Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability

NewStream Farm Animal Care, Volume 3, Edition 7

Four to watch

Posted: September 24, 2015

'Seismic summer' of developments shifts the landscape on sustainability issues

A summer of bold moves is re-shaping the future, all with key ties to farm animal care as they impact practices and protocols for both welfare and health.

1. U.S. Veterinary Health Directorate issued. After much heated debate from all corners the "final rule" on this landmark shift was issued and it's now official that livestock producers, veterinarians and feed providers must come into compliance by December 2016. "Antibiotics aren't going away, but on farm use will change," says Jennifer Koeman, DVM, director of producer and public health for the Pork Checkoff in the U.S. "Producers should sit down with their veterinarians to discuss how to apply VFDs and other herd-health strategies."

2. "Verified Sustainable Beef" project steams ahead. McDonald's completed the first phase of its high-profile pilot project in Canada. It carries major implications for the future of the industry as well as the direction of key programs such as Verified Beef Production - Canada's existing verified on-farm food safety program for beef - and broad initiatives such as the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. "The food world is not going in the direction of less information, fewer proof points and less verification," says Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, the McDonald's Canada senior manager of sustainability. "It's going to be more because this is what consumers are demanding." Learn more here .

3. Walmart announces new animal welfare and antibiotics positions. This development was taken by many agriculture industry insiders as far less innovative or "game-changing" than it was portrayed often by media. But the sheer weight of what Walmart represents in purchasing power and driving trends makes anything like this a very big deal. The specifics essentially follow what a number of other big food retailers had already announced, but this solidifies even more clearly just where the future is headed.

"Walmart is committed to selling products that sustain people and the environment," said Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation and senior vice president of Walmart sustainability. "We have listened to our customers, and are asking our suppliers to engage in improved reporting standards and transparency measures regarding the treatment of farm animals."

In a talk at the UCVM Beef Cattle Conference in Calgary, Cherie Copithorne-Barnes of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable offered this take: "The funny thing is, two months after McDonald's released their vision for antimicrobial use, Walmart came up with a bland press release saying pretty much the same thing. The press called this absolutely earth shattering and a game changer, which made me laugh because they were about the last ones in the game."

But she was still relatively happy at where Walmart landed and sees the multi-stakeholder efforts having a positive influence on the retail giant. "What I was most proud of with Walmart is that for once it was a recommendation. Walmart has a tendency to send out prescriptive edicts. 'You will or else we won't.' This was the first time when it comes to a sustainability factor that Walmart has said we 'recommend ,' and the reality is I think a lot of that has to do with McDonalds and others making a lot of headway through the concept of collaboration."

4. Tysons and Perdue. Tyson Foods, the No. 1 U.S. meatpacker, announced plans to eliminate the use of "human antibiotics" from its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017. This follows McDonald's announcement earlier this year that it would stop buying chickens given certain antibiotics over next two years. Soon after came arguably the biggest shockwave of the summer - Perdue Chicken, the largest U.S. chicken producer, announced major antibiotics reduction targets, including moving a portion of its business to completely antibiotics free.

In a statement, Perdue says "For consumers who want chickens raised with no antibiotics of any kind, and want that choice now, we are committed to offering consumers the clarity, transparency and assurance that only comes from 'No Antibiotics Ever.'"

What's next? These are just a few examples among many of a new era of "sustainable production" taking hold. What are challenges? What are the big questions? Is this good, bad or in-between for producers? NewStream Farm Animal Care Welcomes your feedback.

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Volume 3, Edition 7.




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