Community Agriculture Alliance: Sustainable beef
Today, many of us are thinking about ways to make our lifestyle as sustainable as possible. What does it mean to be sustainable when the subject is beef and raising cattle? Can the ranching industry, a vital part of life in the Yampa Valley for 130 years or more, contribute to a sustainable future?
For starters, there has been a lot of discussion/debate on the definition of sustainability, with the beef industry working to help define what it means as well. One of several organizations that are involved in these topics is the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
The Global Roundtable is a global, multi-stakeholder initiative developed to advance continuous improvement in sustainability of the beef value chain through leadership, science, engagement and collaboration. All aspects of the beef value chain need to also be environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable.
The following five principles help provide some of the more specific definitions as they relate to beef sustainability. It is important to note that most ranchers are already following these principles in their every day operations. It is also important to point out that these organizations that work on defining beef sustainability are led by volunteers, businesses, nongovernmental organizations and producers. They are not about mandating, regulating or enforcing these principles. Rather, they are about providing guidelines and being a resource.
- Animal health and welfare: This principle is about providing ethical and responsible animal care. Some examples are providing adequate feed and water to meet cattle’s needs; balancing the cattle’s diet to promote good health and proper body condition; providing appropriate treatment to control and treat disease; using veterinary pharmaceuticals responsibly and in accordance with labeling, taking appropriate action to minimize undue pain, injury and disease; and minimizing cattle stress through good handling.
- Natural resources: This principle is based on the concept of managing ecosystem health through the adoption of practices to sustain and restore natural resources. Examples include land stewardship, pasture management, water conservation, air quality and managing for healthy soil conditions.
- People and community: This principle is based on the respect for the rights of human beings and recognition of their diverse cultural heritage. Examples include conducting business with integrity in compliance of laws and regulations, providing safe work places and respecting land and property rights.
- Food: This is about transparency and integrity around the whole beef value chain when producing food. Examples include focus on food safety, beef quality, sharing information and waste reduction taking into account consumer expectations.
- Efficiency and innovation: This is about the ability of the beef industry to adapt to challenges by applying efficiency and innovation through education, partnerships and shared knowledge. For example, using DNA markers to identify best traits in cattle for a particular environment or applying rotational grazing practices to improve soil and grass health.
There is much more information and in-depth discussion on beef sustainability at grsbeef.org and usrsb.org.
Erika Murphy is a seedstock producer in the Yampa Valley and a member of Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and Routt County Cattlewomen.
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