CENTENNIAL, Colo. — The beef industry has improved its
sustainability by 5 percent in just six years according to the results of the
checkoff-funded Beef Industry Sustainability Assessment, released during the
2013 Cattle Industry Summer Conference.
Richard Gebhart, cow-calf producer from Claremore, Okla.,
also served on the sustainability advisory panel. He explained that the beef
sustainability assessment is the most detailed examination of a commodity value
chain ever completed, taking into account every aspect of beef production from
the growth of feed to the disposal of packaging by the final consumer.
“We examined all the inputs and outputs required to produce
a pound of boneless, edible beef and we did that for the 1970s, 2005 and 2011,”
said Gebhart, explaining that the 1970s and 2005 each represents major shifts in
beef production practices, while 2011 represents present-day.
Improvements in crop yields, better irrigation, innovations
in the packing sector, improvements in technology and better animal performance
are examples of innovations that have all played a role in advancing industry
sustainability, according to Kim Stackouse-Lawson, director of sustainability
for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff
“The completion of the life cycle assessment project
provides the industry, for the first time, the science-based evidence necessary
to lead conversations about the sustainability of beef,” Stackhouse-Lawson
“The Beef Checkoff and the Beef Promotion Operating
Committee had the foresight three years ago to see the importance of this work
and make it a priority for the industry. By completing the LCA, the checkoff
positioned beef as a leader on the topic of sustainability.”
Stackhouse-Lawson said the project was extensive.
“We examined millions of individual data points and then
created models to simulate specific aspects of beef production practices so that
this data and these results are truly representative of beef production in the
United States,” she said.
Gebhart and Stackhouse-Lawson agree that the completion of
the project represents an outstanding opportunity for cattlemen and cattlewomen
to tell their own stories of sustainable beef production, rather than letting
those outside the industry do it.
“The results of this work show the beef industry is becoming
more innovative and efficient, while also doing an excellent job protecting the
resources with which they have been entrusted,” Gebhart said.
Stackhouse-Lawson explains that during the six years between
2005 and 2011, the beef industry has:
* Reduced environmental impacts by 7 percent;
* Improved its overall sustainability by 5 percent;
* Reduced emissions to soil by 7 percent;
* Reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2 percent;
* Lowered acidification potential emissions by 3 percent;
* Reduced emissions to water by 10 percent;
* Lessened occupational accidents and illnesses by 32 percent;
* Reduced resource consumption by 2 percent;
* Decreased water use by 3 percent;
* Decreased land use by 4 percent; and
* Lowered energy use by 2 percent.
“The results of the Beef Industry Sustainability Assessment,
which was just certified by the National Standards Foundation, show the industry
is on a path of continuous improvement,” said Stackhouse-Lawson, who explained
that the certification by NSF lends third-party credibility to the work, making
it more acceptable to non-governmental organizations and other potential
partners in the sustainability arena.
“When we talk about the sustainability of an industry,
that’s what it’s all about, getting better over time. As an industry, beef is
doing a good job at making progress on the path toward a more sustainable
future. The certification of these results confirms that,” she said.