Grant Bunting has long had a genuine interest in farming systems and practices but new and evolving industry challenges have somewhat changed his outlook.
The inaugural chairman of the recently formed New Zealand Roundtable for Sustainable Beef said the growing importance the world puts on sustainability credentials across the supply chain has changed many a view.
“I have to admit I am quite traditional in my views but these sustainability challenges can’t be ignored.
“To fight against them will achieve nothing.
“I am more passionate now about sustainability than I would ever have thought I would be and the fact remains it’s consumer-driven and we have to play in the game.”
A collaborative approach is needed to move the beef industry from a compliance mindset.
For NZ beef to maintain or improve its standing on the world stage sustainability will need to evolve from compliance and regulation to a more equitable discussion where all parties involved can contribute without the need to take sides or defend a position.
“The recent approach where political point-scoring results in alienating stakeholders is not conducive to a successful outcome,” Bunting said.
“The underlying principle of the roundtable philosophy is to stimulate discussion and identify solutions that naturally fit with all stakeholders’ objectives.”
The roundtable was launched in November on the back of the growing importance the world puts on being able to spell out sustainability credentials across the supply chain.
It is about beef industry stakeholders working together to position NZ as a leading producer of beef that is safe and produced in a way that is environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable.
“Countries around the world want their beef to be recognised as the best.
“We need to ensure we not only keep up with other countries but we want to be world leaders,” Bunting said.
As part of that process the roundtable has defined the standards for a NZ setting and identified metrics to achieve those standards so they can be put into practice.
“We have some lofty goals but those who know me will know that if I’m involved there needs to be practical, achievable actions.
“The first step is to grow the membership so that we have as many industry stakeholders as possible represented.
“A united industry is a stronger industry, which, in turn, benefits those involved today and in the future.”
Roundtables have been functional in several countries for some time and Bunting has experienced it in action in Canada.
“Canada has been held up as an example of just how successful it can be and that success comes from being producer-led, as it is in Canada.
“While it’s early days for NZ we do have a handful of good producers in discussions with us and it is the plan for the NZRSB to be producer-led.
“It has been industry-supported to get it off the ground but to be successful we need producers on board and leading it.”
Bunting is confident that will happen as membership is rolled out to producers in coming months.
Bunting, who is also Anzco Foods systems and supply general manager, expects his tenure as chairman will be only till the incorporated society has its inaugural annual meeting in March.
“Then we are hoping for it to be producer-led. That’s the ultimate objective and globally that’s the way it’s been exceptionally effective.
“The perception of the roundtable, being round, therefore, means encompassing.
“We want all voices around the table to get a wider collective understanding and there’s nothing novel about that. It’s putting into practice in NZ what is all-inclusive practice happening globally.
“We need producers to be part of the solution so the focus now is to get producers engaging.
“We have positive support to date and a membership drive is due to kick off to promote membership and demonstrate the benefit of leveraging partnerships.
“It’s not about us taking a position.
“It’s about us learning what people want to understand in relation to their farming systems, such as the Emissions Trading Scheme, what it is it they want to understand about ETS?
“It’s then about providing good, factual, accurate information.”
From the NZ perspective there is a handful of priority issues to address.
They include climate change and freshwater policies, the ETS, regenerative agriculture, plant-based proteins and afforestation.
The founding members are Anzco, Beef + Lamb, Greenlea Premier Meats, Fonterra, McDonalds, Silver Fern Farms, World Wildlife Fund for Nature and farmers. AgResearch joined earlier this year.
“The NZRSB, which is aligned to the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, differs from other organisations active in this space because its members span the supply chain so we can take a more holistic approach to implementing the standards that will help us achieve the vision of NZ beef being recognised as the world’s most sustainable beef,” Bunting said.
Anyone from the supply chain can join.
The NZRSB so far
A steering group has been working to establish the NZRSB since 2017.
Most recently it has done an independent sustainability materiality process in conjunction with the Red Meat Profit Partnership.
The research was done independently in 2019 under Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards to determine sustainability issues and criteria material in the NZ context.
The research canvassed the views of stakeholders across the supply chain, with customers globally and, importantly, with the Government, academia and civil society. The work will shape how the NZ Roundtable prioritises its efforts.
While the breadth of issues is significant given the scale of the beef value chain the five highest rating material sustainability issues identified by stakeholders are animal welfare and ethics, on-farm environmental management, water quality and use, transparency, measurement and verification, and industry leadership and vision.