Building a definition of sustainability
October 24, 2014
Producers wonder what the word sustainability means, and what it could possibly require of them. Is it something retailers are defining? Is it going back to a 1950s style of farm management? They also worry that it could be a demanding set of requirements written by urbanites and academics. While the definition is a work-in-progress, the good news is that the beef industry is playing a pivotal role in determining what sustainability will mean in Canada.
There is no one definition at play and certainly what it means for beef production remains to be decided. There's work being done at the global level and now at the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) There will be a set of global principles agreed to in early November 2014, then it is the role of each country to determine what it will mean for them. There are research projects trying to determine what can be easily measured or identified, without imposing extra requirements for producers. All towards the goal of keeping it simple and part of the existing routines of what producers already do.
Globally there are three important components to sustainability - economic, environmental and social (human resource related). While the third one is largely covered by regulation in Canada, it is important the first two go hand-in-hand.
Economic sustainability means that producers must be able to continue to be competitive and not be driven out of business with unreasonable demands. In Canada, the rest is a balance of picking what tools/programs exist that will provide optimum proof to the outside world.
Beef producers are indeed being environmentally responsible and take care of their animals appropriately. While we continue down this road, working with customers and companies will help ensure it meets reasonable marketplace expectations. We know that we are on track to practical improvements via technology, knowledge, research and empowering producers to do what they do. One thing is clear – the beef cattle industry is involved and needs to be. The rest is to be determined.
Many responsible practices exist and many point to Verified Beef Production (VBP) as the platform to deliver into the future. VBP is involved and current sustainability initiatives will dovetail in. We need to take advantage of what is already developed and use what's industry-driven, the rest is what we make of it and how we work with stakeholders for further understanding and improvement.
For further information:
- Roundtable to assess beef sector sustainability
- Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef – a national, multi-stakeholder initiative developed to advance existing and new sustainability efforts
- Global Roundtable president says sustainability initiative can counter
- Canada picked for sustainable beef pilot