European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability

Background

The European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability (ERBS) is Europe’s largest multi-stakeholder organisation focused on supporting more sustainable beef production, having launched in 2018 as a regional division of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB). [1], [2]

The ERBS evolved out of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI Platform), a food industry initiative that runs a certification program called “Farm Sustainability Assessment.” [3], [4]

With country-level platforms in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, and the UK, the ERBS brings together existing beef initiatives and says it envisions “a world in which all aspects of the beef value chain are environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable.” [5], [1]

The ERBS works to achieve an intensity reduction of 15 percent in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2025 and to “enable different platforms in Europe to demonstrate that they have achieved or are making credible progress towards the ERBS’s eight outcome targets in their country.” [1], [6]

As of 2021, the ERBS is chaired by Claire Donoghue, Operations Director and European Head of Sustainability at the European regional office of OSI Group, a US-based holding company of meat processors supplying brands such as McDonald’s, Chipotle and Burger King. Donoghue is a former manager at Irish meat producer Kepak Group. [7], [8], [9]

Stance on Climate Change

The ERBS states that it is committed to achieving eight targets related to the environment, animal welfare, antibiotic use and farm management. The ERBS’s single environmental target is an intensity reduction of 15 percent in GHG emissions by 2025. [1]

Key narratives

The ERBS promotes a number of narratives to justify the meat industry’s business model. Find out more about how the meat industry is climate-washing its activities in our investigation. And you can read counter-arguments and criticisms of these narratives in our factsheet.

‘Animal agriculture isn’t a serious driver of climate change’

‘Grazing is good for the environment and helps to sequester carbon’

According to the ERBS’s mission statement, “the beef value chain is recognised for delivering positive impacts, land stewardship, ecosystem benefits such as carbon sequestration and continuous improvement towards key sustainability priorities.” [5]

The idea of using cattle grazing to capture carbon in the soil has been criticised by environmental scientists from the University of Oxford, however, for offsetting only 20-60 percent of the total emissions, concluding that “grass-fed cattle remain net contributors to warming.” A study on the concept of “grazed ecosystems,” also known as “holistic management,” further found that “the application of HM [holistic management] principles of trampling and intensive foraging are as detrimental to plants, soils, water storage, and plant productivity as are conventional grazing systems.” [10], [11]

‘Cows convert inedible material into food for human consumption’

In a 2018 report, the ERBS argued that “the beef sector transforms inedible feedstuffs” into protein for human consumption. [12]

A 2018 Science study estimates that the production of animal-based foods requires 83 percent of the world’s farmland yet provides only 37 percent of global protein and 18 percent of global calories. According to a 2019 study by environmental scientists from Harvard University, a more plant-based food production system in the UK could free up large areas of pasture and cropland currently used for grazing and animal feed production while improving the country’s carbon footprint and meeting the population’s protein and calorie requirements. [13], [14]

‘Meat is needed for a healthy diet and to feed the world’

‘The beef sector provides high value protein’

In a 2018 report, the ERBS stated that “the beef sector has an important role to play in a sustainable food system” and provides “high value protein.” [12]

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), a sustainable development organisation, feeding 10 billion people by 2050 without transitioning to a more plant-based global diet would necessitate the destruction of the world’s remaining forests and “agriculture alone would produce almost twice the emissions allowable from all human activities.” Meat and dairy products only provide 18 percent of global calories yet take up 83 percent of agricultural land and generate 60 percent of agriculture’s GHG emissions, according to a study published in Science. [15], [16], [17], [18]

‘Innovations in animal agriculture will tackle climate change’

‘We are producing less emissions-intensive meat’

Out of the eight action areas developed by the ERBS, one goal concerns GHG emissions: “An intensity reduction of 15% in GHG emissions by 2025, with the aim of recognising the positive role beef production can contribute to mitigating climate change through reduction strategies and sequestration.” This means 15 percent fewer emissions would be generated per kilogram of beef produced, while the sector’s overall emissions could still rise. [1]

Sustainability non-profits GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) argue that “arguments for emissions intensity reduction in the absence of targets to reduce the livestock sector’s total emissions are dangerous,” however, arguing “that the large gains in ‘efficiency’ realised by industrial farming in the twentieth century will be hard to repeat without major ecological, social and health impacts.” [19]

Funding

SAI Platform is financed by members’ annual membership fees and participation fees in

SAI Platform projects. As of 2021, members of SAI included Coca-Cola, Danone, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Syngenta, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Cargill, and Vion. [20]

SAI Platform’s annual conference was sponsored by Mars, Grain Farmers of Ontario, McCain and McDonald’s in 2019, and by Mars, Arla and Marks & Spencer in 2018. [21], [22]

