Wal-Mart Goes Sustainable
The world’s leading retailer, Bentonville, Ark.’s Wal-Mart Stores, Inc, plans to collaborate with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to assure customers beef sold at its stores was raised sustainably.
At its annual Global Sustainability Milestone meeting Sept. 12, in Bentonville, Walmart head of beef sustainability Jason Simon said, “Beef historically has been, and will continue to be, a very important part of our country and our customers’ meals. There are portions of this country where land is used for cattle grazing and cattle production that, in total, are larger than the state of Texas, and we understand that we have a big responsibility to adopt sustainability practices as well as maintain and improve the land grazing practices that are utilized across the country to maintain that land.”
Simon was joined by Ryan Ruppert, director of the Beef Quality Assurance program for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Ruppert said BQA, which was started in the 1980s, was the first program of its type anywhere in the world. “We took on tough issues,” he said, “and we educated farmers and ranchers across the country on judicious use of antibiotics, proper vaccination protocols and continually improved cattle welfare practices.” Ruppert said the BQA Advisory Board has voted to explore implementing environmental practices into the program; in addition, NCBA has completed the most comprehensive lifecycle assessment in the livestock sector to date, and it has been certified by the National Standards Foundation. “This is the very first step in implementing science based improvement practices in sustainability,” he said.
Simon said Walmart wants NCBA to deliver an expanded BQA, “that is going to have a consistent message and a standard of excellence that will touch at least 50 percent of the cattle industry by the close of 2016.” It will include new guidelines on land stewardship, water quality and reduced feed and manure emissions. The company’s Sustainability Team is working on a pilot program that includes environmental criteria, and Walmart wants to source 15 percent of its beef supply from operations that meet those criteria by the close of 2023. Ruppert predicted they will run into resistance in getting ranchers to adopt some of the measures. However, he said through the BQA program they have proven that ranchers will adopt new ideas in sustainability when they’re shown to be of value to their operations.
The Beef Quality Assurance program has slowed down since its inception. University of Missouri Extension Veterinarian Dr. Craig Payne became Missouri BQA coordinator in 2007. he told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor, “There was lots of participation in the early years and it’s kind of hit a lull, so we’re trying to currently revive it here in Missouri.” The program, said Payne, already deals with a number of different aspects of animal husbandry. “That ranges from cattle handling, or stockmanship as some people call it, to feeding management – not necessarily saying you feed ingredients A, B and C, but instead that you are meeting the nutrient demands of the animals whose feed supply you’re managing so that you avoid inadvertent contamination,” he said. “The program also deals with record management in terms of how to keep track of animals that have received treatments so that you’re aware that those animals are going to be free of any type of residue that the FDA or USDA does not allow into the food supply.”