What Sustainability Means for the Beef Industry

Sustainability means different things to different people. Samantha Werth, director of sustainability with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, talks about what sustainability means for the beef industry.

“Oh, man, we’ve been doing a lot of work here at NCBA. We launched sustainability goals about three years ago, in November of 2021,  we launched our sustainability goals. So, we focus on helping to define for the industry what is sustainability. What does it mean for U.S. beef? For us, that comes down to the animals, the people, and the planet. So, we are focused on is what can we do as a cattle ranching, producing community to advance sustainability initiatives, continuously improve as we have been for decades, and be able to leverage that work that we’re doing to share across the broader industry, to let them know, ‘Hey, we’re here, and we’re doing all these wonderful things, and sustainability is U.S. beef.’”

She says sustainability discussions have to start with producers’ ability to put food on their own tables.

“Yes, so everything stems back to that financial perspective. So, we do a lot here thinking about, if we’re talking about a new grazing management strategy that is going to help with enhancing biodiversity on the land, are there ways that we can add value for producers to help get them paid, essentially, for that work that they’re doing to enhance biodiversity? In anything that we’re doing, we’re looking at what are the opportunities to get support and what are the ways that we’re going to improve profitability for a producer if we’re implementing sustainability practices.”

A large number of people outside the beef industry have their own ideas about beef sustainability.

“We get that. A lot of people are coming in and kind of thinking through, hey, we call it carbon myopia, right? The focus is really on how we reduce methane emissions from cattle or how we enhance carbon sequestration. And there are a lot of things that we actually can do and are doing in terms of how we just manage our animals already. So, we kind of try to focus those conversations on what’s viable for a producer, and here’s maybe why some of the things you might ask aren’t viable, but here’s a compromise, or here’s a workaround that will work.”