Checking in on Beef Sustainability

By : Heidi Carroll, SDSU Extension Livestock Stewardship Field Specialist & Beef Quality Assurance Coordinator, SDSU Animal Science Department, Courtesy of


2018 Animal Care Wednesday Webinars
Husbandry Practices in the Spotlight

Sustainability. Beef sustainability and the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) was the topic for the March 7th Animal Care Wednesday Webinar. Ben Weinheimer, Vice President of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association and member of the USRSB, shared an update on the workings of the USRSB and what cattle producers may be seeing in the future.

What is the USRSB?

The U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is a multi-stakeholder organization comprised of over 110 members across the full value chain of beef working to advance, support and communicate continuous improvement in sustainability through leadership, innovation, multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration. The beef lifecycle is divided into five categories: Cow-Calf, Auction Markets, Feedyards, Packers & Processors, and Retail & Foodservice. The membership of USRSB covers 30% of the U.S. cattle herd (producers), 80% of beef processed (packers/processors), and 28% of U.S. consumers (retail/food service). The USRSB was formed in 2015 and has worked each year on its vision to ensure the US. Beef value chain is the trusted global leader in environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable beef. More information can be found at

Indicators, Metrics and Assessment

The focus of 2016 was to develop High Priority Indicators that applied across the sectors of the beef lifecycle. High Priority Indicators had to answer the question, What areas are most important to the beef value chain? After thorough consideration, the High Priority Indicators were released.

  • Animal Health and Well-being
  • Efficiency and Yield
  • Water Resources
  • Land Resources
  • Air and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Employee Safety and Well-being

After determining the High Priority Indicators the next question to answer was, How can each segment of the chain assess and measure progress within each indicator? Thus, each of the five sectors of the beef lifecycle worked to develop specific metrics for the six High Priority Indicators. Let’s look at the Animal Health and Well-being Indicator to see the metrics used by each sector.

Are Beef quality Assurance or similar program principles incorporated into management of the farm or ranch?

Auction Market:
Are employees trained and auction-specific Beef Quality Assurance principles implemented at the auction market?

Are employees trained and Beef Quality Assurance principles being implemented at the feedyard?

Packer and Processor:

  • Level 1: Packer-Does the company have a comprehensive animal welfare program that includes third-party verification? Processor-Does your company have a documented animal welfare policy (or equivalent) and encourage the adoption of USRSB animal health and well-being metrics?
  • Level 2: Packer-What is your company’s total number of USDA non-compliance animal welfare violations per 100,000 head processed in the previous calendar year? Packer-What percentage of cattle come under a third-party audit? What percentage pass on first audit? Processor-Does the company use second- or third-party animal welfare audits or certifications to verify compliance with its policy at least to the packer level?
  • Level 3: Packer/Processor-Does your company track animal health and well-being overtime and set goals for continued improvement? Does the company engage its suppliers or participate in partnerships, initiatives or programs to advance continuous improvement regarding animal health and well-being in the beef value chain?

Retail and Foodservice:

  • Level 1: Does the company have a documented and publicly available animal welfare policy (or equivalent)? Does the company encourage the adoption of USRSB metrics and support the use of the Beef Quality Assurance program in its beef supply chain?
  • Level 2: Does the company require second or third party animal welfare audits or certifications to verify compliance with its policy at least to the packer level? Does the company have a policy for audit failures?
  • Level 3: Does the company engage its suppliers on continuous improvement and emerging issues regarding animal health and welfare in its beef supply chain? Does the company track progress on welfare outcomes that align with its policy and publicly disclose performance and progress against its animal welfare metrics?

As one can see, the importance of beef quality assurance principles and implementation of sound production practices are at the forefront for ranches, auction markets, and feedyards within the US Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB). Verification of production practices is emphasized by packers and processors, and retail and foodservice. Additionally, the importance of setting animal health and well-being goals along with measuring continuous improvement of the goals is important for these sectors. Documented company policies of animal welfare that are publicly available has already been seen from retail and foodservice and packer and processor companies, along with companies providing compiled reports of audit programs. An example of this is Wendy’s public commitment to source 100% BQA certified beef which encouraged Tyson to make the same commitment to source 100% beef from BQA certified producers.

Weinheimer provided a great update on the workings of the US Roundtable for Sustainable Beef over the last couple years. Watch later this year for the release of the assessment guides from each supply chain outlining more information on the High Priority Indicators and metrics. A comment period will be opened on the assessment guides also, so feel free to share your thoughts upon their release.

Animal Care Wednesday Webinars

To listen to this and past webinars, visit the animal care resource website. For more information about upcoming Animal Care Wednesday Webinars, please contact Heidi Carroll.

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