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U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef releases national framework

Public comment period will be open until July 1 for feedback.

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U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef releases national framework
Peter Milota Jr./iStock/Thinkstock

The U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) opened a 60-day public comment period on May 3 on the group’s Sustainability Framework.

The USRSB Sustainability Framework is a set of resources developed to assist ranchers, cattle auction markets, feedyards, packers, processors and retail and foodservice organizations in their efforts to continuously improve the sustainability of U.S. beef.

“The framework was developed from the collective efforts of more than 200 individuals who make up the USRSB and represent all segments of the beef value chain, from producers to retailers, including non-governmental organizations and academic institutions,” said Kim Stackhouse-Lawson, JBS USA sustainability director and 2018-19 USRSB chair. “The USRSB membership has invested more than three years in developing these resources, which we believe will serve as an invaluable tool in enhancing U.S. beef sustainability and increasing economic opportunities in rural landscapes across America.”

The USRSB Sustainability Framework highlights key areas important to the sustainability of beef and examines unique opportunities for each segment of the beef value chain to identify opportunities to improve and reflect on their individual progress. Most importantly, the framework is not a one-size-fits-all approach; it is designed to address the needs of the diverse beef communities that produce, buy and sell beef.

“From the rancher to the consumer purchasing beef for their family meal, everyone plays a unique and important role in beef sustainability. The USRSB framework was intentionally designed to apply to all sizes and types of operations and companies, no matter where they are in their sustainability journey,” Stackhouse-Lawson said. “This approach celebrates the diversity of the U.S. beef community while providing enough flexibility to address the unique sustainability challenges across our national production system.”

The key areas identified by the USRSB as being important to the sustainability of beef are referred to as high-priority indicators. These include: animal health and well-being, efficiency and yield, employee safety and well-being, land resources, water resources and air and greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainability Metrics and Sustainability Assessment Guides serve as the segment-specific elements of the framework tailored to address the unique challenges in the cow/calf, cattle auction market, feedyard, packer and processor and retail and foodservice sectors.

“The USRSB public comment period is an opportunity for us to listen. As we open this conversation to the public, we will build upon the USRSB’s foundational work with the important input from interested stakeholders,” Stackhouse-Lawson said. “Our journey is not complete after the comment period. The USRSB’s mission is to continuously improve, meaning we will always need to evaluate, assess and adapt to ensure the U.S. beef value chain remains the trusted global leader in sustainable beef production.” 

The USRSB public comment period will end July 1. To learn more about the USRSB Sustainability Framework or to participate in the 60-day public comment period, visit www.USRSBFramework.org.

What does this mean for producers?

Ashley McDonald, senior director of sustainability at National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn., said the beef industry has a wonderful track record, history and heritage to build upon but added that the industry also knows and is committed to making continuous improvement over time.

“With the help of a lot of our research friends in the research community, we know that we can identify and work towards continuing to improve the efficiency at which we produce beef and put that healthy product on the plate of our consumers around the world,” she said.

What’s really important, she said, is that USRSB hopes it has developed tools and resources that will be really helpful to producers on the ground. With the framework complete, she emphasized the need for producer feedback to determine whether it will help them improve overall.

As for why the initiative is important to producers, McDonald explained, “We hear more and more how concerned consumers are about sustainability, and at this point, they still don’t know exactly what they mean when they say ‘sustainable beef.’ That gives us the opportunity, as the beef industry, to really write that story, and so we want to do that. We want to help them understand what we do, why we do it that way and that we’re committed — like we have been for hundreds of years — to continuously improving, making our operation better tomorrow than they were yesterday — and that’s what sustainability really is and what it really comes down to.”

This is something that every cow/calf producer, every feedyard manager, etc., in this country should really be at the table talking about, she added. “We have a wonderful story to tell — maybe the best sustainability story of any industry in the United States. So, we need to be at the table with the people that have the direct connection to consumers and the trust of consumers.”

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