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Sustainability Has A Whole Lot Of Meanings

Sustainability Has A Whole Lot Of Meanings

There were a couple of big announcements recently. First, McDonald’s announced it is looking at phasing out the use of gestation stalls [3] among its pork suppliers. And, a host of big players in the meat business – among them, JBS, Cargill, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and others – announced that they, along with groups like the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy, were forming a non-profit organization – the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) Learn more at www.sustainablelivestock.org [4].

The group says it’s “an action-oriented initiative consisting of multiple stakeholders who recognize and respect the important role a sustainable beef supply chain plays in feeding the growing global population.” GRSB aims to facilitate “a global dialogue on beef production that is environmentally sound, socially responsible, and economically viable. It provides stakeholders and interested parties with the opportunity to jointly develop global solutions to advance sustainable beef production.”

 One would think that such an alliance would be heralded and welcomed by those promoting sustainable agricultural production. However, it’s been amazing to read the reactions from those “green” groups and people who hold themselves up as supporters of sustainability. In their minds, sustainability is synonymous with anti-corporate, anti-capitalism, anti-modern agriculture, anti-technology and, for many, anti-livestock.

Thus, the very idea that these mega corporations could be part of the sustainability answer is apparently impossible for these folks to comprehend. And, the realization that we have a swelling global world population whose feed and fiber needs will be a top priority is also heresy, because the food and fiber powerhouses that these groups oppose inherently need to be part of any solution.

That increasing yields and the use of technology to improve efficiencies might be part of the solution is worse yet, as it tends to coincide with both size and scope of the entities. And, if one looks at the U.S., which has fewer than 7% of the world’s cows but produces 20% of the world’s beef, it presents a strong argument in favor of the sustainability of modern agriculture [5]. But that’s bad news for the organic movement and others also aligning with these green groups.

In essence, the GRSB appears to be a real threat to many of these activist green groups because it purports to actually focus on sustainability from a factual and not just a philosophical viewpoint. As the GRSB press release notes, “The GRSB roundtables comprise representatives from industry, non-profit organizations, associations, academia and think tanks. They work to identify measurable, scientific methods to reduce environmental impact and help stakeholders implement them.” That isn’t the type of sustainability these activist groups support.

There was a lot of heartburn in our industry [6] when the first Global Conference on Sustainable Beef was held in Denver last fall. For good reason, the industry was concerned that this would be yet another means to remove sound science [7] in the name of sustainability. The jury is still out but, if nothing else, having someone out there talking about sustainability in a true sense of the word [8]is probably a positive. If an effort like GRSB can help turn the conversation toward a discussion of true sustainability based on sound science – and away from politically correct or agenda-driven concepts – then that’s something everyone can support.