May 13, 2021

Group focused on developing global goals for sustainability

Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef takes on challenges of climate change, land use, animal health and welfare

AURORA, Ill. — The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is focused on the issues critical to the future of the beef value chain.

“We that work in the beef value chain are privileged to be part of an industry that means so much to this world,” said Nicole Johnson-Hoffman, chief sustainability officer and senior vice president for OSI Group.

“Our industry feeds people, cares for animals, protects our environment and sustains vibrant communities,” said Johnson-Hoffman during the 2021 Global Conference on Sustainable Beef organized by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is a network that includes about 500 members from 24 countries. Established in 2012, the group includes farmers, processors, retailers, researchers, regulators and policy makers.

“In the 25 years I’ve spent working in agriculture I have never found another organization that is able to move forward into constructive, informed and compassionate engagement between agriculture and its stakeholders until the formation of the GRSB,” said the past president of the group.

Backed By Science

The group has worked on a plan to set and communicate global goals for the three most critical areas of sustainability — climate change, land use, and animal health and welfare, said Johnson-Hoffman during the virtual event.

“As recently as five years ago, when I first served as vice president and then president of GRSB, we did not believe the organization and our members were ready to take on this challenge,” Johnson-Hoffman said.

“But today, having seen so many examples of the work you have done around the world to drive improvements in beef sustainability and to communicate these improvements to people who want to know about them, we believe this is an idea whose time has come,” she said.

“We have also run out of time for defending, resisting or bickering with critics of the industry and those who would profit from competing food sources that have successfully convinced large percentages of our stakeholders that beef production is problematic at best and at worst incapable of being achieved sustainably,” Johnson-Hoffman said.

“We know that is not true, and we have achievements and data to prove it,” she said.

The mission of the group, Johnson-Hoffman said, is to advance, support and communicate continuous improvement in sustainability of the global beef value chain through leadership, science and stakeholder involvement.

“We’ve traveled quite a long distance,” she said. “We have accepted our role as the people who know best what our impacts really look like and what our impacts really are.”

Overcoming Conflict

It is important to distinguish between critics and opponents of the beef industry, Johnson-Hoffman said.

“Critics are people who raise concerns about issues that relate to our industry,” she said. “We would like them to join GRSB because that’s where we really get the magic of this organization.”

Opponents are people who are opposed to animal agriculture for various reasons, Johnson-Hoffman said.

“They believe animal agriculture shouldn’t exist,” she said.

Being involved in the debate is vital, Johnson-Hoffman said.

“Not showing up because we’re worried we’re going to be confronted by someone who is in that provocateur camp isn’t a choice we can make,” she said. “We have to show up and represent the people doing serious work to achieve sustainability outcomes.”

There are important differences in farm culture around the world, Johnson-Hoffman said, and there are quite a lot of similarities.

“The acceptance of regulatory intervention varies depending on the country,” she said. “The acceptance of community input into how you raise animals or how you run your private property varies quite a lot.”

Johnson-Hoffman finds assumptions are a real problem.

“Assumptions like U.S. producers that think they are superior,” she said. “Or assumptions in Europe about being more advanced in sustainability because of different regulatory schemes.”

Sometimes Americans talk about Europe as if it is like the 50 states, Johnson-Hoffman said.

“Europe is different countries, and there are many important differences among the countries of Europe,” Johnson-Hoffman said.

“What has been built with the GRSB is unique, powerful, and it has tremendous potential,” she said. “I really believe we will be able to use this organization to do everything we’d hope it would, but we’re not there yet.”

Martha Blum

Field Editor