Sustainability has always been a central part of beef production in the United States. Multigenerational farms and ranches across the country impart knowledge and management practices that ensure successful businesses depend on the health of our natural resources. Cattle ranchers and ranchers work tirelessly to protect the land, water and air resources in their charge. With countless improvements in genetics, pasture management, manure handling and the adoption of many other technologies, sustainability remains at the heart of our industry.
It is easy to consider the three prongs of sustainability – environmental stewardship, economic viability, and social duty – without considering their relationship, especially when making policy. But the pillars of a sustainable farm, supply chain or global food system cannot be viewed in isolation. Responding to our global concerns in the spotlight at this week’s United Nations Food Systems Summit – food security, nutrition and climate change, requires a holistic and integrated approach. Beef production in the United States can play a central role in solving these global problems if farmers and ranchers have the freedom and resources to implement innovative solutions.
This year, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association strengthened the commitment of American cattle producers to environmental, economic and social sustainability by announcing the sustainability goals of the American beef industry. By setting goals, the beef industry is publicly committed to continuous improvement and to setting goals that allow us to measure and document these efforts.
Beef producers in the United States are already the world leader in sustainable beef production. In reality, beef cattle represent only 2% of greenhouse gases in the United States, according to the EPA. Since 1996, the The United States has the lowest GHG emissions from any beef supply chain in the world. The goals of the US beef industry include:
- Demonstrate the climate neutrality of American beef production by 2040.
- Create and improve opportunities that translate into a quantifiable increase in producer profitability and economic sustainability by 2025.
- Build confidence in cattle producers as responsible stewards of their animals and their resources by expanding educational opportunities in animal care and handling programs to further improve animal welfare.
- Continuously improve the safety and well-being of our industry’s workforce.
The beef supply chain in the United States is on track to meet our goal of climate neutrality, having reduced emissions per pound of beef by more than 40% since 1961. But closing the gap will require access to the most accurate and up-to-date science, while simultaneously ensuring that the management and conservation of our grasslands is economically viable for landowners. In many states across the country, ranchers are the last line of defense against greedy developers. With every new parking lot and building, we lose valuable grass, trees and soil that store carbon. Ruminant grazing is not only a necessary source of income for families across rural America, but also increases the carbon storage potential of grasslands.
The economic viability of farms and ranches and the preservation of nature and green spaces really go hand in hand. We cannot achieve climate neutrality if cattle ranching is not an economically viable business. Our goal of economic sustainability is to ensure that all cattle producers can participate in a favorable business climate. Farms and ranches are businesses, and cattle ranchers cannot afford to have their operations stifled by onerous regulations and tax policies that hamper the generational transfer of these family businesses. If the work of Congress and this administration undermines the financial viability of farms and ranches, we are losing vital grasslands and any progress made by industry is moot.
The priority of cattle producers – the foundation of their operations – is the health and welfare of the animals in their care. The NCBA’s continued commitment to ensuring the highest standards of animal care is the foundation of our official goal of social sustainability. Beef Quality Assurance Program (BQA) guidelines, combined with specific environmental needs and experience, help farmers and ranchers to ensure animal welfare through breeding and to daily care. As we consider the long-term sustainability of global animal production, BQA can provide a model for producer education and quality assurance.
The shared history of American cattle ranchers and ranchers is one of continual innovation and improvement. Cattle are essential for conserving land, sequestering carbon, mitigating drought and forest fires, and providing wildlife habitat. With these goals in mind, American beef production is a holistic and sustainable solution to the food system issues of greatest concern to the world.
Colin Woodall is the CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which runs the country’s oldest and largest national trade association for livestock producers. Originally from Big Spring, Texas, Colin graduated from Texas A&M and worked as a grain elevator manager and merchandiser for Cargill at several locations in western Kansas and Oklahoma. After venturing to Washington, Colin worked with US Senator John Cornyn from Texas. He has worked for the NCBA since 2004 and was the association’s chief lobbyist in Washington, DC for a decade.
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