FRESH MEAT TRENDS: <br /><br />Environmental Stewardship Caps Earth Week Outreach

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FRESH MEAT TRENDS: <br /><br />Environmental Stewardship Caps Earth Week Outreach

With Earth Day’s migration from a single day to a full week, several meat industry leaders utilized the expanded time-frame to make environmental stewardship cases amid a “Meat's Not Green” video released by PETA urging consumers to “Pledge to be Veg,” alongside a carbon calculator widget that gauges greenhouse gasses generated by an individual’s dietary choices.

A highlight of the Beef Checkoff’s Earth Week outreach efforts put “America's Farmers and Ranchers...Everyday Environmentalists” in the spotlight. Underscoring America’s beef producers’ environmental commitments, the campaign focused on consumer education and the steps farmers and ranchers take everyday of the year to sustain agriculture and ensure a healthy beef supply for the United States and abroad.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s (NCBA) 2008 Environmental Stewardship award winner, Scott Stone -- who runs both conventional and grass-fed beef operations on his 7,500 acre Yolo County, Calif. ranch -- served as the national spokesperson for a radio media tour heard on 11 metro area stations that reached an audience of about 3.2 million listeners in the week leading up to Earth Day.

In addition to the national efforts, state beef councils offered producers kits containing six-weeks of campaign materials in conjunction with YouTube videos of two Colorado producers highlighting the steps they take to care for Colorado’s natural resources.

The American Meat Institute also unveiled a new online fact sheet on Climate Change and Animal Agriculture, while Wichita, Kan.-based Cargill unveiled details of eight key animal welfare assurance objectives it has achieved with production, handling, transportation and harvest of hogs.

Last fall, Cargill instituted a major policy shift to purchase hogs only from farms that have been certified under the National Pork Producers Council’s Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA+) program, which establishes strict certification criteria for many aspects of hog production, including animal welfare standards. By the end of last year, Cargill Pork’s live production business completed PQA + certification site assessments for all of the 450 farms where it has production contracts.

Cargill Pork president Dirk Jones says Cargill committed to taking a leadership role in sow housing more than two years ago, not because of external pressure, but “because we think it’s the right thing to do to support our customers and our brand. Our employees, customers, and communities expect a strong level of commitment to corporate responsibility,” says Jones, adding that over the coming months, “This is a subject we expect to be talking a lot more about.”

In the interim, Cargill says it has achieved its goal of having 50 percent of contract farms using group sow housing rather than traditional gestation stalls for pregnant sows. As such, Jeff Worstell, Cargill Pork’s live production and procurement VP, says all new producer contracts will be required to meet Cargill’s sow housing standards.

Cargill’s beef division, meanwhile, has also begun implementing a third-party video auditing program to enhance its animal welfare protection systems, and expects to have the program in place at all of its U.S. beef slaughter plants by the end of 2009.

Developed and managed by Arrowsight in collaboration with foremost animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin, the program is designed to help plant operators teach and monitor performance in animal handling. Commenting on the company’s adoption of rigorous animal care guidelines, as well as establishing mandatory humane animal-handling training and certification program for employees to further its commitment to evaluate, develop and continuously improve animal welfare protection programs, Cargill Beef president John Keating says the additional investment “gives us the objective input we need to effectively train our people and improve our processes.”