KANSAS CITY, MO. - Now more than ever, consumers want to know where their meat is coming from and how it was raised, said Heather Donley, vice president of operations for Progressive Beef, a cattle management and sustainability program for feedlot operators that focuses on providing consumers more information about how their beef is raised and cared for.

Implementation of Progressive Beef involved is a rigorous process, and in 2019 the program was recognized as an industry leader by the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. In 2018, Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson became the first beef processor to license Progressive Beef.

According to a 2019 article in the Harvard Business Review cited by Donley, products marked as sustainable grew more than five times faster than their conventional counterparts.

“The Progressive Beef TM program is one of the easiest ways for retail and foodservice operators to have access to a consistent supply of beef where the production practices are known, proven and can be quickly communicated to consumers.”

Sustainability, Donley said, is a cornerstone of the Progressive Beef program, which covers all aspects of day-to-day cattle care. Operators certified in the program adhere to requirements for best practices for animal welfare, food safety, responsible antibiotic use and environmental sustainability.

Sustainability benchmarks are related to the efficient use of natural resources including water and energy usage, employee safety training and responsible antibiotic use. All of these practices are verified twice per year through internal and third-party audits.

More than two million cattle have already been certified through the program and nearly four million cattle will be cared for at certified Progressive Beef feedlots this year, Donley said.

“Embracing Progressive Beef’s proven practices means that all consumers can be assured that the beef they buy comes from cattle that were well cared for in a safe and sustainable environment.”

Sustainability measures take place at all levels of the food supply chain, especially when looking at natural resources related to cattle production, said Amari Seiferman, president and CEO of Kansas City, Mo.-based Certified Hereford Beef.

“Certified Hereford Beef and the American Hereford Association are continually striving to make this breed more efficient,” he said. “A 2017 study showed when compared to other cattle breeds such as Angus and Simmental, the Hereford cattle ate almost 2 lbs less feed per day than the other breeds.”

When you’re looking for ways to improve sustainability, Seiferman said, you have to look at all factors. Hereford cattle eating less feed than other breeds means they are saving crops, water and additional resources.

“That makes a difference when we’re measuring sustainability.”

Sustainability means many different things to many different people, said Leann Saunders, president and cofounder of Castle Rock, Colo.-based Where Food Comes From.

“We define sustainability with five key words: transparency, husbandry, stewardship, philanthropy and integrity,” Saunders said. “We have a sustainability program, CARE, that certifies participating farmers and ranchers are implementing best practices in a variety of areas, including animal husbandry, environmental stewardship and community engagement.”

The standards vary by species, but the pillars remain the same, she said. The animal husbandry piece looks at areas such as animal care and well-being practices, employee training, health and nutrition plans, safe transportation procedures and more.

Under environmental stewardship, the organization looks at how an entity manages their land and water resources, their grazing management plan and seeing what waste and energy reduction measures are in place. The people and community pillar, meanwhile, allows Where Food Comes From to hear how producers are giving back to their communities, how they’re ensuring a safe workplace for their employees and learning about how they plan to leave their legacy to the next generation.

This year brought together many elements – Animal Husbandry, Environmental Stewardship and People & Community – into CARE standards for the beef, dairy, pork and poultry industries.

“Each commodity has its sustainability challenges,” Saunders said. “One of the biggest advancements we have seen is how so many operations have worked to effectively reduce water usage. The other example is focusing on renewable energy practices across operations. For those that have land, it’s all about carbon sequestration and propagation of native grasses and increasing biodiversity on the operations.

This is an excerpt from the May 2020 print issue of Supermarket Perimeter. Check out the full magazine here.