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Global conference advances beef sustainability

Stakeholders from 15 countries participated in seminars and discussion.

Assessing the overall sustainability of the beef value chain and connecting consumers and sustainability were just a couple of the topics discussed at the 2016 Global Conference on Sustainable Beef held Oct. 4-7 at the Fairmont Hotel in Banff Springs, Alb.

Nearly 225 beef value chain stakeholders from 15 countries around the world participated in seminars and moderated discussions focused on advocating for continuous improvement in the global beef value chain. The conference was co-hosted by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) and the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB).

“We were delighted with the mixture of people that attended the conference,” said Dennis Laycraft, GRSB president. “We covered a number of critical industry topics on beef sustainability and fostered discussions that brought people together. With that, I think we achieved what we had hoped for: We are bringing more interest and recognition to sustainability and the role of the beef industry.”

With the theme “Building on Experience: Regionally & Globally,” the conference offered more than 15 interactive sessions and 50 presentations on areas of beef sustainability and continuous improvement.

Dr. David Hughes, emeritus professor of food marketing at Imperial College London, began the conference with a keynote presentation — titled “What Do You Want with Your Beef?” — that addressed the history of consumer consumption and marketing of beef and current consumer expectations of the industry.

Regional roundtables, including from the U.S., Canada and Brazil, among others, gave presentations on how they are adapting sustainable beef practices within their geographical areas and measuring the impact on a local level. Panel discussions provided a sounding board for open dialogue on beef sustainability practices and progress being made throughout the world.

“Canada was honored to co-host this forward-thinking conference and pleased to showcase the work being done here," said CRSB chair Cherie Copithorne-Barnes, a rancher from Alberta. “The conference was a great opportunity to exchange information and learn from our global partners and stakeholders.”

During the global conference, CRSB — which also held its annual general meeting on Oct. 7 — launched its "National Beef Sustainability Assessment" and strategy. The assessment is a farm-to-fork study examining the environmental, social and economic performance of the Canadian beef industry, while the Sustainability Strategy sets goals, baselines, key performance indicators and action items to help CRSB target its efforts and move sustainability forward.

“The sustainability of agri-food systems is critical as consumers look for safe, healthy and affordable food that is raised in an environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable way,” CRSB executive director Fawn Jackson said. “The assessment provides the CRSB with a benchmark and important communication tool as we implement the Sustainability Strategy.”

Ruaraidh Petre, executive director of GRSB, said, “The Canadian Roundtable has shown practical examples of beef sustainability at the conference. They are actually putting GRSB’s criteria and principles — which are very high level — into more practical implementation on the ground, but even beyond that, they are also demonstrating how you measure the impact.”

In 2014, GRSB held its first ever Global Conference on Sustainable Beef in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where it adopted five core principles that define global sustainable beef: (1) natural resources, (2) people and the community, (3) animal health and welfare, (4) food and (5) efficiency and innovation. These principles were at the center of discussions during the conference in Banff as members presented efforts to contribute to sustainable practices on a local level in the production, processing and merchandising of beef.

GRSB membership spans five constituency groups: (1) beef producers and producer organizations, (2) civil societies (non-governmental organizations), (2) retailers, (3) processors, (4) commerce and (5) regional beef roundtables from around the world. GRSB also gives observers the ability to be a part of all functions.

“The conference is critical not only to the beef industry but to consumers as well,” Petre said. “It brings the beef industry together to share ideas and learn of how sustainable practices are being implemented around the world. It also allows us to address consumer interest around sustainable beef. Consumers may not be directly involved in the industry, but they have questions, and we want to engage in that conversation. We have been able to demonstrate that we are working on it, we are on top o it, and we are coming up with solutions and are able to show them what it looks like in a local context.”

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