WHILE the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative's new farmer self-assessment checklist provides growers of arable and specialty crops with a tool to define and assess sustainability, it does not offer any such clarity for livestock producers.
In fact, the checklist includes only dairy and beef production as part of its six focus areas, and beef was a recent addition at the behest of McDonald's.
One of the reasons for the omission in the pilot checklist is that defining what constitutes sustainable livestock farming is not an easy task. Given wide differences around the globe in climate, available forage and grains, water resources and cultural and management practices, beef production differs considerably from one region to another.
Taking those differences into account while carefully constructing a definition of sustainable beef production, however, is a challenge that was recently accepted by a working group within the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB), which includes representatives from major beef-producing countries Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada and the U.S. as well as the European Union.
An April meeting in Chicago, Ill., launched the effort, which is expected to be completed later this year and presented to the next Global Conference on Sustainable Beef slated for early 2014 in Brazil.
"It is imperative that a full range of subject matter experts in the many areas of beef sustainability be involved in this process," said Bryan Weech, a member of the GRSB executive committee and director for livestock at the World Wildlife Fund. "We need to assure that all areas and points of view are represented so that the definition developed is as accurate and complete as possible."
The working group agreed to a set of "credibility principles" as part of the effort, including a commitment to clearly and objectively define sustainability, gathering a diverse but balanced group of stakeholders and engaging other relevant initiatives in an impartial, transparent and inclusive manner.
GRSB executive director Rory Petre, who is also chairing the working group, said there was no plan in place to develop a seal, certification or comparable standard for sustainable beef. The group will instead work to define sustainability based on core principles developed during the April meeting: people, community, animal well-being, food, natural resources, efficiency and innovation.