|Producers Tackle 'Sustainability' Definition, Challenges
(June 1, 2012) Proponents of large- and small-scale meat production have differing realities that drive their definitions of doing business sustainably. Those representing both at the Protein Innovation Summit agreed, however, that if that definition means using production methods that are arguably more environmentally friendly and more costly, then the industry will have to figure out how to overcome the challenge of keeping costs down for consumers.
Tackling the converging and conflicting agendas involved in applying sustainability farm to fork was a panel that included Daniel Rosenthal, president of the Rosenthal Group Inc. and co-founder and chairman of the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition; Kay Johnson Smith, president and CEO of Animal Agriculture Alliance; Arlin Wasserman, founder of Changing Tastes and former vice president of sustainability for Sodexo; and Mel Coleman Jr., vice president special projects for Natural Food Holdings’ Niman Ranch division.
Panelists agreed that companies large and small have to define what it means for them to do the right thing, but doing the right thing presents challenges. Moderator Trevor Butterworth asked them to identify three main challenges.
One of Coleman’s was the ability of companies to define sustainability for themselves, rather than allowing “the outside world” to do. He said “sustainable” can mean both grass-fed and grain-fed beef, and it can mean a small company or a Smithfield.
Wasserman said part of the challenge is reducing portion sizes of meat and convincing consumers to pay more for smaller portions.
Johnson agreed with her fellow panelists that transparency about production practices is key. She mentioned the advent of social media providing a great opportunity for farmers and ranchers to show co nsumers who they are.
The panelists couldn’t quite put a definitive finger on how to make “sustainable” products affordable for consumers, but they agreed that it would take partnerships between industrial agriculture and smaller-scale producers to figure it out.