As the world grapples with providing a food supply to feed us all in the midst of climate change and a strain on natural resources, one group is taking a lead role in preserving a valuable commodity — beef.
The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) is at the forefront of ensuring that the world’s beef value chain of producers, processors and stakeholders uses ethical practices throughout the beef supply chain. The group is developing science-based strategies to ensure that the beef consumed across the world is treated well and processed using the highest standards and conforming to global guidelines.
Helping advance the work of the GRSB is Nicole Johnson-Hoffman. Johnson-Hoffman is the senior vice president and chief sustainability officer for OSI Group, one of the world’s largest food producers, with 65 facilities in 18 countries.
Johnson-Hoffman is also the immediate past president of the GRSB. In that role, she has been working closely with other directors and staff to address beef sustainability broadly. As the group has shifted to an evidence-based, science-driven model, it is beginning to push back against critics and see tangible impacts in examples shared across the industry.
About the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
With 500 members in 24 countries, the GRSB represents key stakeholders across a range of constituencies. Its members include farmers, ranchers, processors, retailers, researchers, regulators and policymakers. Established in 2012, the network’s mission is to “advance, support, and communicate continuous improvement in sustainability of the global beef value chain through leadership, science, and multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration.”
The GRSB has a laudable vision for a world where “beef is a trusted part of a thriving food system in which the beef value chain is environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable.”
Its leadership encompasses six core constituencies:
- Producers and producer associations
- The commerce and processing sector
- Retail businesses
- Civil societies
- Allied industry initiatives
- National or regional roundtables
Principles Rooted in Climate Change, Land Use and Animal Welfare
Under the leadership of Johnson-Hoffman and others, the GRSB has focused on three areas of sustainability: animal health and welfare, climate change, and land use.
These areas are represented in the roundtable’s five core principles:
- Animal Health and Welfare. This principle centers on the animals and their welfare throughout the lifecycle. Under this principle, the producers and processors in the global beef value chain are expected to manage and respect animals responsibly, with a focus on their health and welfare. The responsibilities include adhering to guidelines set by the Office International des Épizooties (also known as the OIE or the World Organization for Animal Health) on animal health and welfare. The guidelines cover:
- Providing adequate water and feed
- Providing cattle with proper health care
- Using veterinary pharmaceuticals and vaccines responsibly and in accordance with labeling
- Taking proactive steps to reduce disease, injury and pain
- Providing an environment that promotes good health, including air quality, stocking density and surfaces
- Transportation practices in line with OIE guidelines
- Procedures in place at processing plants, including slaughtering procedures, that align with animal welfare guidelines used by the OIE
- Natural Resources. The global beef value chain is expected to use and protect natural resources responsibly while adhering to practices that sustain and restore the ecosystem. Among the key practices are carbon sequestration; resource use efficiency; soil management designed to promote healthy usage; and water conservation, filtration and recharge. The use of these practices is expected to build resilience within the ecosystems, allowing them to be used continuously while providing for recovery from climate issues or severe weather events.
- People and Community. Stakeholders within the global beef value chain must protect and value human rights. The principle is centered on the roles we all play within various communities, including the important components of culture, employment, health, heritage and land rights. The principle states that stakeholders will comply with relevant local laws while acknowledging there are inconsistencies in those laws in some areas, and in other areas, some of those laws do not exist.
- Food. Global stakeholders must commit to sustainable beef practices that ensure beef safety and quality. This means investments in continuous improvements that provide beef quality, food safety, information sharing and waste reduction. These improvements should be based on science.
- Efficiency and Innovation. Stakeholders are expected to encourage innovation, waste reduction and optimal practices for production. Improvements should help the industry adapt to internal and external challenges while efficiency initiatives should center on education, partnerships and knowledge that is shared across the industry, environmentally sound, grounded in scientific research, and socially responsible.
With more than 25 years of agricultural work experience, Johnson-Hoffman has high praise for the Global Roundtable, saying that she “(has) 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.”
She has cited that GRSB’s focus on science-based inquiry drives results.
That’s different from where the organization was very recently. In the past five years, she notes the group has used the evidence that it has gained from examples across the world to refute claims that the beef industry is unwell or unsafe.
“We that work in the beef value chain are privileged to be part of an industry that means so much to this world,” she said recently.
“Our industry feeds people, cares for animals, protects our environment and sustains vibrant communities,” she said during the Global Roundtable’s 2021 Global Conference on Sustainable Beef.
A Global and Local Commitment
For Johnson-Hoffman and OSI Group, the commitment to sustainability is at the core of their work. The company has developed committees, structures and a strategic plan around sustainability that is regularly updated. Johnson-Hoffman and others participate in many other local, regional, national and international efforts to ensure that the beef we consume and the resources used to process it are healthy and well treated.