Grazing Toward a Sustainable Beef Supply Chain

Aug. 7, 2020

1 Min. Read
Sustainable Beef RTP Lead

Aug. 7, 2020
By David Baskin, Merchandising Vice President Meat, Walmart U.S. & Kyle Kinnard, Vice President and Divisional Merchandise Manager of Meat and Seafood, Sam's Club U.S.

In 2016, our CEO, Doug McMillon, committed to sourcing 20 key commodities more sustainably by 2025. As the needs of the world have shifted, we are furthering our original goal while staying true to one of our earliest sustainability commitments – to sell more sustainable products while maintaining the low prices customers expect.

Beef is one of these commodities. As the world population continues to grow, so does the global demand for protein, which brings a unique set of sustainability challenges and opportunities. Livestock grazing and beef production in the U.S. can be part of a resilient, sustainable food system. Grazing lands cover about 40% of the United States. This includes iconic ecosystems and important wildlife.

Grasslands, rangelands and pasture also store abundant soil carbon. Without proper management, livestock grazing can lead to erosion, and it can decrease soil carbon storage. On the other hand, well-managed grazing can help secure clean water, enhance habitat, sustain rural communities and store additional carbon in the soil, which helps mitigate emissions.

Farmers and ranchers are the stewards of these lands, and as an industry, we need to support ongoing and increased efforts to maximize the positive effects of cattle production. We’ve learned a lot from farmers and ranchers who understand the importance of soil health and grazing to carbon sequestration and have vested interest in ensuring they protect their land for generations to come. As a result, Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. are announcing a new set of aspirations that will further our work and ultimately bring us closer to meeting our 2025 objectives.

Sustainably Raised: Driving Soil Health and Animal Welfare
We aspire to source our fresh beef products more sustainably by 2025, including prioritizing soil health, animal welfare and responsible use of antibiotics. We will continue working with suppliers to improve grain sourcing and grazing management practices across a total of 12 million acres (or more than nine million football fields), while upholding our suppliers to the “Five Freedoms” for animal welfare. We expect our suppliers will not tolerate animal abuse of any kind and support our position on the judicious use of antibiotics in farm animals.

The Need for Greater Transparency and Partnership
Our new aspirations also include encouraging our suppliers to continuously improve their efforts in understanding the entire beef production cycle, from farm to fork. Using a science-driven process, we worked with The Nature Conservancy to identify opportunities and strategies to improve sustainability efforts throughout our supply chain, which can ultimately lead to improved soil health and decreased greenhouse gas emissions.

With this in place, we aspire to source from fresh beef suppliers who have a tech-enabled supply chain to measure sustainability impact at scale. The infusion of modern technology may help beef suppliers measure the benefits of grazing and grain best practices, adaptively manage and offer a more accurate way to trace impact. It can also help support beef suppliers’ efforts to better understand the environmental footprint of their supply chains, for instance using geographic and greenhouse gas indicators.

To measure, track and understand which efforts are most successful, so we can better share learnings across the sector, we are also asking our suppliers to participate in annual reporting initiatives like Walmart’s Project Gigaton initiative and THESIS performance assessments.

Collaboration is key
Supporting farmers and ranchers in their efforts to improve and continuing to drive meaningful, lasting change across the beef supply chain calls for collaboration. While we work with individuals and small groups of stakeholders, we are also partnering – and invite our suppliers to join us in – key collective action initiatives, such as the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, Midwest Row Crop Collaborative and Field to Market.

These efforts help the industry come together to share and align on best practices, course correct where needed and continue to evolve the industry to meet goals for suppliers and the environment. Overall, we see an opportunity for a whole-system transformation and continued progress across the beef supply chain. That is why we focus on sustainability in our sourcing decisions and work to drive action in policy, advocacy and philanthropy both globally and domestically.