Beef sector gets good grades for sustainability

BANFF, Alta. — The Canadian Round Table on Sustainable Beef has released its national beef sustainability assessment that shows the industry is doing many things well but has some areas needing improvement.

The round table consisting of 93 members from agriculture producers to major food corporations commissioned Deloitte to conduct the life cycle analysis in 2014 to look at the social, economic and environmental impacts of beef production in Canada.

Released at the global conference on sustainable beef, held in Banff Oct. 4-7, the following offers highlights of the assessment:

WATER

The beef industry uses 235 litres per kilogram of live animal or 631 litres for one kilogram of packed boneless beef. From a value chain perspective, the farming stage accounts for 74 percent of the industry’s blue water footprint, followed by consumption at 10 percent, processing six percent, retail and transportation four percent each and packing two percent. The study considered blue water use, that is, the volume of surface and groundwater consumed as a result of production of a good or service.

GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS

The beef sector is responsible for a total footprint of 11.4 kg carbon dioxide equivalent per kg of live weight.

Soil carbon stock is 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon stored in the land from cropland to native grassland.  The average stock per acre of carbon in cropland is lower than grassland’s capacity.

LAND USE

Land used for beef production accounts for 33 percent of arable land and 68 percent of the potential wildlife habitat on the agricultural landscape. That means 51 million acres of land are required for beef production and the  majority is pasture on marginal land not suitable for annual grain production, said Brenna Grant, research manager for Canfax, which contributed information to the study.

Native rangeland and unimproved rangeland provide the greatest opportunity for biodiversity. Less than 20 percent of Canada’s native grassland remains intact.

WASTE

For every 1.9 kg of beef produced, one kg is consumed and the rest is wasted due to shrink, processing losses, throwing away spoiled meat and consumer waste.

SOCIAL ASSESSMENT

Social assessment considered production practices as well as workers, local communities, value chains and regulations from farm to the finished product.

The industry has invested in training and policies to ensure health and safety, but there is room for improvement.

The rate of fatal and non-fatal injuries across the country averages 2.7 per 100,000 employees

The roundtable has set goals to further promote farm safety and working conditions.

The study showed excellent animal care practices have been implemented, but continuous improvement must be the goal.

Antimicrobial use has been responsible, but there is support for further development of best practices.

ECONOMIC ASSESSMENT

The long-term cost of production shows an industry struggling with low profit margins.

The average cow herd is 62 and many producers have a mixed operation or off farm income to stay afloat. Between 74 percent and 85 percent of cow-calf operations rely on off-farm income.

Cost of production is estimated at $120 per hundredweight on a cow-calf operation and $106 per cwt. at a feedlot.

Average cow-calf profitability is $93.03 per cow but at the feedlot level it is minus 20 cents.

The full report may be viewed at http://crsb.ca/wp-content/uploads/resources/NBSA_and_Strategy_summary_report_web1.pdf.

Contact barbara.duckworth@producer.com

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