Sustainability

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Over the years I have heard questions about NCBA’s policy positions on sustainability and the efforts we take based on that policy. Below are some frequently asked questions and my candid answers.

  1. Why is there a U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef? The world is bombarded by pseudo-scientific information on beef production fueled by headlines like “Meatless Monday’s” and “Meat is Destroying the Planet.” These narratives fuel a perception that the beef industry is bad for the earth, and we must figure out how to change that.

However, our industry will not win by solely throwing better science in a consumer’s face.  Frankly, consumers don’t care enough to research the topic to understand the nuances of our critics’ claims. And with the volume of negative conversation outweighing the positive, we must act fast.

We must SHOW how we care. That’s where the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) comes in, and why NCBA is a member.

  1. What does USRSB do? USRSB is advancing and communicating about improvements in beef sustainability. It is a partnership of 119 individuals, companies and organizations working to advance this mission. More than 50 percent of its members are cattle producers or cattle producer organizations. You may recognize names like NCBA, Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, The Nature Conservancy, Kansas Livestock Association, Costco, Cargill, Texas A&M, Elanco Animal Health, McDonald’s, World Wildlife Fund, Arby’s, Merck Animal Health and King Ranch.
  2. Why would we want to be in the same organization as WWF? That’s a common question. But ask yourself this: have we been gaining or losing trust with our consumers here in the United States? Honest answer: losing. Has this been happening despite a significant industry effort to dispel consumer concerns? Honest answer: yes. Does WWF have more or less credibility with the general consumer than we do? Honest answer: more.

But has WWF in this country indicated they believe ranching benefits the environment? The surprising answer: yes! WWF has a sustainable ranching initiative and talks publicly about ranching as the main reason the Northern Great Plains are still intact. They want to keep those grasslands intact and understand a profitable ranching sector goes hand-in-hand with that goal.

While we will not always agree with them, they do hold the potential to unlock consumer trust in our industry. Are we brave enough to take that step? If we can find common ground on sustainability issues, it could be a game-changer.

  1. What is NCBA’s role in the organization? Though not complicated, it is unique. Just like the other members, NCBA has a vote and a voice. NCBA has an additional role, however, as a contractor to USRSB, providing the administrative services of the organization. It is compensated by USRSB for those services.
  2. What is USRSB doing and what are its plans? Besides routinely correcting falsehoods and pushing back on fearmongering within our industry, USRSB has worked since its 2015 inception to put together science-based literature, resources and tools for use by all industry members (from cow-calf operations to corporate retailers) to improve their individual sustainability footprint. These resources are called the U.S. Beef Industry Sustainability Framework. It is housed at www.BeefSustainability.us.
  3. Will USRSB be a verification or certification program? No. USRSB is not set up for and does not have the capacity to become either of these things. But existing programs (premium-based, perhaps) often want to prevent redundancy for producers and incorporate an industry developed sustainability framework, and that’s what USRSB can do.

To that end, USRSB came up with a Recognition Program that allows programs to be evaluated against the Framework components. Those that incorporate them will receive recognition. Think of a seal of approval that indicates the program has effectively and accurately used USRSB resources. It will become increasingly powerful as more programs participate in the process.

  1. Will USRSB follow suit on the numerous existing Greenhouse Gas and other commitments? USRSB will help put improvements on the ground by creating initiatives and developing goals. USRSB intends to work toward industry goals around water, land, air, animal health, efficiency and safety over the next year. It’s a strong commitment that will improve the long-term trust consumers have in real, authentic beef.
  2. Why are checkoff dollars going to USRSB? THEY’RE NOT! Zero dollars. Nada. Zilch. Use any word that equates to NOTHING. USRSB is solely funded by membership dues dollars paid by its 119 members. Just because some in our industry keep saying there are doesn’t make it true. Please tell your friends.

Maybe these questions have raised more questions. I invite you to attend the Producer Education Forum at the 2020 Cattle Industry Convention & NCBA Trade Show in San Antonio in February. We will put all the cards on the table.

By Ashley Lyon McDonald, NCBA Senior Director, Sustainability, Producer Education & Sustainability

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