Roundtables provide common approach to sustainability

Plan for safety like production

Highlights

  • Producers often feel they aren’t consulted when decisions about sustainability are made
  • Two Canadian organizations are working toward gaining agreement on important aspects of sustainability and how to measure them
  • Sustainable production metrics are not meant to give any player in the industry a competitive advantage

In the context of agriculture, “sustainable” often means different things to different people. Consumers, food processors and producers can have conflicting visions for what constitutes sustainability and everything from greenhouse gas emissions to food safety to animal welfare is involved.

Farmers face new requirements as restaurant chains and major food processors announce updated purchasing standards. Producers often feel they aren’t adequately consulted and that the decisions are not based on solid, factual assessments.

Value chain based decisions

The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) and the more recently formed Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC) provide hope that future decisions in these sectors will be based on consensus involving the entire value chain.

Farmers face new requirements as restaurant chains and major food processors announce updated purchasing standards.

Many beef producers will have heard the commitment by McDonald’s Canada to source sustainably produced beef. Canada has been chosen as the first country to supply the restaurant chain with sustainable beef and the first purchases from a small number of participating producers are set to occur this year.

McDonald’s Canada is working with the entire beef value chain to determine appropriate sustainability metrics and this work is happening through the CRSB. The process takes time, but everyone from producers through to consumers gets to contribute.

The same approach is occurring with the CRSC, even though it hasn’t garnered as much public attention. The aim is agreement on the important aspects of sustainability, how to measure them and how to communicate to end-use consumers.

Measuring sustainability

As Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, senior manager of sustainability for McDonald’s Canada pointed out in a presentation at Canadian Western Agribition in Regina last November, the goal with the roundtables is to be “pre-competitive.” The sustainable production metrics are not meant to give any player in the industry a competitive advantage.

What’s more, sustainability measurements will be tested with producers before proceeding.

“Sustainability doesn’t belong to any production system, crop or region,” says Fran Burr, the executive director of CRSC based in Winnipeg. “It’s a holistic, outcome-based approach.”

The CRSC has about 40 members representing the full value chain and is open to participation by any interested organization. The goal is to enhance sustainability across the entire grain sector. The two roundtable initiatives will hopefully help prevent end users from developing so many of their own sustainability measurements and requirements.

From an AgriSuccess article (May/June 2016) by Kevin Hursh (@KevinHursh1).