World population is projected to grow to over 9 billion people by 2050, with a growing slice rich enough to eat beef.
The problem is that beef is among the least efficient of foods, taking up large amounts of land, water, food and money to raise.
It’s a potential disaster of epic proportions as cattle production for the rich expands at the expense of the globe’s poor as well as its plants and animals – think: converting the Amazon into a prairie for ranching.
On Wednesday, representatives of several of the largest companies and organizations in the industry, in cooperation with major environmental groups, formally kicked off their attempt to head off that disaster by forming the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
Cargill, whose Wichita-based beef division is the nation’s second-largest beef producer, is a founding member.
“We believe that this is a challenge that needs a collaborative effort to find a solution, and the more people involved the better,” said company spokesman Mike Martin.
The idea is to develop practices that allow companies to produce the desired beef, but in ways that are socially and environmentally responsible.
One of the means is to increase productivity of world beef production to U.S. levels. Other broad goals are to increase efficiency in the use of food, energy, water consumption for cattle, all the while preserving food safety, as well as managing greenhouse emissions and biodiversity.
It’s a tall order, they conceded in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
“We’re moving mountains,” said Jose-Luis Bretones, director of Global Supply Chain Strategy for McDonald’s. “It will take a lifetime to feel satisfied by our effort.”
The group hopes to build its membership from groups and companies around the world and launch research on how to improve practices.
For more information on the roundtable, go to www.sustainablelivestock.org.