Global beef sector sets out biodiversity and climate commitments

A coalition of global beef producers, including JBS, Rabobank and Cargill, have collectively agreed to reduce the sector's contribution to climate change by 30% by 2030, as part of a new sustainability roadmap that also aims to improve biodiversity and animal welfare.

Global beef sector sets out biodiversity and climate commitments

For land use

The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) has unveiled its new sustainability roadmap, with targets focusing on climate change, land use and animal welfare.

The GRSB has set a target to reduce the ‘net global warming impact’ of each unit of beef produced by 30% by 2030. This target acts as a broader step towards climate neutrality, although the latter ambition does not have an agreed timeframe yet.

To meet the 2030 goal, GRSB members will implement new practices across production and processing and will safeguard and improve natural carbon stores in the soil and land that the sector uses. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that grasslands alone could sequester 54 to 216 million tonnes of carbon annually by 2030.

The GRSB covers all areas of the beef value chain, from producers and processors to retailers and civil society organisations. Members of the GRSB include Belvedere College SJ, Belvedere Agriculture, Ahold Delhaize, Simmenthal, INALCA, Silva Team, Rabobank, Zandbergen World’s Finest Meat, Bord Bia, Breedr and HCC – Meat Promotion Wales.

The GRSB’s executive director Ruaraidh Petre said: “The world relies on beef and the industry relies on a healthy world to produce it. That’s why there is growing momentum in the industry to protect and nurture the earth’s natural resources.

“The conversation around beef sustainability is more important now than ever, and we recognise the need for beef to be more environmentally sound, more socially responsible, and more economically viable. The goals which we have launched today are a commitment from the global beef industry, articulating the role and responsibility that we are taking together towards achieving a more sustainable ecosystem.

“Our goals are ambitious, and we may not yet have all the solutions to achieve them. By focusing our efforts, we aim to inspire research and investment in science and innovation that will unlock their potential impact.”

For land use, roundtable members have agreed to a commitment to ensure that the value chain is a net-positive contributor to nature. Members will source and develop new practices that will sustain and restore grazing lands, conserve forests and grasslands and increase biodiversity across the value chain.

Additionally, the GRSB has committed to improving animal health and welfare through the sharing of best practices.

Meat trouble

The meat sector was already enduring a tough time before the coronavirus pandemic came and shifted risk into overdrive. Increased impacts of climate change coupled with the rapid growth of alternative proteins have put billions of dollars at risk in the sector

Research produced by FAIRR, a global investor network supported by institutional investors, graded 44 of the world’s 60 largest meat, fish and dairy companies as “high-risk”.

Last year, during the midst of the pandemic, businesses representing 80% of the UK’s meat sector vowed to slash emissions and waste on a “farm-to-fork” basis. The commitment was co-ordinated by non-profit WRAP, as an offshoot of its Food Waste Reduction Roadmap scheme.

Its aim is to prevent more than 150,000 tonnes of meat from being wasted in the UK every year, equivalent to 27% of the total amount sent to landfill on an annual basis. This waste costs the national economy £1.5bn and is a contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, given that meat is carbon intensive to produce and that food waste in landfill contributes to emissions. Recent research from OurWorldInData found that 6% of global annual GHG emissions are attributable to food waste, and a further 26% to other parts of the food value chain.

WRAP’s ‘meat in a net-zero world’ pledge was been signed by all major grocery retailers – including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, Lidl, Aldi, Marks & Spencer and the Co-op – along with meat processors, hospitality and food service giants. In total, 38 businesses have signed – a cohort collectively responsible for 80% of the UK’s meat production.

Matt Mace

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