Sustainable beef has made big gains, but there’s more to do

Beef industry now needs to achieve ambitious targets to combat climate change, says expert

Kendra Donnelly, pictured with husband Bryan and son Owen, is featured in a new video sponsored by McDonald’s Canada. Being open and telling the story of sustainable beef remains critical, says an expert in global beef supply chains.
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Canada’s beef sector is a model when it comes to sustainability but the entire industry has more to do in the face of a changing climate, says an expert in global beef supply chains.

Tim Hardman. photo: Supplied

“Our needs today are changing rapidly — with the widespread droughts in some places and flooding in others,” Tim Hardman of Fulton Marketing Group said at the recent (virtual) Canadian Beef Industry Conference.

“With all that’s going on now, it’s next to impossible to focus on what future generations will need. But to live up to the expectation, we not only need to meet our needs today, but picture what future generations will look like.”

Hardman has deep roots in the beef sustainability movement.

He was formerly the beef director for the World Wildlife Fund and is a member of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef as well as its global and U.S. sister organizations. He is now the global sustainability director for Fulton Marketing Group, an international beef supply chain management company headquartered in Chicago.

With a growing middle class around the world and the Earth’s population expected to hit nine billion in 2050, there will be more demand for animal protein, he said.

“Estimates show that meat production will need to effectively double to meet that demand by 2050,” Hardman said.

Currently, 30 per cent of global protein and 18 per cent of global calories come from animal sources.

But the increasingly urban population is several generations removed from the farm and so telling the beef sustainability story will be challenging, he said.

“Our industry has to stay relevant to an industry of food experts who have little to no idea of how it ends up in their stores and on their tables,” he said, adding the keys to that are being transparent and engaging with consumers.

“We need to talk about how 80 per cent of livestock feed comes from sources that people can’t eat directly.”

Thirty per cent of agricultural land isn’t suitable for crop production and grazing animals is critical to keeping that land healthy, but the livestock industry also has negative impacts, Hardman said.

“We need to own those impacts and reduce them as much as is possible and feasible. The beef industry has a great history and a great story to tell. We need to share those stories and experiences widely so we can regain the trust of our consumers.

“Part of that trust can be regained by setting goals, and measuring them.”

That’s one reason why Canada is a model for others, he said.

“Among the long list of goals you have set are reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent, sequestering 3.4 million tonnes of carbon every year, and maintaining 35 million native grass acres by 2030.”

The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef recently set a very precise goal to reduce the climate impact of beef production: Cutting the net global warming impact of each unit of beef by 30 per cent by 2030. To do this, roundtable members will need to incentivize climate-smart meat processing, production (including improved reproductive and feed efficiency) and trade; increase carbon sequestration; and preserve healthy soils, he said.

“The roundtable’s belief is that sustainable beef production can, and should, have a positive impact on nature,” said Hardman. “Agreeing to and setting these goals was no easy task. It was not one that was taken lightly.

“Achieving these goals is going to be even harder. Partnerships are going to be key.”

Again, Canada has been a leader, said Hardman, citing the beef sector’s alliance with McDonald’s Canada in the verified sustainable beef initiative.

The fast-food giant played a prominent role — first in the effort by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef to develop production standards and the certification process, and then as the largest customer for beef certified by the CRSB.

In the past year, McDonald’s Canada has doubled the amount of certified sustainable beef it buys, the company’s senior manager of strategic supply told conference attendees.

“Sustainability remains a priority for us, and we continue to increase our purchases of CRSB certified beef,” said Nicole Zeni. “This will be a long journey, as we are the single largest purchaser of beef in the Canadian food industry.”

Along with buying certified sustainable beef, McDonald’s has undertaken numerous publicity efforts to showcase the beef sector’s stewardship. The latest is a sponsorship of YouTube video producer Andrew Gunadie, who goes by the name ‘gunnarolla.’ The Ontario native, who says his YouTube videos have been viewed more than 10 million times, recently released a video of his meeting with fourth-generation rancher and feedlot operator Kendra Donnelly in High River. (The video can be found at www.youtube.com by searching for ‘gunnarolla.’)

It’s extremely important for producers to share their stories and talk about how beef is produced, said Hardman.

“Become involved, and talk about your progress, because we can’t sell a secret,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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