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Why Sustainable Beef Production Matters for Conservation


Bryan Weech leads WWF’s efforts to improve the sustainability of the beef and dairy industries. For the past three years, he has engaged stakeholders across the beef industry— including ranchers, retailers, scientists and experts in the environmental community—to create a coalition committed to advancing sustainable production of beef. On February 22, 2012, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef formally launched, uniting industry and civil society behind the common pursuit of advancing the sustainability of the global beef system.

Bryan shares his journey and how his work advances WWF’s conservation vision and mission.

Why is sustainability of beef important to WWF’s conservation mission?
BW: As an important source of protein for many of the world’s population, global demand for beef will continue to increase. Feeding a growing population is one of the most pressing challenges we face and places an increasing amount of stress on the environment.

WWF’s mission is to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth. With beef production occurring on more than 12 million acres of land worldwide, including 30% of land on Earth and 70% of agricultural lands, beef production has a significant environmental impact on the planet, particularly in the area of greenhouse gas emissions.

In response, WWF is working with a range of stakeholders across the beef supply chain to ensure that beef is produced and processed in a way that is socially responsible, economically viable and environmentally sound – reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preserving and restoring critical habitats, protecting watersheds, enhancing carbon sequestration, and improving soil health and water quality.

What led you to your current role at WWF as Director of Livestock?
BW: Even at a very young age, I was surrounded by livestock. From making visits with my father, a veterinarian, to local ranches to spending summers at my grandparents’ ranch in Arizona, my childhood is filled with memories of ranching and cattle. As an amateur naturalist, my grandmother instilled in me a love of nature that created a personal passion around sustainability and protecting the environment.

When the opportunity to work with WWF on sustainable agriculture presented itself, I realized how I could use my experience and education to do something of importance.

Working in the beef industry for most my life, my experience gives me the ability to understand the complexities of issues related to ranchers and other members of the beef supply chain.

What has the journey looked like to unite a coalition to improve the sustainability of beef?
BW: This journey has been a slow and thoughtful process, from defining who the most influential and interested players are to bringing them all to the table to find solutions and create a way forward.

In late 2010, WWF helped convene the Global Conference on Sustainable Beef to see if there was a consensus for forming a coalition to improve the sustainability of the global beef system. The message was sent loud and clear that a multi-stakeholder initiative was needed and with that, a foundation for the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) was laid.

While there have been challenges along the way, the result is a very robust and well developed framework for all stakeholders.

What motivates you to keep going even when faced with challenges?
BW: What keeps me going is a strong belief in WWF’s mission, my love of nature, and an appreciation for an industry that has a very important role of feeding humanity in way that sustains the health of individuals and our planet. I also firmly believe that people generally want to do the right thing. Once they learn what that is, they are generally willing to make changes that are beneficial to us all.

Can individuals do anything to support efforts to advance the sustainability of beef production?
BW: Absolutely, individuals can express their expectations that beef be produced sustainably and encourage the companies and brands they support to get involved and be part of the discussion.  Consumer demand and societal expectations really is where it all starts, and as individuals, we are the ones that will make that happen.

Additionally, you can stay informed on how this process is evolving and support the work with your feet and your wallet. We hope that this roundtable will result in a standards-setting process that enables you to verify from farm to fork, that beef has been produced in the most environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable way possible.

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