning process.

Here is an in-depth look at each of the three major pillars that GRSB is focusing on as they develop plans for a more sustainable beef sector of the future.

1. Climate change

It’s no overstatement to say that climate change is the biggest environmental issue of our time. Even in the best-case scenarios, we know that global warming will disrupt sea levels, land and even entire ecosystems.

The impact of beef production on the climate is an issue that customers, investors and stakeholders are very interested in. This is why the beef sector particularly has a responsibility to adapt their practices to reduce damage to the climate.

This has been a priority on the global stage for some time:

  • European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability plans to reduce GHG emissions from beef production by 15% by 2025
  • Canada’s beef industry has committed to 33% reduction in emissions by 2030
  • Australia’s red meat industry is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030

GRSB has committed to reach a science-based target of 31% reduction in supply chain emissions per ton of food and packaging between 2015 and 2030. They’re also planning to reduce the carbon footprint of each unit of beef by 30% by 2030. Both of these targets will be major steps toward full carbon neutrality.

There are a number of ways to meet these goals, all of which require collaboration and teamwork among GRSB members:

  • Maximizing efficiency through better breeding, feeding and animal health
  • Leveraging the benefits of carbon sequestration through grazing and cropping practices, building soil health and resilience to increased extreme weather events
  • Investing in processing, distribution and retail to increase efficiency, reduce waste, and transition to renewable energy

GRSB has the potential to bring members of the world together to learn from each other and solve some of the many challenges that face the planet. Rather than cause the problem, they’re making significant investments to solve it.

2. Animal welfare

The industry has made a lot of advancements in breeding, genetics and cattle health and technology. This is a journey of continuous improvement for beef producers, resulting in better beef products, as well as improved cattle health and welfare.

GRSB is focused on animal welfare as a core pillar of their sustainable beef efforts, with particular focus on five domains:

  • Nutrition
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Behavior
  • Mental states

In the past, work done within the five domains has focused on the absence of negatives (e.g. avoiding malnutrition or negative environmental elements). GRSB, on the other hand, is approaching these domains from a positive perspective, identifying how to provide “a life worth living” to the animals.

Generally speaking, there are two ways to measure animal welfare:

  • Animal-based outcome measures, like morbidity, body condition score, mobility issues, breeding, etc., all of which can be identified at slaughter
  • Resource-based measures, like the training that handlers have received, facilities that were available for animal management and technological improvements

With the advent of wearable devices that constantly monitor an animal’s physical state, it will be easier to measure animal-based outcome measures. Unfortunately, the technology is not widely available in the market, so the ability to measure animal-based measures is currently limited.

3. Environment and land use

GRSB and its members are committed to producing, financing, sourcing and supporting a wide range of good practices to sustain or restore grazing lands, enhance resilience, increase biodiversity and help reverse ecological decline.

Generally, this work is divided into two categories, which are both critical to any land sustainability goal: land use (e.g. land management, soil health and productivity) and land change (e.g. deforestation, loss of grasslands). Their top priorities include:

  • Adopting science-based land management practices
  • Eliminating illegal deforestation and increasing support for beef that doesn’t contribute to additional deforestation
  • Focusing on traceability, transparency and information flows up and down the value chain

By 2030, GRSB plans to ensure that the beef value chain is a net positive contributor to nature. As an interim milestone to track progress toward this goal, by 2023 GRSB and its members will be able to measure, track, report and verify regional and global metrics that will clearly and transparently demonstrate progress toward this goal.

This goal establishes a common direction for the industry, as it will take a wide range of actions to get there.

One of the reasons that GRSB did not set a specific target is because they wanted to find a global metric that could credibly and effectively accommodate the flexibility needed across various regions. That’s why they’re focusing on designing the system, which will then define the global goal.

One important point is that GRSB is committed to protecting native forest, grasslands and other native ecosystems, starting with eliminating illegal deforestation urgently, and identifying voluntary actions beyond legal compliance that will allow for more beef to be produced without harming local ecologies.

Timothy Wier is a content writer and marketer based in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. He is the founder of FEARLESS Content Group and has written for a number of brands both inside and outside of agriculture.


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