Walmart executives recently announced in a blog post that the company is furthering an original set of goals set in 2016 when Walmart chief executive officer Doug McMillon committed to sourcing 20 key commodities -- one of which was beef -- more sustainably by 2025.
“As the world population continues to grow, so does the global demand for protein, which brings a unique set of sustainability challenges and opportunities. Livestock grazing and beef production in the U.S. can be part of a resilient, sustainable food system. Grazing lands cover about 40% of the United States. This includes iconic ecosystems and important wildlife,” noted David Baskin, merchandising vice president of meat for Walmart U.S., and Kyle Kinnard, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of meat and seafood for Sam's Club U.S.
Recognizing that farmers and ranchers are the stewards of these lands, Baskin and Kinnard emphasized the need to support ongoing and increased efforts to maximize the positive effects of cattle production.
“We’ve learned a lot from farmers and ranchers who understand the importance of soil health and grazing to carbon sequestration and have a vested interest in ensuring they protect their land for generations to come,” they said. “As a result, Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. are announcing a new set of aspirations that will further our work and ultimately bring us closer to meeting our 2025 objectives.”
Sustainably raised: Driving soil health and animal welfare
According to the two executives, Walmart aspires to source its fresh beef products more sustainably by 2025, including prioritizing soil health, animal welfare and responsible use of antibiotics.
“We will continue working with suppliers to improve grain sourcing and grazing management practices across a total of 12 million acres while upholding our suppliers to the ‘Five Freedoms’ for animal welfare,” Baskin and Kinnard said.
Further, Walmart said it expects suppliers to not tolerate animal abuse of any kind and to support Walmart’s position on the judicious use of antibiotics in farm animals.
Greater transparency, partnership
The company highlighted a greater need for transparency and partnership and encouraged suppliers to continuously improve their efforts in understanding the entire beef production cycle from farm to fork.
“Using a science-driven process, we worked with The Nature Conservancy to identify opportunities and strategies to improve sustainability efforts throughout our supply chain, which can ultimately lead to improved soil health and decreased greenhouse gas emissions,” Baskin and Kinnard relayed.
With this in place, Walmart hopes to source from fresh beef suppliers that have a tech-enabled supply chain to measure sustainability impact at scale. The infusion of modern technology, they said, may help beef suppliers measure the benefits of grazing and grain best practices, adaptively manage and offer a more accurate way to trace the impact.
It can also help support beef suppliers’ efforts to better understand the environmental footprint of their supply chains -- for instance, using geographic and greenhouse gas indicators, Baskin and Kinnard said.
To measure, track and understand which efforts are most successful so learnings can be shared across the sector, Walmart is also asking suppliers to participate in annual reporting initiatives.
Supporting farmers and ranchers in their efforts to improve and continuing to drive meaningful, lasting change across the beef supply chain calls for collaboration, according to Walmart.
“While we work with individuals and small groups of stakeholders, we are also partnering – and invite our suppliers to join us in – key collective action initiatives such as the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, Midwest Row Crop Collaborative and Field to Market,” the company said.
These efforts, Basking and Kinnard said, help the industry come together to share and align on best practices, course correct where needed and continue to evolve the industry to meet goals for suppliers and the environment.
“Overall, we see an opportunity for a whole-system transformation and continued progress across the beef supply chain. That is why we focus on sustainability in our sourcing decisions and work to drive action in policy, advocacy and philanthropy both globally and domestically,” they added.