Lobbying

In 2021, the ERBS stated in its “general meeting” that the organisation was “operating in an increasingly active landscape with legislative measures in the European Union and separate initiatives from the UN,” including the EU Green Deal, EU taxonomy, a “call from European Parliament on supply chain due diligence,” and the UN Food Systems Summit. During the same meeting, a recording of which DeSmog has listened to, the ERBS discussed plans to attend the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit and join the European Livestock Coalition, which represents the livestock industry and lobbies the European Commission to “ensure that livestock remains in scope for sustainable finance.” [23], [24], [25]

The organisation stated in its April 2021 newsletter that “we do not see the ERBS as having an advocacy or lobbying role but will consider partnering with industry coalitions where relevant to ensure that legislators are well informed about the beef industry and the opportunities for it to be part of the solution.” It also said it was working with stakeholders in Poland, including the European regional office of OSI Group, a US-based holding company of meat processors that supplies brands such as McDonald’s, Chipotle’s, and Burger King’s, and liaises “with the Polish government to understand how the ERBS targets could be scaled to a national level and engage actors across the entire country.” [23], [8], [9]

During its general meeting, Pete Garbutt, Climate Action and Resiliency Manager at McDonald’s and member of the ERBS communications group, said the ERBS had met with the European Commission; COPA-COGECA, the largest organisation representing European farmers and co-founder of European Livestock Voice; the environmental charity WWF, and the European Livestock and Meat Trading Union (UECBV). [24]

Garbutt said the aim of the meetings was “to make sure that they know who we are, they know where our organisation fits in the wider framework of all of the European beef and sustainability organisations, and that we are a force for good, that we are tangibly aiming to make a difference in the sustainability of beef production, in a way that they can use and communicate as well, to make sure that people can feel good about how beef is being produced in Europe.”

Affiliations

The European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability (ERBS) is a regional division of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) and a member of its board. [26]

In March 2021, ERBS hosted a presentation by Nick Major, board member of the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC), which represents animal feed producers, and Director Corporate Affairs at Dutch feed manufacturer ForFarmers. [23]

In 2021, the ERBS announced plans to collaborate with the Beef Innovation Network Europe (BovINE), an EU-funded project working to “help address the challenges and drive the sustainability of the European beef farming sector and community” initiated by the Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Teagasc), an Irish government agency. [23], [27]

The European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability brings together local beef initiatives based in six countries:

  • France: Interbev, France’s leading cattle association founded in 1979. [28]
  • Ireland: the Sustainable Beef & Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS), operated by Bord Bia and part of the Irish government’s food and drink certification scheme Origin Green. [29]
  • Italy: Allevamenti Sostenibili, a project coordinated by beef producer INALCA in cooperation with Italy’s largest agricultural association Coldiretti and certification company Dipartimento Qualità Agroalimentare (DQA). [30]
  • Poland: Cultivate, the successor of a beef and dairy farm scheme titled “Supplier Farm Standard” (SFS), launched in 2019 by OSI Poland Foodworks, a Polish subsidiary of OSI Group, a US-based holding company of meat processors that supplies brands such as McDonald’s. [31], [32], [33], [34], [8], [9]
  • United Kingdom: the UK Cattle Sustainability Programme (UKCSP), established in 2019 through a collaboration of industry organisations and the food assurance scheme Red Tractor. [35]
    • Signatories to the UKCSP currently include ABP UK, ADAS, Aldi, Arla Foods, The British Meat Processors Association, Co-Op, Dawn Meats Group, FAI Farms Ltd, Foyle Food Group, Hilton Foods, Livestock & Meat Commission Northern Ireland, Linden Foods, McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd, Map of Ag, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, MSD Animal Health, National Beef Association, NFU England, NFU Scotland, NFU Wales, Ulster Farmers Union (NI), OSI Food Solutions, Red Tractor, Sainsbury’s, Tesco. [36]
  • Germany: BEST Beef (the Union for Beef, Excellence, Safety and Transparency) launched by OSI Germany in 2010, which comprises 3,600 farms, ten producer groups and livestock traders, six slaughterhouses, meat processors, end-users and scientific institutions, including McDonald’s. [37], [38]

In 2020, Claire Donoghue, Operations Director and European Head of Sustainability at OSI Europe and former manager at Irish meat producer Kepak Group, was named Board Chair of the ERBS. Prior to 2020, Sarah Haire, Group Agricultural Strategy Manager at Dawn Meats Group, was the group’s Board Chair. [7], [39]

Current and Former Members

Company title2021 [1]2019 [6]2018 [40]
abp Food Groupx
Agrifirmxxx
Agroterraxxx
Ahold Delhaize xxx
Anglo Beef Processorsx
Baderx
Barillax
Beef+Lamb New Zealand xxx
Bord Biaxxx
Control Unionx
Control Union Certificationsx
Corteva xx
Dairy Australiax
Dawn Meatsxxx
Hilton Foodsx
INALCAxxx
Interbevxx
Kepakxxx
LMC (Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland)xxx
Marks & Spencerx
Marsxxx
McDonald’sxxx
Meat Commission for Northern Ireland
Moy Parkxxx
Nestléxx
OSIxx
OSI Europe Foodworksx
QMS (Quality Meat Scotland)xxx
Red Tractorxxx
Tescoxx
Tönniesx
VIONxx

Note: The ERBS’ 2020 annual report was not available.

