Consumers today are blessed with a myriad of choices when they walk into a grocery store. Aside from the many brands of beef, shoppers can choose their preferred production method -- conventional, organic, natural or grass-fed. With so many choices and an abundance of items, it can be a challenge to know which choice is best for your health and the planet.
What is sustainable beef? How is it best defined?
Rachel Tepper writes for The Huffington Post, “Earlier this month, McDonald's Corp.'s sustainability vice president Bob Langert addressed the issue of sustainable beef and the difficulty defining it. His concerns come more than a year after the company pledged to move toward sustainability. Langert's comments bring up pointed questions. McDonald's defines ‘double green’ as plans and actions that ultimately benefit society and business growth, but how easy is it to make a business sustainable -- particularly fast-food businesses that rely heavily on beef -- and what does beef sustainability even mean?
“Interest in sustainability has skyrocketed among major players in the food service industry in recent years, mirroring conversations in the broader green and food communities about the agriculture industry's role in serious environmental challenges.
“Bryan Weech, director of livestock agriculture for World Wildlife Fund (WWF), told The Huffington Post that ‘there is no one, universally accepted definition’ for beef sustainability. Weech also represents the WWF on the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, one of several groups working toward a definition.
“Jude Capper, an adjunct professor of animal sciences at Washington State University, agrees. Moving toward sustainability is easier said than done, she says.
‘There is no doubt that for every restaurant or airline or car company, this is the kind of trendy issue at the moment. Can we say we’re buying any sustainable beef today? No, we can’t. Could we be buying sustainable beef? We might be. What I mean by that is that there are no standards, measures, accountability and traceability to make those claims today.
“Capper says basic improvements that could be implemented globally are straightforward ones, like attending to sick animals and providing nutritionally adequate feed. Also important is using land efficiently, which could be helped by simply increasing the number of calves in a herd. More animals healthily housed in less space, essentially.”
According to Tepper, there are several things that can help define what is sustainable including: “impact on protected wildlife, biodiversity, soil and land quality, water resources usage and quality, deforestation, land use and management, social responsibility, nutritional security and community and financial viability.”
It’s apparent from the experts quoted in the article that defining sustainability is a difficult task. To me, sustainable beef is that which is produced efficiently, packs the most nutrient punch and creates the least environmental impact. I think it’s great that the U.S. beef industry offers so many choices to appeal to a wide range of consumer demands and needs. However, I hope consumers know that they shouldn’t fear conventionally raised, traditional beef. After all, it’s a product that is raised with the most efficiency, therefore using less land, water and natural resources, while still providing many of the essential nutrients we need to thrive. With its tremendous efficiency, the U.S. model of beef production should be used as the world’s model for providing food with sustainability.
What does sustainability mean to you? Leave your definition in the comments section below.
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