Foodservice looks to solve its beef dilemma

As the data has shown over and over again, consuming beef at current rates across the world is not sustainable. 

Globally, livestock contributes 14.5 per cent of manmade greenhouse gas emissions, with beef responsible for the largest share, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations. Global methane emissions from cattle alone have risen by more than 10 per cent since 2000, and the livestock industry was responsible for the second-largest share of emissions of methane in the U.S. in 2019

One trend we have seen across food consumption in recent years has been that of increased consumer consciousness. Generally speaking, eaters want to not only be healthier but also reduce their negative footprint on the environment, the climate, and the planet.

Consumers saying no

As part of that, consumers are turning away from beef, to a certain extent.

A recent survey from Impossible Foods conducted by members of the Angus Reid Forum, found that nearly one-quarter (24 per cent) of Canadians have significantly reduced their meat consumption over the course of the pandemic, and another 26 per cent are open to the idea. 

Meanwhile, a report from Farm Credit Canada (FCC) using data from Statistics Canada showed that demand for beef began declining steadily after it peaked in late 2020. Since 2021, Canadians appear to be compensating by purchasing more chicken as a substitute for red meat.

The reasons behind that trend are manifold, ranging from health benefits to animal welfare concerns, shrinking incomes, soaring prices, and more.

Prominent among them are environmental and climate concerns.

A 2020 Gallup poll found that 49 per cent of people who were reducing their consumption of meat cited environmental reasons as a major factor.

Those factors certainly cannot be ignored.

The meat industry accounts for nearly 60 per cent of all greenhouse gases from food production, according to a recent report from The Guardian. A recent report from Swiss investment bank Credit Suisse’s “Treeprint” calculated that it takes 44 birch trees to offset eating a 200-gram piece of steak three times a week. On the other hand, eating the same amount of chicken three times a week is only equivalent to six birch trees.

The rising popularity of plant-based alternatives, which are thought to emit anywhere from 30 per cent to 90 per cent less greenhouse gas in production than animal-based meat, has also added pressure for the beef industry to address the sustainability of its protein.

Cutting emissions

In response, beef providers have begun setting goals to reduce emissions through methods such as regenerative farming and methane-cutting feed. Cargill, for example, aims to cut beef emissions across its North American supply chain by 30 per cent by 2030 through practices like regenerative farming.

As major beef processors set their individual targets, the industry is also trying to collaborate. The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef’s membership portfolio includes not only big beef producers, processors, and their suppliers but also retailers, environmental groups, and academic institutions. 

Big beef processors and producers are also embracing regenerative agriculture, which helps to restore soil and water used for food production and reduce carbon dioxide. Many beef producers see regenerative farming as a key part of the solution to raising the sustainability profile of the meat.

Ultimately, there is recognition that this is an issue that has been developing over time and is close to reaching a critical stage.

“We won’t be able to be in business if we don’t stop climate change,” said Ruaraidh Petre, executive director of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. “Nobody will be in business.”