Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef

The ability of cattle ranchers in central Florida to partner with public water agencies in developing sustainable practices was recently showcased to representatives of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB). Representatives from four continents comprising beef producers, processors, retailers and other organizations working toward continuous improvement in sustainable practices in the beef industry met at the Archbold Biological Station near Venus, Fla., for GRSB’s semi-annual executive board meeting in early October.

“The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is an exciting new organization that brings together key players in the beef value chain to focus on important global issues and initiatives in the beef production system,” said Cameron Bruett, president of GRSB and chief sustainability officer at JBS USA. “By working together to identify best practices across the chain -- from the producer to the final delivery of beef to the consumer -- we can put innovative and valuable ideas into action.”

The purpose of the meeting was to further develop understanding of sustainable practices in the beef industry though interaction, discussion and observation of in-field projects. The GRSB representatives experienced an intimate look at efforts of beef producers in helping to protect Florida’s Everglades by storing water resources. The Everglades is a natural region of subtropical wetlands in the southern portion of Florida, comprising the southern half of a large watershed. The system begins near Orlando with the Kissimmee River, which discharges into the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee. Through modifications to privately held properties, beef producers are able to store water that may be released in times of drought in order to ensure the Everglades are protected.

The ranchers, while providing a valuable service to the environment, are able to achieve added value to their own operations by contracting with regional water resource agencies, which increases their financial sustainability. In addition, the enhanced habitat developed for wildlife in that area further sustains the natural balance of production and nature.

“By touring the Lykes Brothers Ranch nutrient retention project where excess nutrients are naturally removed from the watershed, GRSB representatives were able to see sustainability in action,” said Bryan Weech, GRSB vice president and director of livestock agriculture for World Wildlife Fund.

In the Lykes Bros. project, regional water from Florida’s Indian Prairie Canal is pumped onto a 2,500-acre site and gradually flows over it before being returned to the canal. During the process, particles containing excess nutrients are filtered from the water column by native vegetation.  Initial indications are that the West Water Hole Project is capable of reducing phosphorus concentrations by 56% while retaining more than 5,000 acre feet of water that would otherwise potentially be discharged to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.  “This illustrates a very visible and valuable partnership between landowners and the public to make significant environmental gains,” added Weech.

The development of GRSB grew out of a November 2010 Global Conference on Sustainable Beef, the first ever conference of its kind, which laid the groundwork for establishing a multi-stakeholder initiative by achieving greater clarity and deepening alignment around the key issues that influence the sustainability of the beef production system.

The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is a global multi-stakeholder roundtable initiative aimed at creating continuous improvement in the beef supply chain, by supporting activities that deliver science-based measureable outcomes focused on the issues that are a high priority to stakeholders.