Research Collaborations

In 2021, the ERBS announced that SAI Platform was collaborating with Wageningen University in the Netherlands in a research project on the “most impactful processes to mitigate farm greenhouse gas emissions for beef and dairy.” [23]

Resources

  1. EUROPEAN ROUNDTABLE FOR BEEF SUSTAINABILITY,” Sai Platform. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/R6kQQ 
  2. Breifne O’brien. “Spotlight on Ireland for European beef sustainability forum,” Agriland, October 11, 2018. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/LxDIk 
  3. Home Page,” Sai Platform. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/5bXEM 
  4. FSA – FARM SUSTAINABILITY ASSESSMENT,” ControlUnion Certifications. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/41In3 
  5. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS,” Sai Platform. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/dtIN8 
  6. Annual Report 2019,” Sai Platform. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/QN798 
  7. European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability welcomes new Board Chair,” The Cattle Site, August 17, 2020. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/m8DvD 
  8. OSI Group,” Forbes. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/dhH4j 
  9. Chloe Sorvino. “Meet The Secretive Billionaire Who Makes McDonald’s McNuggets, Burger King’s Impossible Whoppers And More,” Forbes, September 21, 2020. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/5COYU 
  10. Sally-Anne Stewart. FOOD IN THE ANTHROPOCENE,” Oxford Martin School, May 2019. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/ojXqS
  11. John Carter et al. “Holistic Management: Misinformation on the Science of Grazed Ecosystems,” Hindawi, April 23, 2014. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/OWeNO 
  12. Uniting the European beef value chain to accelerate and communicate our sustainability journey,” Sai Platform. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/t3e6Q 
  13. J. Poore and T. Nemecek. “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers,” Science, June 1  2018. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/O6jDB 
  14. Helen Harwatt and Matthew N. Hayek. “Eating Away at Climate Change with Negative Emissions,” Harvard Law School, April 11, 2019. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/8aWUr 
  15. Tim Searchinger et al. “CREATING A SUSTAINABLE FOOD FUTURE,” World Resource InstituteArchived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/awSZe  
  16. Damian Carrington. “Beef-eating ‘must fall drastically’ as world population grows,” The Guardian, December 5, 2018. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/Ltffu 
  17. Damian Carrington. “Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth,” The Guardian, May 31, 2018. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/qWFZ0 
  18. J. Poore and T. Nemecek. “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers,” Science, June 1  2018. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/kR1zX 
  19. GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). Emissions impossible: How big meat and dairy are heating up the planet,” GRAIN, July 18, 2018. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/v0grw 
  20. Our Members,” Sai Platform. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/4uRyV 
  21. #NextGenFarming – SAI Platform Annual Event 2019, Chicago, USA,” Sai Platform. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/Ef40R 
  22. Sustainability Through Technology & Innovation – How to advance sustainable agriculture at landscape level,”  Sai Platform, 5th June 2018. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/iuFzV 
  23. ERBS Updates,” Mail Chi. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/3qq48 
  24. “ERBS general meeting,” Zoom. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/HNvrP 
  25. Resources,” Animal Health Europe, February 24, 2021. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/d70Nk 
  26. Home Page,” Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/o8jzS 
  27.  “Home Page,” BovINE. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/sTaFU 
  28. Home Page,” Interbev. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/XgPNE 
  29. Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme,” Bord Bia. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/PPIVa 
  30. Sustainability report 2019,” Inalca. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/s8mN4 
  31. Cultivating OSI’s Sustainable Farming Journey in Poland,” OSI Sustainability Blog, March 5, 2020. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/qDfPW 
  32. HOW WE’RE LOOKING AFTER THE WORLD,” OSI Group. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/eG0ne 
  33. Cultivate – sustainable agriculture program,” Food Works Poland, January 11, 2021. Archived July 15, 2021
  34. Home Page,” Food Works Poland. Archived July 15, 2021.
  35. Home Page,” Sustainable British Meat. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/d0fPe 
  36. UK launches the Cattle Sustainability Platform,” The Cattle Site, December 8, 2020. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/ezWuQ 
  37. Sharing Animal Welfare and Environment Best Practices in Germany,” OSI Sustainability Blog, March 19, 2020. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/BXHB5 
  38. Sustainable Agriculture & Beef,” Corporate Mcdonalds. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/pSYlK 
  39. The Newsroom. “Agri-food conference encourages the industry to adapt and evolve,” Farming Life, January 23, 2021. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/Q8Erp 
  40. Annual Report 2018,” Sai Platform. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/fgluZ 

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