Only 40 percent of consumers believe beef is sustainable

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The public was once in love with the cowboy image, but modern consumers now question how that image correlates with safe food production and environmental protection, those attending a session at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention recently heard.

Studies show 40 percent of the public believes beef production is sustainable, said Wayne Morgan of Golden State Foods, a $4 billion food supplier.

“With 40 percent, you can’t even say the glass is half full,” he said during a session at the NCBA annual convention in San Antonio.

“About 50 percent of the time they trust what we are doing. What about the other 50 percent? Is that good enough or do we want people to trust us more?” he asked.

A member of the United States roundtable for sustainable beef, Golden State purchased 170 million pounds of beef last year and will buy the same in 2020. Most is destined for quick service restaurants like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and companies like Stouffers that add it to frozen entrees.

Those buyers say they are influenced by what their consumers want but they also listen to investors who want assurances about continuous improvement and sustainability in their business practices.

“Consumers say a lot of things but may not always reflect that with their wallets in the same way they answer questions. Still we can’t deny they are an important part of this beef industry,” he said.

Recently, BlackRock, a global investment company, announced a foundation to support a sustainable economy. Blackrock controls about $7 trillion in the global economy.

“When they announced they are going to avoid investments in companies that present high sustainability related risk, that ought to get your attention,” Morgan said.

More university researchers are assessing the impact of beef production on greenhouse gas emissions, environmental care and nutrition.

The concept of protein upcycling is one way to defend the industry, said Tyron Wickersham of Texas A & M University.

Protein upcycling is based on the idea that cows eat grass and other byproducts that people do not eat. That feed is converted into meat and provides protein for the human diet.

Protein upcycling also means rumen microbes convert low quality sources of protein into a more valuable source of indispensable amino acids needed in the human diet.

“You have to consume certain amino acids in your diet to live. If you don’t consume those amino acids, you don’t thrive. If you are a child you will be stunted and it negatively contributes to all outcomes for the remainder of your life,” he said.

About 330 lb. of red meat yields 60 lb. of protein.

It takes 770 lb. of corn to finish a steer throughout the entire production chain. If that same amount of corn was fed to toddlers, it would meet the amino acid requirements of three toddlers.

However, if the same amount of corn is fed to cattle and protein upcycling occurs, the meat can feed 17 children enough to meet their amino requirements.

In addition, if the children are fed corn, they will be fatter.

“They are fat because they have to consume so many extra calories and they have no choice but to get fat,” he said.

“If we feed them well in the first 1,000 days of life that sets them up for success in terms of cognitive development and they are more able to pursue education.”

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